António de Noli

Antonio de Noli (born 1415 or possibly 1419;[1]) was a 15th-century Genoese nobleman and navigator,[2] and the first governor of the earliest European overseas colony in Subsaharan Africa.[3] He discovered some of the Cape Verde islands on behalf of Henry the Navigator and he was made first Governor of Cape Verde by King Afonso V. In most history or geographic books, including ancient chronics, or encyclopedia, he is referred as Antonio de Noli,[4][5][6][7][8][9][10] as well as in official information by the Government of Cape Verde[11] or in Cape Verde history articles or references.[12][13][14] In Italy, he is known also as Antonio da Noli (see Note 21, below) or sometimes referred as Antoniotto Usodimare.[15]


Antonio de Noli was born to a patrician[16] family in Genoa, Italy, as referred in ancient sources of the epoch; e.g. Portuguese king's historian João de Barros stated already in 1552 that Antonio Noli was born in Genoa,[17] and "of noble blood". Modern historians and researches also specify Antonio Noli as Genovese or Genoese, e.g. Dumoriez (1762),[18] Thomas (1860),[19] Hamilton (1975),[20] Diffie and Winius (1977),[21] Irwin and Wilson (1999).[22] It has also been put forward that Antonio de Noli would have instead born in Noli (Savona) Italy (see Note 21, below).[23][24] After he was exiled from Genoa amid political disputes compromising main families Fregoso and Adorno, Antonio de Noli (Navy captain, and cartography expert)[25] sailed to Portugal ca 1447 in command of a small expedition of three vessels and with his brother Bartholomew (a Genoa lawyer) and nephew Raphael. In Portugal, de Noli became engaged in Ultramar explorations by Henry the Navigator. From 1462 to 1496, he founded and then was Captain of Ribeira Grande (modern-day Cidade Velha) at the southern end of Santiago Island.

The de Noli family is believed to have its ancient roots in "the small city and Castle of Noli".[26] By the 14th century, there were two main branches of the Noli family in Northern Italy sharing a pre-medieval origin in the ancient territory of Noli (Savona province). One branch was established in Genoa, Liguria, and the other in Novara, Piedmont, where the Noli ("famiglia di signore") inhabited the Castle of Cameriano by the beginning of the 15th century.[27][28] It is also recorded that members of the Noli family established in Genoa participated in government already by the 13th century, i.e. as "Consigliere della Signoria" in 1261.[29] In 1382, Giacomo de Noli, ancestor of Captain Antonio de Noli,[30] was appointed one member of the Twelve-Elderly Council of Genoa ("XII-Anziani del Comune") under the lead of Duke Nicolas de Guarco.[31] When Nicolas de Guarco took over the rule of Genoa after the Fregoso, in 1378, he had "appointed in positions of trust the noblemen which have been neglected in the previous administrations",[32] and thus also appointed the Fieschi. The participation of the de Noli in the Guarco's ruling of Genoa in alliance with the Fieschi would have, years afterwards, dramatic consequences for Antonio de Noli and his brother Bartholomew. Those prior political associations of the de Noli in Genoa provide a helpful background in explaining both their forced departure to exile in Portugal in 1447, and also the circumstances around the later repatriation of their descendants some decades after, first in Cesena and finally anew in homeland Genoa.[33][34][35]


Old history records attribute Antonio de Noli the discovery of Cape Verde Islands, supposedly "the ancient Hesperides of Pliny and Ptolemy".[36] This according to a carta regia (royal letter) of 19 September 1462.[37] It is uncertain which of the Cape Verde Islands were discovered by Antonio de Noli. Some of the islands are mentioned in a letter of donation dated 3 December 1460; the rest in the above-mentioned from 19 September 1462. Noli has claim to discovering the first set of islands, while the second were possibly found by Diogo Gomes. However, the events in question are poorly recorded in documents from the time, a reasonable alternative would be that some or all of these second set of islands were discovered by Diogo Dias, Diogo Afonso and Alvise Cadamosto.

The official royal letter of 29 October 1462[38] states that it was Diogo Afonso, the king's scribe, who had discovered the other (last) seven islands that were mentioned in the royal letter of 19 September 1462.[39] This letter of 19 September 1462 grants all the islands of Cape Verde to Dom Fernando and the other seven islands are designated but the discoverer is not named. In this letter, Antonio de Noli's name is given as the discoverer of the first five islands, being also the first time he is mentioned by name as the discoverer. The letter of 3 December 1460[40] was a royal grant to Infante Ferdinand the Saint Prince after the demise of his brother Henry the Navigator in 1460.


