By: Jeremy Liu
On July 21, 2023, a rare letter written by Christopher Columbus, which was stolen from a library in Florence, Italy, over two decades ago, has now returned to its rightful home country. Its rediscovery was followed by an expedited return by United States Homeland Security officials.
The letter in question was a correspondence drafted by the famous explorer on April 15, 1493, to the Spanish monarchs, detailing his voyage to the Americas. The letter, called the "Planck II Cycle," is one of thirty written by Columbus throughout his voyages to the New World, and is believed to be worth millions of dollars. ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) placed its value at more than $1.3 million when announcing its discovery.
"This is the fourth original edition of this letter stolen over the past decades and we could not be happier to return it," Deputy Director Patrick Lechleitner said in a statement (NPR, 2023).
In an effort to repatriate the stolen document, the United States Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) took timely action to ensure the document's safe return to the Italian Government. The precious artifact was handed over to the Italian embassy in Washington D.C. on June 14.
According to NPR, a spokeswoman for the embassy confirmed that the letter "will soon be returned to the State Archive of Florence, where it will be preserved and studied for future generations” (NPR, 2023).
The recovery of this historical treasure has evoked joy and satisfaction among Italian government officials and historians alike: "The letter represents a fundamental part of Italy's historical and cultural heritage, and its return is a victory for Italy," said Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture in a statement (NPR, 2023).
"This is a very important day for Italy and for our cultural heritage," said Giulia Amerigo, director of the State Archive of Florence, an institution where the letter was stolen over two decades ago (NPR, 2023).
The return of the Christopher Columbus letter offers a glimmer of hope amidst the challenges faced in recent times. It symbolizes the importance of cultural preservation and awareness, and reminds us of the endless possibilities that arise when countries work together to restore the past. As the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Armando Varricchio said, "The repatriation of this piece of our history represents the continuation of our cultural heritage. It is also a strong message of the long-friendship between Italy and the United States, as we work together to protect and return our cultural treasures” (NPR, 2023).