The Longest Voyage: The Dream

1434 - 1517 | Discover how the first voyage around the world took place.

By Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

Antonio Fernández Torres, Guillermo Morán Dauchez (General Archive of the Indies) and Braulio Vázquez Campos (General Archive of the Indies).

The Dream by Lola Bermúdez (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, French writer.

Europa and Asia by Lola Bermúdez (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

Some 500 years ago in Seville, Europe's long-awaited dream of reaching the unexplored, mythical lands of the Orient and the Maluku (Moluccas or Spice) Islands became a reality.
Ferdinand Magellan set off on his voyage in 1519, and three years later it became the longest voyage of the era: the first circumnavigation of the world was completed by Juan Sebastián Elcano, captain of the Victoria, and his crew in 1522.

To celebrate the 500th anniversary of this amazing feat, Cultural Action Spain (Acción Cultural Española) and the General Archive of the Indies (Archivo General de Indias) have come together to organize the exhibition of The Longest Voyage.

This fantastic exhibition showcases testimonies from some of the sailors and navigators who went on this exceptional journey. Their stories speak to the human aspect of the voyage: these men dreamed of sailing an impossible route into the unknown and managed to return home, changing history forever.

Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Coasts of Europe and Africa (1520) by Giovanni VespucciAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

Setting the Stage: Europe, the Orient, and the Oceans

Europe and Asia | Mid-15th century–Early 16th century

The Longest Journey: The First Circumnavigation of the Globe by Braulio VázquezAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

Europe had always dreamed about Asia. For the old continent of Europe, the Orient was a distant fantasy, an obsession. By the mid-15th century, the spread of the Ottoman empire meant that overland trade routes were cut off, and Renaissance Europe resolved to overcome its fear of the sea. Iberian navigators, who had turned their art into a science, surveyed the oceans and considered the possibility of new trade routes. Until this time, people thought the oceans were an unbreachable abyss.

>Take a virtual tour of the exhibition in the General Archive of the Indies.

Portulan Chart of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Coasts of Europe and Africa (1520) by Giovanni VespucciOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

During the 14th century, Europe was centered around the east of the Mediterranean Sea, where Italian factories in Genoa, Florence, and Venice served as intermediaries that traded luxury goods with the Far East, which specialized in silk and spices. With increasing pressure from the Turks in the 15th century, the trade route moved west towards the Atlantic, and the focus shifted to Portugal and Spain.

This portolan chart was not designed for navigating the Mediterranean Sea, but for voyaging toward the Orient. Its creator, Juan Vespucci, worked as a navigator for the Spanish House of Trade (Casa de la Contratación) in Seville from 1512. He was the only one authorized to make copies of the Padrón Real (the Royal Register), which was the secret master map used on all Spanish ships during the 16th century.

Miller Atlas (1522) by Lopo HomemOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de Francia

The Exploration Race: In Search of Spices

Iberian Peninsula | 1488–1517

Map of the Voyage of Discovery by Tannhauser EstudioAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

In the late 15th century, Portugal and Spain (then known as Castile) charged into the oceans in an unprecedented exploration race. Both countries had the same goal: find a sea route to reach the Far East and the fabled Moluccas islands, the home of lucrative spices.

Treaty of Tordesillas Treaty of Tordesillas / Page 03Archivos Estatales

The Treaty of Tordesillas was signed on June 7, 1494 by  the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, and King John II of Portugal. It established a new meridian 370 leagues (1,277 miles) west of the Cape Verde islands. Each party promised not to undertake explorations in the other's side: the west of the meridian was Spain's, while the east belonged to Portugal. An unforeseen consequence of the Treaty was the question of who owned the Maluku Islands, as the Tordesillas meridian naturally formed an anti-meridian which divided the waters and land in the East.