Governor Antonio de Noli had one daughter (Dona Branca de Aguiar, who married the Portuguese nobleman Dom Jorge Correia de Sousa, fidalgo da casa real) and one son, who is mentioned to have accompanied him during the early exploration years in mainland Africa.[41] During the occupation of Cape Verde Islands by Castile (a main base of modern Spain) during the Portuguese-Castilian war of 1475–1479, the Italian Antonio de Noli remained governor in spite of his titles had been given to him by the Portuguese.[42] In the aftermath of the Treaty of Alcáçovas in 1479 and the reestablishment of Portuguese rule, the governorship of the Islands went instead to Noli's daughter Branca and her Portuguese spouse. Thereafter, no records of the whereabouts on Antonio Noli - including his demise or location of his son and descendants, or his fortune (as well as in the case of his Genoa brother Bartholomew or nephew Raphael) – have been found in Portugal, Cape Verde, or Spain. In 1497, the Noli were still banned from returning to Italy via Genoa for political reasons.

In 2008, several manuscripts indicating the presence of the de Noli family in Cesena[43] by the end of 1400 and not earlier, was found at the Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, Italy. Among the Malatestiana Library manuscripts, two separate documents depicting the coat of arms of the Noli family were also found. In one of these manuscripts, "Famiglia Noli oriunda" was written under the Noli coat of arms.[44] The reference to "oriunda" in this context means "not from Cesena", thus "coming from an outer territory". The first entry of the de Noli in the Cesena manuscripts refers to "Simone de Antonio Noli Biondi",[45] which indicates, according to naming praxis at the time, that Antonio Noli was his father. Later, and with the name Simone de Noli Biondi, he is mentioned in another manuscript[46] as a member of the Cesena Council (Consiglio di Cesena) in 1505. The same position was held in later years by two other de Noli descendants, Antonio Noli of Tregga rotta in 1552[47][48] and Antonio de Noli Biondi in 1556. This Antonio de Noli ceased to be a member of the Cesena Council in 1558[49] and afterwards the family de Noli was reported in a Malatestiana manuscript as "extinct" in Cesena.[50] However, a few years later, descendants of an Antonio de Noli appeared again, living in Northern Genoa (Valleregia, Serra Ricco). The first register of the de Noli in the Family book of Valleregia Parish of the period took place in 1586.[51] The entries show the names of Antonio de Noli, Bartholomew, Simone, Raphael, and others known names used already in the previous generation of navigator Antonio de Noli and his descendants.[52] The descendants of the de Noli family established anew in the hamlet of Noli in Northern Genoa (La frazione di Noli al comune di Serra Ricco).[53] Like most of the de Noli families with Ligurian ancestry, the coat of arms of the family of Antonio de Noli and his descendants carries the red and white colours of the ancient cities of Noli and Genoa.


During World War II, an Italian destroyer was named Antonio da Noli. It sank after striking a mine off the coast of Corsica on 9 September 1943, the day after the Italian surrender to the Allies (see Navigatori class destroyer).

