Map of South America (1630) by Gerardis MercatorisOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid. Todos los derechos reservados.
A five-ship expedition left from Seville in 1519 in search of a new route to the Spice Islands, to the west. The journey concluded three years later, after circumnavigating the world, and provided empirical evidence that the Earth was round and that all the oceans were connected.
Sailing over three of the five oceans was no easy task; in fact, it would still be a mean feat today if attempted only with the power of the wind and some rudimentary nautical instruments.
Juan Sebastián Elcano (1854) by J. DononOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid. Todos los derechos reservados.
The protagonists of this venture were excellent sailors, but it is worth remembering that, despite the excellent cosmographers on board, they had very limited resources.
Here are some examples of the simple navigational instruments that enabled this monumental accomplishment.
Summary of Geography... (1530) by Martín Fernández de EncisoOriginal Source: Museo Naval, Madrid. Biblioteca.
Suma de Geographia
Martín Fernández de Enciso's 70-page work, Suma de Geographia, was published in Seville in 1519 in Juan Cromberger's printing house.
This work was pioneering in many ways; it was the first to address sailing to newly discovered lands and to attempt to translate the art of sailing into rules, amending routine sailing methods.
It was also pioneering in its introduction of a list of places in the Indies, with relatively accurate latitudes, and in including a description of the East Indies. It is also considered to be the first manual of geography written in Spanish.
The work contains a brief treatise on the Earth, sun declination tables, the use of the altitude of the North Star to determine latitude, geographical descriptions of the parts of the world, with Europe and Gibraltar, and the recently discovered New World.
Portrait of Pedro de Medina (1934) by Julio García CondoyOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid. Todos los derechos reservados.
Pedro de Medina and The Art of Navigation (El Arte de Navegar)
Pedro de Medina was a cosmographer who lived in Seville in the 16th century. At that time, Seville was the center of the Spanish nautical industry and the departure point for ships sailing to the New World.
In 1545, he published The Art of Navigation, his most important work. In just one volume, he compiled all the knowledge that cosmographers from the House of Commerce (Casa de Contratación) taught to those hoping to obtain their captain's license.
The work was an international success and was quickly translated into many European languages.
This text, together with A Short Compendium of the World and of the Art of Navigation (Breve Compendio de la Sphera y de la Arte de Navegar), by Martín Cortés de Albacar, provided the civilized world with rules for sailing.
Hourglass to measure 30 seconds (16th Century) by Spanish anonimousOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid. Todos los derechos reservados.
An hourglass to measure time
In maritime navigation, an hourglass is an instrument used to estimate time, enabling sailors to calculate a boat's speed and regulate life on board.
Solid materials were used instead of liquids, as the latter would thicken with the changes in temperature. Over time, they advanced to be made from brass or iron and were hermetically sealed, as moisture would affect the sand.
Handheld compass (Ca. 1596) by Museo Naval. FerrolOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid. Todos los derechos reservados.
The compass was used to measure distances on navigational charts based on the resulting angle.
Mariner's or altitude quadrant (1982) by Juan San Martín BucetaOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid. Todos los derechos reservados.
Mariner's quadrant to measure altitude
This astronomical instrument was used for both astronomical and navigational observations. In astronomy, it could be used to measure the altitude of the stars, and in navigation, it could be used to determine latitude and calculate the time.
Sounder (Ca. 1600) by Spanish anonimousOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid. Todos los derechos reservados.
Made from lead, it is an instrument used to measure the depth of the sea in the places where ships sail.
Mariner's astrolabe (16th Century) by Spanish anonimousOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid. Todos los derechos reservados.
The astrolabe was one of the oldest instruments that was taken on the voyage. It was used to measure the altitude of the stars on the horizon in order to determine the time, functioning as a clock both by day (based on the altitude of the sun) and by night (based on another known star).
It was invented by the ancient Greeks, but was lost in Europe until its reintroduction in the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs in the 11th century.
Organized by the Naval Museum, Madrid
Online adaptation: Blanca Sazatornil, Alicia Suárez. Outreach Department, Naval Museum, Madrid.
This exhibition is part of the First Voyage Around the World project.