Planisphere (ca. 1519) by Jorge ReinelOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de Francia

The Project: Dream Meets Possibility

Seville - Valladolid | October 20, 1517–March 22, 1518

Magellan Engraving (19th century) by Fernando SelmaOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

By 1517, the Portuguese had been present in India for nine years and trading with the Moluccas islands for five. Meanwhile, Castile was held up in the Americas, still searching for a passage to the East and the Mar del Sur. The Mar del Sur (South Sea), later known as the Pacific Ocean, was discovered by the Spanish explorer Balboa.

That year, a young king who dreamed of becoming emperor arrived in Castile and assumed the joint throne of Castile and Aragon. He was Charles I of Spain, later known as Emperor Charles V. A few days after his ascension to the throne, the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan crossed the border into Castile and offered the king the key to reaching the Spice Islands by heading west. As soon as the two met, their dreams came to fruition.

The Capitulations of Valladolid

The king, who “loved the maritime letters and poems” that Magellan showed him, soon took up the gauntlet to discover the Maluku Islands. He granted Magellan the title of governor and gave him advance ownership of any lands he discovered. He also named him Captain-General of the first Armada and granted him other trading favors and privileges. Magellan was also promoted to the rank of Commander of the Order of Santiago and became a citizen of the Kingdom of Castile.

Settlement of King Charles I with Ferdinand Magellan and Rui Faleiro Settlement of King Charles I with Ferdinand Magellan and Rui Faleiro / Page 04Archivos Estatales

According to this charter issued by Royal Decree in Valladolid on March 22, 1518, and signed on the same day by Joanna I and Charles V, Ferdinand Magellan and a learned man named Rui Faleiro were both named Captain-General of the Spice Island Fleet (Armada de la Especiería).

What drives us to explore?

The scientists and explorers Pedro Duque, Tomás Mazón, Tomás Echegoyen, Kitín Múñoz, Íñigo Múñoz, Matthias Mauer, and Ignacio Orcada, among others, speak about their experiences as they embarked on a voyage into the unknown.

General History of the Indies (16th century) by Bartolomé de las CasasOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

History of the Indies

The chronicles of a New World discovered at the end of the 15th century saw the dawn of a new period in which all sorts of testimonies were recorded by various authors. They wanted to record first-hand accounts of everything people saw and experienced in lands that were as yet unknown to all Europeans. These chronicles were indispensable to historians who analyzed the magnitude and impact of this historic event from every angle.

One of the greatest works is History of the Indies (Historia General de las Indias) by Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566).

Las Casas described and fiercely denounced the conditions that native Indians were subjected to, as well as the behavior of the conquistadors following their arrival in Española Island, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. As for any references to the first circumnavigation of the world, Brother Bartolomé's account tells us a lot about Magellan's arrival to the Spanish Court and the negotiations that took place to organize the Armada for the Spice Islands.

Justified Account by Cristóbal de Haro Justified Account by Cristóbal de Haro / Page 01Archivos Estatales

This document is a record of an inventory that was managed by Christopher de Haro up until 1526 for the Armadas of Magellan, Caboto and de Loaísa. Though there is an abundance of these kinds of accounting summaries in the General Archive of the Indies (Archivo General de Indias), this one is of particular interest as it provides information about the destination of the cloves that were brought back from the Maluku Islands by Captain Elcano, aboard the Victoria.

Justified Account by Cristóbal de Haro Justified Account by Cristóbal de Haro / Page 10Archivos Estatales

A sponsor in the shadows?

Some authors argue strongly that Cristóbal de Haro played a pivotal role in the original design and plan for Magellan's Armada and that he may even have been working in the shadows as the main architect and sponsor of the project.

The Longest Voyage. SeaAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

Continue to the next stage of the adventure. The Longest Voyage: Setting Sail.

Credits: Story

Adaptation of the exhibition "The Longest Journey: The First Around the World".

Organizers: Spanish Cultural Action, Ministry of Culture. General Archive of the Indies
Curated by: Antonio Fernández Torres, Guillermo Morán Dauchez, Braulio Vázquez Campos
Program: Raquel Mesa
Images: Archivo General de Indias, Tannhauser Estudio

> See the digital catalog
> Download the digital catalog
> See brochure

This exhibition is part of the First Voyage Around the World project.

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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