King Felipe VI and his father Juan Carlos with the former commanders of the ‘Juan Sebastián de Elcano’ training ship. Photo: H.M. the King’s Household.

Spain celebrates 500th anniversary of first circumnavigation of the Earth

The visit of King Felipe VI and former king Juan Carlos I to the training ship Juan Sebastián de Elcano marked the beginning of a series of activities being held over the next three years, in the context of ‘Seville 2019-2022’.

Spain has begun to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the Earth, accomplished by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and Spanish discoverer Juan Sebastián Elcano. The celebrations will go on until 2022, in an effort to promote an exploit that can be deemed the first act of globalisation in history.

The inaugural event was attended by King Felipe VI and his father Juan Carlos, who visited the Spanish Royal Navy’s training ship Juan Sebastián de Elcano. It was the first time two kings had got aboard this barquentine together.

The event was the farewell to the 180-strong crew before they embarked on their training cruise, which will take them to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Panama and USA aboard the Juan Sebastián de Elcano, a floating embassy of our country.

Celebrations for three years

The 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the Earth will be celebrated in the context of Seville 2019-2022, a three-year programme of activities mirroring the three years the Magella-Elcano voyage took to complete (from 1519 to 1522). The programme is meant to tell the story of the expedition in Spain and the world, drawing attention to its importance and to the explorers behind the big deed.

One of the main activities has already been held: the largest history conference ever, gathering 250 scholars from all over the world (Valladolid, 20 to 22 March).

In addition, on 22 March, an event was held commemorating the signing of the Capitulaciones, that is, the contract signed by the Spanish Crown and Magellan before his ships set sail. The ceremony was chaired by King Felipe VI.

The voyage that changed the world

In 1519, 500 years ago, King Charles I of Spain appointed the naval officer Ferdinand Magellan to search for a westward route to the Maluku Islands, known at the time as the ‘Spice Islands’, explore the adjacent territory, and see the possibility of the islands being Spanish according to the demarcation of the Treaty of Tordesillas.

In order to evade the Portuguese fleet, Magellan departed from Seville and sailed south and west. On 6 September 1522, Elcano and the remaining crew of Magellan’s expedition arrived in Spain aboard the Victoria, completing the first known voyage around the entire Earth, almost exactly three years after the fleet of five ships had departed.

The Magellan-Elcano expedition literally changed the world and our knowledge of it, proving that the Earth was actually a sphere, finding a passage that connected the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans (today known as Strait of Magellan) and discovering new territories like the Philippines.