Tabla de contenidos
1. La Victoria was the only ship that returned from the expedition led by the Portuguese captain, which had the purpose of finding a passage through South America to reach the Moluccas in search of spices.
In December 1520, three European ships entered the waters of the ‘South Sea’ for the first time in history, which in the future would be called the Pacific Ocean. Although they still did not know it, it was the largest body of water on the planet. A three-month long journey awaited them to the Moluccas archipelago, where they had to go in search of the valuable spices.
Until then, what was truly extraordinary about the expedition was that it had reached this remote place by always sailing west. Nothing like this had ever been achieved before, since the existence of a pass through the American continent was unknown.
There were only three ships left of the five that were part of the ‘Armada del Maluco’ – Maluco Navy -, which had left the port of Seville in August of the previous year. The ‘Armada’ had been arranged by the Spanish crown to try to find this pass, After thoroughly exploring the American coasts in the South Atlantic, they had finally discovered a new sea route, through what is now known as the Strait of Magellan, in Patagonia.
1.1 The beginnings of the journey
After a strong disagreement with the King of Portugal Manuel I, Ferdinand Magellan got an interview with the newly crowned King of Spain, Charles I, in 1518 in Valladolid. The captain convinces him of the existence of a pass in the extreme south of America that would allow access to the expected species, always following the Spanish demarcation. He guaranteed that he would be able to find that place and, in this way, the agreements that would finance the Spanish company were signed.
Over the course of a year, the necessary crew will be recruited to govern the five ‘naos’ – ships -, around 250 people, who will prepare and stock up on food before embarking on the adventure. They will leave Seville on the day of San Lorenzo, although they will spend forty days in Sanlúcar de Barrameda to finish supplying provisions and stow the crafts.
Finally, on September 20 they will set sail for Tenerife crossing the stretch of Ocean between the Gulf of Cádiz and the Canaries, known as ‘Mar de las Yeguas’ – Sea of Mares. This name was attributed to these usually troubled waters that caused dizziness in the cattle that the boats sometimes carried on board.
The Navy’s voyage was highly variable, as the ships of that time were completely dependent on the wind. Thus, it was the winds that determined the advance of the boats, which many times were left adrift in the middle of nowhere by the dead calm, which ended up sapping the patience of even the most hardened sailors.
1.2 A sea of doubts and calamities
The Spanish expedition was commanded by a Portuguese, and that was not liked at all among the sailors, much less among the rest of the officers. The captains of the San Antonio, La Victoria and La Concepción planned a mutiny when the ships had stopped en route at Puerto San Julián, in present-day Argentina.
There were too many reasons to carry it out, such as the mistrust generated by its Portuguese origins. In addition, time passed and Magellan couldn’t find the desired strait, so the crew was hungrier and colder. His arrogant character didn’t help either.
The uprising failed and culminated in the execution of two captains and the exile of the ‘veedor real’ – royal supervisor -, Juan de Cartagena, who was never heard from again. After several months of turbulent wintering, in which the smallest boat – the Santiago – was also lost after a reconnaissance mission, the expedition members embarked again to finally find the southwest pass.
It took several months to cross the island network. Some expedition members who still denied their captain general took the opportunity to take control of the San Antonio and put the bow home.
1.2.1 La Victoria is left alone
After the desertion, the Maluco Navy would finally be dissolved with the abandonment of La Concepción – already on the island of Bohol in the Philippines – due to lack of crew. Days earlier they had lost many of them in a battle against the indigenous peoples of the islands of Cebu and Mactan. Among them, Magellan himself.
La Victoria and La Trinidad ships loaded their cellars of cloves on the island of Tidore before starting the return trip. But La Trinidad had to turn around due to the serious damage in its ribs, through which the water seeped in.
1.3 Elcano takes the helm
Juan Sebastián Elcano was chosen to captain Victoria’s return home. After considering the option of the ‘tornaviaje’ – back on the same course already traveled – he decided to continue with the direction to the west. They had to cross the South Indian Ocean – a latitude until now unexplored – to avoid being surprised and captured by the Portuguese, since the waters of that demarcation did not belong to the Spanish.
The situation in La Victoria was so critical after almost six months of crossing that the few remaining officers made the decision to land in the Cape Verde archipelago, a base where the Portuguese had been installed for years. A safe port for the Portuguese on their travels along the African route to India and the Moluccas.
The little more than 20 navigators see civilization again. They had traveled thousands of leagues since they left Timor in January 1522 in the most absolute solitude of a ship barely 92 feet long and 24,5 feet wide; of a walnut shell in the middle of an uncertain route in the Indian Ocean; of an open-air jail in the vast ocean.