References and notes

  1. The "Grande Enciclopédia Portuguesa" states: "Antonio de Noli belonged to the Genoa nobility. The celebrity of the discoveries..." ("Antonio de Noli pertencia à nobreza de Genova. A fama dos descobrimentos ..."). "Grande Enciclopédia Portuguesa e Brasilera. Ilustrada", Lisboa, Editorial Enciclopédia, 1935–1960. Page 836
  2. Charles François Du Périer Dumouriez, "An account of Portugal, as it appeared in 1766 to Dumoriez. Printed at Lausanne 1775". Law, Debret & Balfour, London, 1797
  3. The "Grande Enciclopédia Portuguesa" refer to him as Antonio de Noli. Op. cit. Page 836
  4. "Uso di Mare and Antonio de Noli were to be found in the same employment the connection between...". In Gomes Eannes de Azurara, "The chronicle of the discovery and conquest of Guinea". The Hakluyt Society, London, 1896–1899. Page 300. (Earlier published in Portuguese by Pariz Aillaud 1841)
  5. Cape Verde Islands. Handbooks prepared under the direction of the Historical Section of the Foreign Office. No. 117. Published by H.M. Stationery Office. London, 1920
  6. "A carta regia (royal letter) of September 19, 1462, attributed the discovery of the Cape Verde Islands to the Italian Antonio de Noli". In Bailey W. Diffie & George D. Winius, "Foundations of the Portuguese Empire 1415–1580". University of Minnesota Press, 1977. Page 106
  7. C.E. Nowel "A History of Portugal". D Van Nostrand Co. New York 1952. Pages 40, 256
  8. Charles Verlinden, "Antonio de Noli e a colonizaçaão das ilhas de Cabo Verde". Lisboa, 1963
  9. "Ribeira Grande is where the history of Cape Verde began ... It was chosen by António de Noli as the centre of his portion of Santiago - where the first Cape Verdians ..." In Aisling Irwing, "Cape Verde History"
  10. e.g
  11. Some texts identify Antonio de Noli and Antoniotto Usodimare as being the same person. However, this assumption has not been established as biographic or historic fact. The Usodimare family is a separate Ligurian family with no known lineage association with the de Noli families.
  12. Biographie Générale by Firmin Didot Fréres states that Noli appartenait à une famille patricien ("belonged to a patrician family"). Biographie Générale. Firmin Didot Fréres, publishers. Anno M DCCC LVII, Vol. 38
  13. João de Barros on Antonio di Noli: "di natione genovese, et di sangue nobile, che per alcuni dispiaceri che hebbe nella patria sua se ne venne in questo regno con due navi. . .". In Joao Barros, "L’Asia", Dec. I. lib. 2. cap. I. Republished by Vincenzo Valgrisio, Venice, 1562. João de Barros, Captain (head) of the Fortress of St George of Elmina (Elmina Castle), was also the most notable Portuguese historian of the epoch, and distinguished for his intellectual ethics and trustfully work. As official historian of the King, he had access to primeval data kept at the court on Antonio de Noli. He wrote the first part of his Décadas da Ásia ("Decades of Asia"), in 1552–1556 (republished in Venetia 1562)
  14. Charles François Du Périer Dumouriez. Op. cit. Page 95
  15. "(Cape Verde discoveries) Antonio Noli, a Genoese in the service of the Prince of Portugal. In W. Thomas, M.A.,"The West Coast of Africa, And Its Islands". Derby & Jackson, New York, 1860. Page 327
  16. "The Portuguese, with the aid of Genovese navigator Antonio Noli, discovered the remaining, likewise inhabited, islands of the Cape Verde Archipelago". In Russel G. Hamilton, "Voices from an Empire". University of Minnesota, 1975. Page 233
  17. Bailey W. Diffie & George D. Winius "Foundations of the Portuguese Empire 1415–1580". Op. cit. Page 111
  18. "... (Discovered Cape Verde) ... More likely, it was the Genoese António de Noli". In Aisling Irwin & Colum Wilson, "Cape Verde Islands". The Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Connecticut. Fourth Edition, 2009. Page 6
  19. As the name Antonio da Noli bears the assumption he would have born in Noli, vice versa, it is assumed that he was born in Noli because his name would be Antonio da Noli (as da would denote procedence). Emanuele Diotto, in Antonio da Noli e la scoperta delle isole del Capo Verde quotes City of Noli historian Bernardo Gandoglia as referring the existence of a birth document with the name Antonio da Noli. However there is no indicated reference or source for such document. Further, in his book In Repubblica (1916. 696 pages) Bernardo Gandoglia refers the issue of Antonio Noli being from Noli as ″so it is believed″ (cosi si crede). In a brief mention to Antonio Noli Gandoglia writes ″il nostro Antonio (cosi si crede) ò a Genova, ove piu tarde si trovò compromesso nelle fazione fra gli Adorno e i Fregoso″. Further, the original reports on Antonio da Noli, as indication of locus-origin, may as well have referred to the hamlet of Noli in Northern Genoa province (La frazione di Noli al comune di Serra Ricco), then a site of the de Noli family
  20. Referred as "Peritissimo Piloto Genovese" in "Famiglie Di Genova. Antiche, e moderne, estinte, e viventi, nobili, e populari". Parte II, D.E.F.G.I.L.M.N.O./ MDCCLXXXIII. Page 293
  21. "L'origine si puó supponere dalla piccola cittá o Castello di Noli". In "Famiglie Di Genova. Op. cit. Pages 293-294
  22. "Castello di Cameriano ... Agli inizi del quattrocento il castello - diventato un'importante fortezza - fu amministrato per diversi anni dal marchese Teodoro di Monferrato. In seguito divenne feudo dei "Botigella" e fu abitato da varie famiglie di signori, tra cui i Cattaneo di Cameriano e la famiglia Noli di Novara
