Exploration and Settlement

Ferdinand Magellan

How long was it before someone reached the East by sailing west?

It was not until 1520 that a route was found. Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480–1521) was on an expedition for Spain when he found a southwest passage, which took him around the southern tip of South America, through a winding waterway that still bears his name, the Strait of Magellan. Having set out from Spain in September 1519, it was a full year later before Magellan (born Fernão de Magalhaes, and known in Spain as Fernando de Magallanes) reached this point, south of the South American mainland and north of the Tierra del Fuego island chain (today these islands are part of Argentina and Chile). And this was only after he had crushed a mutiny. Nevertheless, Magellan had found a connection between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

He sailed on from there, reaching the island we know as Guam on March 6, 1521. Ten days later, he discovered the Philippines. On the Philippine island of Cebú, he made an alliance with a treacherous native sovereign for whom he undertook an expedition to the nearby island of Mactan. It was there that Magellan met with his death in April 1521. His expedition continued without him, under the direction of Juan Sebastián de Elcano (c. 1476–1526), who in 1522 returned to Seville, Spain, along with 18 other survivors of the Magellan expedition. Their cargo, aboard the ship Vittoria, included valuable spices—which more than paid for the expense of the expedition.


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