Very little is known of Giovanni da Verrazzano’s early childhood days or his personal life, although historians believe he was born around the year 1485 to Piero Andrea di Bernardo da Verrazzano and Fiammetta Cappelli. Historians generally agree that he was born in Val di Greve, the capital city of the Florentine Republic. Val di Greve lies approximately 30 miles south of the present day city of Florence.
Most historians also concur that he was born in the Castello di Verrazzano, which is famous for its vineyards and production of Chianti, although there is no evidence that Verrazzano had any involvement in making wine. The Italian Historical Society states that he received an excellent education while growing up in Florence, and other sources indicate that he was born into the Italian nobility and that he was well-educated in cartography, mathematics, astronomy, navigation and seamanship.
Some French scholars assert that Verrazzano was born in Lyons, but this claim is unlikely since Verrazzano always referred to himself as a Florentine, as did his contemporaries. Around 1506, Verrazzano arrived in the French port of Dieppe, a renowned center of cartography during the Renaissance that was home to the explorers Samuel de Champlain and Jacques Cartier. While in Dieppe, Verrazzano continued to study seamanship and began his career as a navigator.
Verrazzano made his first voyage to North America aboard the ship La Pensee, captained by Thomas Aubert around 1508. It would be another 15 years before Verrazzano received a commission and a ship to sail to North America for Francis I of France.