The Exploration of the Pacific Ocean: 500 Years of History

Spanish Legacy in the United States of America

Fifth Centennial of Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean.

The exhibition 'The Exploration of the Pacific Ocean: 500 Years of History' commemorates the fifth centennial of Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean.

On September 25, 1502, in the course of his third voyage, Christopher Columbus reached the American continent (the coast of Honduras). In the vicinity of Veragua, he received vague reports of the existence of a very rich country called Ciguara and of the Pacific Ocean, which he considered the sea of Trans-Gangetic India. On September 25, 1513, Vasco Núñez de Balboa sighted the Pacific Ocean, which he called Mar del Sur (South Sea).

Idealized portrait of Vasco Núñez de Balboa. Anonymous. Naval Museum of Madrid.

“Maris Pacifici quod vulgo Mar del zur”. Map from the “Theatrum Orbis Terrarum” by Abraham Ortelius (1589), considered the first modern atlas. 

Ferdinand Magellan held that that the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, were located within the area allocated to Spain by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) and that it was, moreover, possible to find a route other than that used by the Portuguese (around the Cape of Good Hope) by passing through a strait in South America that would make it possible to reach the Moluccas via the Pacific Ocean.

Magellan’s voyage (1519-1522) resulted in the discovery of the strait that bears his name, opening a new route from Spain to the Moluccas via the Pacific Ocean. It was the first circumnavigation of the world, ultimately completed by Juan Sebastián Elcano, who succeeded Magellan in command, confirming that the Earth was round.

19th century portrait of Ferdinand Magellan.

Juan Sebastián Elcano’s return to Sanlúcar de Barrameda in 1522. Only 18 crew members managed to return from the round-the-world voyage aboard the 'Victoria'.

This exhibition is an authentic journey through the maritime history of the last 500 years,...

... showing portraits of its heroes, scientific and navigational instruments, maps, models of vessels, ornaments of Pacific island natives, and drawings of the lands that the explorers reached.

Navigational instruments such as this sounding lead (used to measure sea depth) were indispensable for reaching the Pacific.

From the moment Balboa reached the South Sea, new horizons for exploration opened up and the art of navigation evolved. In the picture, a 16th-century astronomical ring.

From America, the gateway to Asia was wide open, and to the rest of the Americas, both North and South. In the picture, a backstaff.

The discovery of this ocean brought great explorations and technological advances. Indeed, all the major expeditions to explore the Pacific coast of South America departed from Panama. 

Map and view of Panama by Antonelli Batista from 1586.

From that moment, they knew that the earth did not end at the horizon. Sundials like this one calculated the time of day.

The myths and legends that held that the earth came to an end across the ocean were dispelled, although new ones were born. Mapamundi (world atlas) by Joan Martines, 1587.

Some myths were not actually myths at all, but true stories of the peoples who lived in the ocean that came to be known as the “Lago Español” (Spanish lake). In the picture, the Carta Universal (map of the world) by Diego Ribero, 1529.

For Spain, after Magellan’s expedition, the world, its lands and its oceans no longer held any major mysteries.

The Pacific voyages did away with fables of human monsters, races of giants, Amazons, pygmies or long-eared men, and no such fantasies were ever mentioned again, as can be seen in the itineraries and chronicles of subsequent voyages. Marine monsters reappeared only in the nineteenth century, in American literature, with Moby Dick.

Sailors were guided by the use of navigational instruments (in the picture, a 16th-century cross-staff).

Of paramount importance for sailors was the ability to sight new lands (in the photograph, spyglass or hand-held telescope).

The routes of Spanish explorations in the Pacific in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Jofre de Loaisa, Álvaro de Saavedra Cerón, Hernando de Grijalva, Ruiz López de Villalobos, Álvaro de Mendaña, Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa and Luis Vaez de Torres, among others, discovered a large number of the Caroline, Marshall and Palau Islands throughout the 16th and beginning of the 17th century

Jofre de Loaisa’s departure from Corunna, bound for the Moluccas, in 1525.

Headdress from the island of New Guinea. 

Made of vegetable fiber, feathers and seeds.

In the picture, bracelet made of wild boar tusks from the island of New Guinea.

Lei Niho Palaoa necklace from the islands of Hawaii.

In this picture and the following one, two shields of the Kenyah-Kayan of Borneo.

And the voyages went from Borneo...

... to Hawaii (in the picture, model of Wa’a kaukuhi canoe),  and to many other places. 

On one of those voyages, Miguel de Urdaneta (1565) discovered the Philippines-America route, which came to be known as “Urdaneta’s route”. A regular trade route was established that linked Mexico to the Philippines, led by the Manila galleon, also known as the Nao de China, until the Cortes de Cádiz put an end to the route on September 14, 1813. 

Seville was both port of departure and port of entry for the Manila galleon’s route. In the picture, a panoramic view of Seville, 1617.

In the picture, a Joló and Mindanáo lance from the Philippines, 19th century.

