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Magellan’s voyage 1519-1522

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of The Age of Discovery.

The expedition led by Magellan was expected to sail as far as the Spice Islands to the west by sailing around the American continent.

It was financed by Spain, which hoped to gain access to these islands and their spices without crossing the Indian Ocean, then dominated by the Portuguese.

Magellan knew that there was an ocean between the New World and Asia, and he had information on the South American coast as far as the Rio de la Plata.

The presence of this deep bay at roughly the same latitude as the southernmost point in Africa made Magellan hope that there was a passage across the new continent.

His fleet of five ships left Spain on 20 September 1519.

In December, it made its first port of call in the bay of what is now Rio de Janeiro.

By mid-January, the ships had reached the Rio de la Plata. Magellan soon realized that this bay did not offer a passage across the continent.

Continuing south, the fleet had to sail through increasingly difficult weather conditions. At the end of March, Magellan decided to wait until the end of the southern winter in a sheltered bay known as the San Julian Bay.

During these 5 winter months, the explorer had to put down a mutiny with force, and one of his ships, the Santiago, which had been sent to explore a neighbouring bay, capsized.

The fleet set off again in August. By the end of October, it had reached a large bay in which the strong currents made Magellan think that he had found the long-sought-after passage.

It took him another month to navigate through the maze of canals, and during this time the crew of the San Antonio mutinied and decided to return to Spain.

The three remaining ships finally found their way into the new sea on 27 November.

The crossing of the Pacific Ocean was particularly long and arduous. After three and a half months, the crew was weak with hunger and scurvy, but they finally reached the Mariana Islands, where they were able to take on stores before continuing on their journey west.

The expedition made land in the Philippines on 17 March 1521, but Magellan was killed a few weeks later during a fight with the local population.

Since they had lost a lot of men, it was decided to burn one of the three ships.  The last two ships, the Trinidad and the Victoria, reached their target, the Spice Islands, on 28 November.

Laden with spices, the two ships set off on their return journey, taking two opposite directions. The Trinidad did not succeed in making the journey back to Europe via the Pacific Ocean, while the Victoria decided to sail to Spain via the Indian Ocean.

It rounded the Cape of Good Hope on 18 May, and sailed north through the Atlantic, making a port call in the Islands of Cap Verde. The Victoria reached Spain on 6 September 1522, almost exactly three years after its departure.

This expedition, which succeeded the crossing of an immense and totally unknown ocean, is one of the greatest adventures in the history of navigation and proved that it was possible to sail around the world.