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News: 500 years on, how Magellan’s voyage changed the world

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Ferdinand Magellan set off from Spain 500 years ago on an epoch-making voyage to sail all the way around the globe for the first time.

The Portuguese explorer was killed by islanders in the Philippines two years into the adventure, leaving Spaniard Juan Sebastian Elcano to complete the three-year trip. But it is Magellan’s name that is forever associated with the voyage.

“Magellan is still an inspiration 500 years on,” said Fabien Cousteau, a French filmmaker and underwater explorer like his grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

“He was a pioneer at a time when explorers who went off into the unknown had a strong habit of not coming back.”

Here are five ways in which Magellan’s voyage marked human history and continues to inspire scientists and explorers today.
Some of them spoke to AFP at a conference in Lisbon to mark the August 10 fifth centenary.

Magellan’s voyage was a turning point in history, as unique as the first manned journey into outer space and the later moon landings, said NASA scientist Alan Stern, leader of its New Horizons interplanetary space probe.

“When the first one circled the plant, (that) sort of meant that we now had our arms around the planet for the first time,” he said.

“That just transformed humanity in my view. I would call it the first planetary event, in the same way that Yuri Gagarin was the first off-planetary event” when the Soviet cosmonaut went into outer space.

Magellan’s voyage rewrote the maps and geography books. He was the first to discover the strait, which now bears his name, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the tip of South America.

“Perhaps his greatest feat, and still considered today one of the greatest feats of the history of navigation, was negotiating this strait, of which there were no maps and whose existence was vaguely rumoured,” said US historian Laurence Bergreen, author of a biography of Magellan.

The voyage transformed humans’ own conception of their place in the world.

“It wasn’t just geography and anthropology, it showed something philosophical: that it’s all one world,” said Bergreen.
“Before Magellan people didn’t really know that. They didn’t know how the world was connected or how big it was.”

The voyage contributed to Europeans’ knowledge of the universe and has marked the worlds of space exploration and astronomy to this day.

While crossing the Magellan Strait, the explorer and his crew observed two galaxies visible to the naked eye from the southern hemisphere, now known as the Magellanic Clouds.

Some recently-designated areas of the surface of Mars have been given the same names that Magellan gave to parts of South America, with Bergreen’s help. A giant telescope being developed in Chile will also bear the explorer’s name.

Magellan’s achievement was a landmark in the history of exploration still hailed by his modern-day successors.
“In the space program, to prepare for these long duration missions, we say ‘the lessons for the future are written in the past’,” said Dafydd Williams, a former NASA astronaut, now 65, who went on two space missions.

“So many in the space program have read about Magellan.”

500 years ago, Europeans set off to explore the world
The expedition that circumnavigated the globe via the oceans for the first time 500 years ago is among the major journeys of discovery by European explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries.

1488: Dias rounds Africa
With the mighty Ottoman Empire holding a monopoly on trade with the Indian subcontinent in the 15th century, Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator launches a quest to conquer the seas via Africa.

At the time the length of the continent’s coastline was unknown.
Less than 30 years after Henry’s death, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias leads the expedition that rounds the southern tip of Africa for the first time in 1488, opening a new sea route from Europe to Asia.
He calls it the Cape of Storms but Portugal’s King John II renames it the Cape of Good Hope.

Dias continues his eastward journey but his exhausted crew eventually forces him to turn back.

1492: Columbus discovers Americas
Italian Christopher Columbus, determined to reach the East via a western route, makes four voyages across the Atlantic between 1492 and 1504, sailing for the Spanish crown.

During the first, he disembarks from his flagship, the Santa Maria, in the Bahamas in October 1492 and then moves on to today’s Haiti, which he names Hispaniola.

In another expedition he sets foot on the American mainland for the first time in present-day Venezuela, but is convinced he is in the East Indies.
It is only later that Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci realises that the landmass that Colombus discovered is a new continent. It is named America in his honour in 1507.

1498: Da Gama reaches India
Vasco da Gama from Portugal becomes the first European to reach India via Africa, rounding the Cape of Good Hope discovered by Dias just a decade before.

He leaves Lisbon in 1497 and sails around the tip of the continent to reach the coasts of India in 1498.

During his second expedition, Da Gama establishes the first Portuguese trading post in Asia at Cochin in eastern India.

1500: Cabral discovers Brazil
Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral and his fleet of 13 caravels depart from Lisbon in 1500, on a southwest course to benefit from the trade winds, to discover what he calls “Island of the True Cross” and later becomes Brazil.

He then reaches the Indian subcontinent via the Cape of Good Hope, returning to Portugal laden with spices but having lost half of his fleet.

It is believed that Spaniard Vicente Yanez Pinzon may have arrived in Brazil shortly before Cabral but had not claimed the discovery.

1522: Globe circumnavigated
In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan launches the sea journey that will become the first to round the world, leaving Seville with five ships and 237 men.

They cross the South American strait that will later take Magellan’s name and reach calmer waters in an ocean that he names the Pacific.
The fleet pushes on to Philippines, where Magellan is killed by a local’s arrow in 1521.

Spaniard Juan Sebastian de Elcano takes over command and completes the circumnavigation. He returns to Spain in 1522 with the last ship, the Victoria, and around 20 survivors.

1534: French reach Canada
In 1534 Frenchman Jacques Cartier sets off on a mission under King Francis I to find a western passage to Asia.

Just weeks later he reaches the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and explores the surrounding territory that he calls Canada, after “kanata”, which means village in the local language.

Cartier claims Canada for France and makes two more journeys there, the last in 1542.

by Thomas Cabral
Source: phys.org

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