Knowledge of the Pacific Ocean consolidated and expanded in the eighteenth century. A map of the great ocean from circa 1700 still shows large gaps in northern and southern regions, as well as significant inaccuracies in the location of numerous islands and archipelagos.

In contrast, the general maps drawn up circa 1800 show the advances made by several generations of enlightened navigators, scientists and cartographers. 17th-century globe by Coronelli.

The South Sea, the 'Spanish lake' or the Pacific Ocean, regardless of the names they were given, went on to be extensively navigated and mapped. 

In the picture, Gunter sector, eighteenth century.

Routes of Spanish explorations in the Pacific in the eighteenth century.

Portrait of Juan José Francisco Bodega y Cuadra, twentieth century. One of the most brilliant navigators of the eighteenth century, he explored the Pacific coast of the American northwest, even reaching Alaska.

General chart of the regions discovered and explored by the Spanish on the southern coast of California, 1791. 

Portrait of the lieutenant of the ship 'Mourelle de la Rua'. On his exploration of the northwest coast of America, he reached 58ºN in Alaska. 

Portrait of José Esteban Martinez. A veteran navigator, this native of Seville participated in an expedition to Alaska as commander of the frigate 'Princesa'.

Alejandro Malaspina led an expedition called “A Scientific and Political Voyage Around the World”. His goal was to collect data and report on the state of Spanish possessions in the Americas and Asia.

Cantabrian sailor José Bustamante y Guerra co-commanded the expedition.

Cartographers and draftsmen also participated in this enlightening voyage. Their drawings depicted the reality of cities like Lima, Peru.

Vista de Lima desde el paseo de los Amancaes, de Fernando Brambila (1789-1794).

View of Lima from the Paseo de los Amancaes, by Fernando Brambila (1789-1794).

Pacific flora and fauna, such as this California opossum, were skillfully drawn.

Quadruped drawn with a quill, diluted sepia and pigments, by José del Pozo (1789-1794).

Portrait of Macuina, chief of the Punta de Lángara.

Member of the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe of Nutka (present-day Canada).

View of Manila from the sea (between 1788 and 1794).

On May 1, 1606, Pedro Fernández de Quirós reached the main island of the New Hebrides and, believing it to be a part of the sought-after Southern Continent, he called it Australia del Espíritu Santo (Australia of the Holy Spirit). Malaspina would visit the real Australia in 1793.

View of the British colony of Sydney, in New South Wales, by Fernando Brambila (1789-1794).

Explorers’ everyday scenes and scientific experiments were also drawn.

'Gravity experiment[, by Juan Ravenet (1789-1794).

We owe all this to the availability of brushes, compasses, etc.

Baradelle’s box of drawing instruments, 18th century.

On 18th century voyages, sailors were able to rely on certain technical advances such as the sextant and the chronometer, which improved the accuracy of the charts and maps of the new routes explored, and knowledge of the position of the ship at sea.

Marine chronometer, 19th century.

Berthoud marine chronometer. This was used to determine the exact time of day on the high seas, so as to calculate longitude by the chronometric method.

The exhibition also reflects the differences between native vessels, such as this Chinese one from the China Sea.

Model of 'pontin' from the Philippines.

Filipino vessel used by the people of Luzon and the Visayas for transport and trade, 19th century.

Model of a caravel. Caravels had a great capacity for maneuver and for advancing against headwinds.

Cross-section of the galleon 'Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y las Ánimas'. One of the last galleons to be built in Spain; its maneuverability and speed were typical of a ship of the line.

Corvette used on the Malaspina Expedition, with a sturdy build to withstand long voyages.

The cruiser 'Infanta Isabel'. It is a representative of the last Spanish ships to sail the Pacific before the loss of the Philippines in 1898.

Video of the exhibition 'The Exploration of the Pacific Ocean: 500 years of History' in the Naval Museum at the Casa de América. All items are the property of the Naval Museum.

Credits: Story

Exposición virtual — Esta exposición virtual está realizada con fotografías de fondos propiedad del Museo Naval.
Exposición física — La exposición física, comisariada por el Museo Naval de Madrid con sus propios fondos,  se puede visitar en la Casa de América, hasta el 2 de febrero de 2014.
Comisarios de la exposición — José Manuel Sevilla López; María Pilar de San Pío Aladrén; María del Carmen López Calderón. Con la colaboración de María Vigón Tabar y José María Moreno Martín.
Creación de la exposición virtual — Olivia Piquero, Coordinadora Web y Responsable de Comunidades Online de Casa de América
Patrocinadores — Telefónica, Navantia, Ministerio de Defensa, Armada Española, Fundación Jorge Juan, Fundación Ramón Areces, Tecnobit, Fundación Museo Naval, Alvargonzález, Naviera Armas, Baleária, Boluda Corporación Marítima, Naviera Elcano, Grupo Ibaizábal

Credits: All media
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