In the Cape Verdean archipelago they concocted a deception with which they could stock up on some food and water to continue the journey to Sanlúcar. Had they continued north in search of the long-awaited Canaries, of the Spanish crown, they would have perished in the attempt. Literally. Hence, they had to plan a ploy to confuse the Portuguese and thus be able to trade with them.
1.4 A hasty end
The plan agreed by the members of the expedition consisted in explaining that they were there due to a strong storm that had taken them from their course towards America.
This kind of agreements between the two Iberian powers were always respected. The Portuguese and Spanish could cross their boundaries to reach theirs, either by unforeseen circumstances or by sheer necessity. The Spanish, for example, had to cross part of the eastern Atlantic to reach their demarcation west of the meridian established in the Treaty of Tordesillas, about 1,300 kilometers west of – precisely – Cape Verde.
Therefore, if the deception was successful, nothing should raise suspicions, since the presence of the Victory could be due to a circumstance contemplated by both countries. The problem was that although this story seems to work at first, they are betrayed later on – it’s unknown how they find out. The expedition members who were on the island trading at that time were immediately arrested. Those who had remained on the ship quickly raise anchor and flee towards Spain.
Elcano would tell this episode to King Carlos V months later in a letter in which he explained what happened:
The Governor seized my batel with 13 men and wanted to take me along with all my men on a ship that was returning to Calicut – Kozhikode, in the present Indian state of Kerala – from Portugal, saying that only the King of Portugal could discover the Spice Islands.
1.4.1 What day is today?
By the way, it was in those moments after negotiating in Ribeira Grande when the sailors realized that the signing of a document did not correspond with the record of the date that the expedition members kept in their minds. They had counted one day less, since they had always traveled west.
1.5 One last catastrophe
Perhaps the Earth, during ‘its celebration’ of the feat recently achieved, or due to ‘its surprise’ after having been involved in its first human ‘hug’, shook the Andalusian lands with unease, causing the worst earthquake recorded in the history of Spain.
The disaster occurred on September 22, 1522 in the Alpujarras. Only two weeks after the arrival of the Nao Victoria in Seville. It is estimated that it was about 6.8 degrees on the Ritchter scale. Around 2,000 people lost their lives and cities such as Almería were completely demolished.
2. The unprecedented round the world
2.1 Seville, beginning and end of the trip
The journey began and ended in Seville after completing the first circumnavigation of the Earth in History. The tragic episodes lived on the high seas do not diminish one of the most incredible feats in history, only comparable to milestones such as the arrival of Man on the Moon.
In fact, this glorious event for the history of Spain and Humanity gains in value after the multiple misfortunes that have occurred throughout the three years that the undertaking finally lasted. An epic story that no one imagined before embarking on the search for a simple but difficult strait that would take the Spanish crown to the Spice Islands.
2.2 Fifteen times the voyage of Columbus
Francisco Albo started as a boatswain on La Trinidad and ended up as a pilot for La Victoria. He recorded the total distance they had traveled throughout the expedition shortly before reaching the Gulf of Cádiz. After his meticulous daily work of calculating the course of the ships and their position on the charts, he indicated in his last entry of the crossing that they were approaching 14,000 leagues. That is to say, about 78,000 kilometers.
In the three years that the voyage to the Spice Islands finally lasted, La Victoria had multiplied by 15 the distance traveled by Columbus on his first voyage to America thirty years earlier. An unimaginable odyssey that led the ship – ultimately led by Juan Sebastián Elcano – to go around the world for the first time in history.
But other extraordinary landmarks within the same journey were overcome. Among other feats, it shouldn’t be forgotten that many of La Victoria sailors who left the Moluccas never landed in Cape Verde, so when they arrived in Seville they had traveled approximately 25,000 kilometers without stepping on land. Undoubtedly, no one until then – and probably very few afterwards – had completed such a long journey on board.
3. 5th Centenary of the Epic Journey
Only 18 expedition members were able to complete the route, although glory must also be given to all those who died in the attempt, about 150. An event that today makes us proud and that we celebrate as it deserves in Seville.
Permanent exhibitions such as the one on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, ‘Espacio Primera Vuelta al Mundo’ – in Paseo Alcalde Marqués de Contadero, promoted by the National Commission for the Commemoration of the First Around the World – show the visitor the ins and outs of the expedition and the ‘naos’ – crafts. The Nao Victoria Foundation was in charge of designing the presentation of this feat to bring it closer to the public in an accessible and didactic way.
