3The Solomon Islands: Thought to Be the Actual King Solomon's Mines
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King Solomon was a biblical king of Israel known for his great wisdom, his fondness for wishboning babies, and the holy fuck-ton of gold he owned. You've probably heard the term "King Solomon's mines," because a 19th century novel popularized the idea that there were mysterious mines containing his vast cache of riches -- just sitting there, collecting dust -- and triggering a real-life treasure hunt that hasn't stopped yet. But, as is often the case, the fiction was influenced by fact, and the actual hunt for King Solomon's booty had been going on for centuries before the fictional account.
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"To find Solomon's mines, we need to think like Solomon! Go find me a baby and a saw."
And when generations of treasure hunters searched around Israel and failed to find this hoard that would turn Smaug green with envy, well, they just kept looking farther and farther away. How far, you ask?
The Crazy Reason Behind the Name:
How about east of Australia, otherwise known as damn nigh 9,000 miles from Israel?
The idea came about when Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, a 16th century Spanish government official living in Peru, became fascinated by the Incas. He steeped himself in their rich legends and history, but he just couldn't quite believe that these natives could have built such a prosperous and civilized society, because racism. So he theorized that the Incas had actually come to the New World from Terra Australis Incognita, a mythical land then thought to exist in Earth's Southern Hemisphere (and that would eventually come to be known as Australia, after people discovered that it was less gold-rich myth and more venom-rich horror novel). Others had previously speculated that Ophir, the place mentioned in the Bible as the source of King Solomon's gold, lay somewhere in that same vicinity -- put two and two together, and boom! King Solomon's gold must have come from a land down under.
The script for a Crocodile Dundee prequel damn near writes itself.
His theory was so convincing that he managed to put together an expedition in search of some mythical riches and bitches. The explorers sailed west from Peru for over two months, being inappropriately diddled by uncooperative winds the entire time, until they finally made landfall, not on Australia, but on a string of islands to its northeast. They of course found precisely one fewer hoard of gold there than they'd hoped to, but word of their expedition had become so popular that everyone back home started calling those islands the Solomons, and the rest is history.
2Venezuela: Named After Venice, for Completely Stupid Reasons
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Today, Venice might be known mainly as that sinking city where tourists take obnoxious selfies with an irritated gondolier throwing up a bras d'honneur in the background, but for more than a millennium it was one of the richest, most powerful places in the world.
The Republic of Venice was hitting the early stages of its decline around the time Christopher Columbus was sailing the ocean blue, but world superpowers don't fade overnight, so it's safe to say that it remained quite the impressive place. Still, it was losing a little of its limelight to the discoveries being made in the New World -- you know, mythical lands, cities of silver and gold, naked chicks just everywhere. At one point, Columbus even said he'd found, right there at the tippy top of what is now South America, the biblical Terrestrial Paradise, aka the Garden of freaking Eden. According to Columbus, if he was wrong about it being Paradise, then it was someplace even better.
"This place is great! 'Badmouth the works of God' great."
The Crazy Reason Behind the Name:
Well, three other explorers arrived at the same spot not long after that and rated it a resounding "meh." When Alonso de Hojeda, Amerigo Vespucci, and Juan de la Cosa landed on some islands around the land described by Columbus, they found it sorely lacking in the "big-ass apple tree with a talking snake in it" department. What they did find, however, were lots of natives living in these:
Peter & Jackie Main, via Wikipedia
Maybe Venice also had a problem with giant, terrifying swamp mosquitoes.
Once they were able to take a break from dodging arrows and generally trying to avoid ending up in a giant pot with diced carrots and onions (according to the explorers, the natives were cannibals), they turned to each other and said, "You know what? This place totally looks like Venice." So the mainland was named Veneziola -- literally "little Venice" -- and the name has survived ever since.
OK, so they may have been a bit homesick, seeing as how they decided to sail back to Europe right after that. Also, they were just arriving from Colombia with their pockets full of emeralds, so they were probably feeling pretty generous as they daydreamed of going home to greet their throngs of explorer groupies (which we assume were a thing back then). Even so, the absurd leap they had to make to see some ramshackle huts inhabited by (alleged) cannibals and make a connection to one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe makes us think there was some sort of scurvy-induced dementia going on.