Columbus Circle Monument
The City’s most well-known monument to Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) is located at the center of Columbus Circle, near the Park’s southwest corner. A colossal figure of Columbus stands atop a column pierced by three boats, the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María, on a pedestal adorned with commemorative inscriptions and a winged figure examining a globe.
Dedicated in 1892, the monument is the center point of the traffic circle just beyond the southwestern corner of the Park. The carved marble figure of Columbus was made in Italy by the sculptor Gaetano Russo.
This particular monument to Columbus was erected as a symbol of Italian-American pride at the turn of the 20th century, a time when many immigrants from Italy experienced discrimination and were seeking to see themselves represented in the City’s public spaces. In preparation for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, the Italian-language newspaper Il Progresso, under the editorial direction of Carlo Barsotti, began a campaign to raise money for a monument. Barsotti dedicated his life to lobbying for various monuments to Italian heroes and helped place five monuments in New York, including this monument to Columbus. Italian Americans donated not only the funds but also their physical labor to the construction of Columbus, working for free to prepare the site for the monument. At the bottom of the column on which Columbus stands are several inscriptions in English and Italian that equate the challenges Columbus encountered with the challenges of contemporary Italian immigrants in America.
While Columbus continues to be a symbol of Italian-American pride, since the 1970s, his life and legacy have been re-examined by scholars and the general public. He is no longer popularly used as a symbol of America, and critics have objected to the veneration of a historic figure and event that lead to the exploitation and genocide of indigenous people. As a result, many municipalities have decided to recontextualize or remove their Columbus monuments.
An additional monument to Columbus is located along the Mall. Another was planned for the Park’s southeast corner, also for the 400th anniversary, but never realized.