Last March, days before the declaration of the state of alarm by Covid-19, a replica of the ship went upstream to dock in front of its facilities and be part of the cultural visit.
3.1 Exhibitions and routes in Seville
However, the exhibition that had the greatest repercussion in the media was the one that was opened to the public at the Archive of the Indies between September 2019 and February 2020. That exhibition, inaugurated by King Felipe VI, is so far the most important that has been carried out in the city.
In that exhibition, historical documents were collected from the National Library of Madrid, the Torre do Tombo National Archive in Lisbon and the Archive of the Indies itself. It had original annotations from Magellan, Elcano, Pigafetta, etc. in an audiovisual exhibition that led Sevillians and tourists across the oceans. People were able to learn about what happened to them at each moment of the trip, what they ate, who they encountered, what were the biggest difficulties they had, what places they discovered …
As if this were not enough, local tour guides have offered thematic routes to get to know the city where Magellan lived. Mainly since the 500th anniversary of the expedition’s departure from Seville, held in 2019. The routes are designed to highlight places such as the ‘Casa de Contratación’ – House of Trade -, the shipyards, or more modern monuments such as the armillary sphere.
A new tour that has been very well received by institutions, who see how tourism can be decentralized in Seville with an alternative offer away from the most popular visits to the Alcázar – Royal Palace -, the Cathedral and the Plaza de España.
3.1.1 The armillary sphere
Much of the population in the 16th century thought the Earth was flat. In any case, those who knew that this was not the case did not really know its true dimensions either. In fact, the discovery of America was nothing more than a serendipity. A fortuitous encounter of Columbus with a huge land mass that nobody expected. The admiral died not knowing that he had discovered a new continent.
Estimates of the sphericity of the earth have been made for more than 2,000 years. One of the first – if not the first -, Eratosthenes, calculated in 240 BC. C. the circumference of the Earth, because he understood that it was round. And he was not wrong by much.
He is credited with the invention of the armillary sphere, an astronomical instrument used for the determination of celestial bodies, as well as for navigation. A large armillary sphere was installed in the Plaza de Cuba in Seville thanks to a citizen initiative. Today it is one of the most emblematic points of the routes related to the figure of Magellan.
3.1.2 Main stops of the guided tours of Magellan:
- The Armillary Sphere was recently built. It usually marks the beginning or end of visits.
- Golden Tower: it’s an Almohad construction from the beginning of the 13th century.
- An interesting exhibition, ‘First Round the World Space’, was inaugurated in 2019 on the occasion of the 5th centenary of the start of the expedition.
- Shipyards: they were founded by Alfonso X the Wise in the 13th century. Only 7 naves remain of the 17 that were originally.
- The Archive of the Indies was built by order of Carlos III to centralize all information related to the Americas.
- ‘Arquillo de la Plata’: it was an access that connected the House of Trade with the Port of Seville, in the Arenal quarter.
- ‘Plaza de la Contratación’ is located next to what were the dependencies of the powerful House of Trade, established in 1,503.
- The Triumph’s Square was called in the XV century ‘Plaza de los Cantos’ (Pebbles Square), for being the place where the stones that would serve for the construction of the Magna Hispalensis (Cathedral) were deposited.
3.1.3 Do you want to know how much a Magellan route in Seville costs?
The price of a regular tour about the trip and the figure of Magellan ranges between ten and fifteen euros per person. These visits last around two hours and two and a half hours. It is possible to do this route privately through a reservation now.
The price of admission to the exhibition ‘First Around the World’ is usually not included in the visit. The cost is three euros for children between five and ten years old, and six euros from eleven years. It’s free for children under five years old. A family rate is offered for fifteen euros. This includes two adults and up to three children under the age of ten.
3.2 Like a movie
If this story had happened anywhere else, hundreds of scenes would likely have been shot in Hollywood by now, and it would have been widely promoted and publicized. The adventures and misadventures that occurred on this expedition would also provide hundreds of hours of raw footage with which to complete a series over several seasons.
Especially in recent times, in which series have gained prominence on video-on-demand platforms on the Internet. The truth is that the premiere of a series inspired by the Magellan expedition is already being prepared. ‘Sin Límites’ – Limitless – will consist of four chapters and will premiere at the end of 2021. The series was presented by Amazon Prime and RTVE – Spanish public television – last February.
We are Víctor Fernández (Bachelor’s Degree in Audiovisual Communication and Master in Journalism) and Clara Nebrera (Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts), founders of the Macarena Tours brand, formed by a team of official tour guides specialized in private visits in Seville and its surroundings.