Rome: A stolen letter written by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage of discovery to the Americans was retrieved by Italian and US authorities and returned to Italy.

The rare letter was printed in Rome in 1493. It had been stolen from the Riccardiana library in Florence, most probably in the early 1990s, and replaced with a fake, Xinhua news agency reported.

The theft was only discovered in 2012, and a joint Italian-American probe was launched.

Police officers found out the original copy had surfaced in New York during an auction in 1992 and was bought by a private for some $400,000.

Then, the letter was donated to the Library of Congress in Washington in 2004.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini and US ambassador to Italy John R Phillips presided over the repatriation ceremony on Wednesday.

Italian explorer Christopher Columbus carried out the first of his four voyages to the Americas in 1492, marking the beginning of the European colonization of the so-called “New World”.

In February 1493, while sailing back to Europe, Columbus wrote about the wonders of his voyage in a letter that was later printed in several copies, and in various languages, in order to spread the news of the “discovery” of the Americas.

Very few of those original printed copies survived, and one of them was stolen from the Florence library and retrieved in the Library of Congress in Washington.

The artefact would be worth around 1 million euros ($1.13 million), according to Italian officials.

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