  23. Descendants of the Noli in Novara (at the time Lombardy territory) became later established around Bergamo and Parma/Cremona. Nobildonna Alessandra Noli Datarino (Cremona), Can. Comte Alessandro Noli (Bergamo) , Arpulino de Noli da Parma
  24. "citase un Noli Anziano e consiglieri della Signoria nel 1261". Bollettino della Società geografica italiana, Volym 17. 1880. Page 139
  25. Giacomo de Noli and Antonio de Noli are listed in the same Noli family in "Famiglie di Genova", op.cit. Page 293
  26. "1882. Giacomo de Noli fú un de XII-Anziani del Comune sotto il Duce Nicolas de Guarco". In "Famiglie di Genova", op.cit. Page 293
  27. "Nicolas de Guarco fut, en 1378, donné pour successeur a Frégose ... Pour augmenter les forces de sa patrie, il rappela aux places de confiance les nobles qu'on avoit écartés pendant les administrations précédentes". In Simonde Sismondi "Histoire des Républiques Italiennes du Moyen Âge. Paris, M.D.CCC.IX. Tome Septième (Elibro Classics ed, 2004). Page 232
  28. Ferrada-Noli M., Rosetti C., and Brigati I. (2010), "Returning to Italy. A research study on early descendants of Antonio de Noli in Cesena and Genoa 1497–1881". Research Bulletin of the Antonio de Noli Academic Society. Genoa, Italy, 2010. Vol. 1, Nr 3, p. 79-204
  29. The Fieschi were - as well as in Genoa - also a prominent family in Cesena, and they also have had political difficulties in Genoa, the same as the de Noli. The Fieschi and the de Noli had friendly ties and even formed part (around 1340) of the same leading team of Genoa as allies of Duke Nicholas de Guarco. This would also explain, at least in part, reasons for Antonio de Noli and descendants for choosing Cesena as a protected setting for an eventual come back to Italy after exile in Portugal (particularly after - in real terms - losing the Cape Verde governorship), or while waiting for the final settlement in Genoa
  30. "The Cape Verd Islands are situate at the distance of no leagues from the Cape of the same name, on the western coast of Africa, between 23 and 26 west long, and 15 and 18 north lat. They are supposed by some to be the ancient Hesperides of Pliny and Ptolemy. They were discovered, in the year 1460, by Antonio de Noli, a Genoese, under the direction of the Infant Don Henry, who presented them to King Alphonso V. his nephew". In Charles François Du Périer Dumouriez. Op. cit. Chapter "Account of Portugal", "Cape Verd Islands". Page 95
  31. In Bailey W. Diffie & George D. Winius. Op. cit. Page 106. (See Note 5, above)
  32. A facsimile of the royal letter is reproduced in Marcel G. Balla, 2002. "Antonio's Island: Missing Pages of History for Blacks and Hispanics". Braiswick. ISBN 1-898030-48-0
  33. Author Marcel Balla notes that this letter was written only about six weeks after that one of 19 September 1462, what it would constitute a good indication that those seven islands were discovered after 3 December 1460 and before 19 September 1462. In Marcel Balla, Archivo Nacional Torre de Tombo (The national archives in Lisbon) (ANTT), Misticos, vol.2º., fl.155-XX
  34. Five islands in Cape Verde were mentioned in this letter with the original names given: S. Jacobe, S. Felipe, Maias, S. Cristavao and Lana. These names were changed later to Santiago, Fogo, Maio, Boa Vista and Sal. This is also the first time that the Cape Verde islands are mentioned with their original names. In Marcel Balla "Antonio's Island". Op. cit
  35. Grande Enciclopédia Portuguesa e Brasileira (ed. 1945), Vol XVIII, p. 836
  36. Prof. Dr. Marcello Ferrada-Noli (2010) From Italy to Cape Verde - 550 Years. A biographical study of navigator Antonio de Noli
  37. The manuscripts are reproduced in the site of the Antonio de Noli Academic Society, "Manuscripts Archive, 6-2 Cesena manuscripts"
  38. Ferada-Noli, Rosetti C., and Brigati I., op. cit, page 89
  39. Manuscript book "Memorie Antiche", page 300. Manuscript preserved at Servizio conservazione e richerche, Biblioteca Malatestiana, Cesena, Italy
  40. Manuscript book "Memorie della Famigle è della Cità di Cesena". Page 202. Manuscript preserved at Servizio conservazione e richerche, Biblioteca Malatestiana, Cesena, Italy
  41. This Antonio Noli lived in Tregga (reads also "Treggia" or "Teggia" in the manuscripts ) and became also a member of the Cesena Council by means of purchasing his membership by paying "150 D’oro" to the City in 1552. The few mentions of "Treggia" (locality not found in Cesena) spells differently in the manuscripts and may be instead "Teggia" (ancient name for a place located in North Genoa). All which together with emphasizing the "oriundo" character of the Noli family in Cesena may indicate the original, pre Capeverdian, Genoa roots
  42. The location with the name Teggia was later found by Ferrada-Noli (2010) in a manuscript map of the 18th century, at the Municipality of Serra-Ricco in Northern Genoa
  43. Manuscript by Mauro Verdone "Delle cose memorabili della Citá di Cesena". Page 73. Manuscript preserved at Servizio conservazione e richerche, Biblioteca Malatestiana, Cesena, Italy
  44. Manuscript by Giovanni Ceccaroni "Raccolta di memorie cesenati". Page 420. Manuscript preserved at Servizio conservazione e richerche, Biblioteca Malatestiana, Cesena Italy
  45. M. Ferrada-Noli. The de Noli descendants. Lineage Genoa / Serra Riccò / Antonio de Noli 1586
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