The Exploration of the Pacific Ocean: 500 Years of History

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

By Spanish Legacy in the United States of America

Retrato idealizado de Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1800/1899) by AnónimoSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1595) by Abraham OrteliusSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

“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.

Retrato de Fernando de Magallanes, s.XIX, Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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19th century portrait of Ferdinand Magellan.

Regreso a Sanlúcar de Juan Sebastián Elcano (1800/1899) by Elías SalaverríaSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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'.

Astrolabio naútico (s.XVI) (1500/1599) by AnónimoSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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.

Escandallo. S. XIX, Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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Navigational instruments such as this sounding lead (used to measure sea depth) were indispensable for reaching the Pacific.

Anillo astronómico, Adriann Van Zelst, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

Cuadrante de ballestilla,modelo John Davis, John Elton, 1732, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

Planta y perspectiva de Panamá (1586) by Antonelli BattistaSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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.

Cuadrante solar díptico de faltriquera, Anónimo, 1600/1699, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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From that moment, they knew that the earth did not end at the horizon. Sundials like this one calculated the time of day.

Atlas mapa mundi de Joan Martines, 1587, Joan Martines, 1587, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

Carta universal de Diego Rivero (1529) by Diego RiveroSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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.

Ballestilla (s.XVI), Anónimo, 1500/1599, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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Sailors were guided by the use of navigational instruments (in the picture, a 16th-century cross-staff).

Catalejo o anteojo de línea, Gemichon, 1700/1799, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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Of paramount importance for sailors was the ability to sight new lands (in the photograph, spyglass or hand-held telescope).

Derroteros del s.XVI, Museo Naval, 2013, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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The routes of Spanish explorations in the Pacific in the 16th and 17th centuries.

La Armada Naval mandada por el comendador García de Loaisa (1849) by Vicente UrrabietaSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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.

Adorno para la cabeza de la isla de Nueva Guinea (1800/1899) by AnónimoSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

Headdress from the island of New Guinea. 

Made of vegetable fiber, feathers and seeds.

Brazalete de colmillos de jabalí de la Isla de Nueva Guinea, Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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In the picture, bracelet made of wild boar tusks from the island of New Guinea.

Collar Lei Niho Palaoa de las islas de Hawaii, Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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Lei Niho Palaoa necklace from the islands of Hawaii.

Escudo de los Kenyah-kayan (Borneo), Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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In this picture and the following one, two shields of the Kenyah-Kayan of Borneo.

Escudo de los Kenyah-kayan (Borneo), Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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And the voyages went from Borneo...

Modelo de piragua Wa a kaukuhi, Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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... to Hawaii (in the picture, model of Wa’a kaukuhi canoe),  and to many other places. 

Plato. Hornos de Jingdezhen, Anónimo, 1500/1599, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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. 

Vista panorámica de Sevilla (1617) by Janssen Johnson JanssoniusSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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.

Lanza de Joló y Mindanao en Filipinas (s.XIX), Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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In the picture, a Joló and Mindanáo lance from the Philippines, 19th century.

Globo terráqueo de Coronelli (1700/1799) by CoronelliSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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.

Sector de Gunter, Metz, 1700/1799, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

Derroteros s.XVIII, Museo Naval, 2013, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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Routes of Spanish explorations in the Pacific in the eighteenth century.

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Cuadra, Luis Fernández Gordillo, 1900/1999, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

Carta general de lo descubierto y examinado por los españoles en la costa septentrional de California (1791) by Bodega y CuadraSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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

Retrato del teniente de navío Mourelle de la Rua, Manuel Losada, 1700/1799, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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. 

Retrato de José Esteban Martínez, Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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Portrait of José Esteban Martinez. A veteran navigator, this native of Seville participated in an expedition to Alaska as commander of the frigate 'Princesa'.

Retrato de Alejandro Malaspina, Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

Retrato de José Bustamante y Guerra, Anónimo, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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Cantabrian sailor José Bustamante y Guerra co-commanded the expedition.

Vista de Lima desde el paseo de los Amancaes (1700/1799) by Fernando BrambilaSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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).

Panamá desde la isla de Naos, José Cardero, 1700/1799, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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View of Lima from the Paseo de los Amancaes, by Fernando Brambila (1789-1794).

Zarigüella (1700/1799) by José del PozoSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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).

Retrato del jefe de Punta de Lángara (1725) by José CarderoSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

Portrait of Macuina, chief of the Punta de Lángara.

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

Vista de Manila desde el mar, Fernando Brambila, 1700/1799, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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View of Manila from the sea (between 1788 and 1794).

Vista de la colonia inglesa de Sidney, en la nueva Gales meridional (1700/1799) by Fernando BrambilaSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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).

Experiencia de la gravedad (1700/1799) by Juan RavenetSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

Explorers’ everyday scenes and scientific experiments were also drawn.

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

Caja de instrumentos de dibujo (1700/1799) by BaradelleSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

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

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

Sextante inglés, Nairne and Blunt, 1700/1799, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

Cronómetro marino, José Rodríguez de Losada, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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Marine chronometer, 19th century.

Cronómetro marino Berthoud, Ferdinand Berthoud, 1787, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

Modelo de tanka chino, Anónimo, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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The exhibition also reflects the differences between native vessels, such as this Chinese one from the China Sea.

Modelo de pontín de Filipinas (1800/1899) by AnónimoSpanish Legacy in the United States of America

Model of 'pontin' from the Philippines.

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

Modelo de la carabela 'Pinta', Antonio Toronjo Borrero, 1989, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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Model of a caravel. Caravels had a great capacity for maneuver and for advancing against headwinds.

Modelo de la sección transversal del galeón Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y las Ánimas, Jesús María Lizarraga Gurrea, 2000, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

Modelo de corbeta descubierta, Miguel Godoy Sánchez, 2006, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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Corvette used on the Malaspina Expedition, with a sturdy build to withstand long voyages.

Crucero Infanta Isabel, Julián González Otero, 1800/1899, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

La exposición del Pacífico: 500 años de historia, Casa de América, 2013, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
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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.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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