Exhibition ‘The longest journey’: the first circumnavigation in handwriting

Exhibition ‘The longest journey’: the first circumnavigation in handwriting

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Although literature and cinema offer indisputable and sensitive works thanks to which we can get closer to the main events and historical periods, be in front of history itself and see its legacy in the first person it constitutes an experience with its own specific weight.

So it is with exhibition ‘The longest trip: the first round the world’, that since last September 12 and until next February 23 It houses the General Archive of the Indies of Seville on the occasion of the fifth centenary of the first circumnavigation of the Earth.

The exhibition, promoted by Acción Cultural Española and the Ministry of Culture with the sponsorship of the Unicaja Foundation, offers a suggestive historical journey through the epic starring the so-called “army of spice", The flotilla of five naos that, under the command of Ferdinand of Magellan, sailed from Seville on August 10, 1519 with the aim of opening a route through the new American continent to the Moluccas and their precious spices.

The beginning of that expedition, finished in September 1522 with the return to the city of Seville of Juan Sebastián Elcano and 17 other men aboard the Nao Victoria, has just turned its fifth centenary, assuming a good reason to look back at the fascinating Age of Discoveries.

The exhibition ‘The longest journey’ reconstructs that odyssey detailing the preparations for the risky and hazardous journey, as well as its aspects and key moments: from the mutiny in the bay of San Julián, to the navigation through the strait now dedicated to Magellan, the long course of the flotilla through the Pacific Ocean, the death of Magellan fighting on the Philippine island of Mactan, the arrival in the Moluccas or the return to the Peninsula at the hands of Elcano through the Indian Ocean instead of returning to America.

The price of glory

The content of the sample does not skimp when it comes to describe the adversities and calamities suffered by the crews of the "spice army", recounting the executions derived from the revolt of San Julián, the shipwreck of the Nao Santiago, the desertion of the San Antonio, the extreme situations in which men were forced to eat "rats, sawdust or leather" - according to the famous Antonio Pigafetta's diary - or how the members of the expedition were progressively decimated by the vicissitudes and misfortunes of the trip.

To narrate all this, this exhibition curated by Antonio Fernandez Torres as director and archivists Braulio Vázquez Campos and Guillermo Morán Dauchez uses 106 pieces, including scale models of the expedition ships designed by model maker Antonio Hierro, sculptures by Javier Romero Abrio, authentic weapons from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, nautical charts and navigation instruments of the time and, especially, a detailed list of original or contemporary documents related to travel.

Thus, in this exhibition it is possible to contemplate a Portuguese version of the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494 between the kings of Castile and Aragon and the crown of Portugal dividing the oceans between these powers, a certified copy of 1523 of the capitulations of Valladolid, with which the King Charles I in 1518, he authorized Magellan and Ruy Faleiro to carry out an expedition to the "islands of spices", or documents from 1519 on the organizational expenses of the trip and on the payroll of the crew of the flotilla with Magellan at the head.

The sample also shows the instructions from Carlos I to Magellan Regarding the expedition, dated one day before departure, the Portuguese navigator's will dated August 24, 1519, documents after the return that reflect the wages owed to various crew members or a file drawn up in December 1521 during the expedition itself, on the commercial and diplomatic activities of the "spice army" with the peoples of the Moluccas.

Elcano's ‘miracle’

Also striking is a revealing letter from Portuguese captain Antonio Brito to King Juan III of Portugal, reporting the Elcano's intentions to work "such a miracle" as returning to Castile along the unexplored route of the South Indian Ocean, as well as a letter issued in January 1525 by Captain Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa requesting help from Carlos I after being captured by the Portuguese along with the remaining crew of the Nao Trinidad.

Already in relation to the end of the hazardous journey, the sample exhibits the contemporary copy of the letter sent on September 6, 1522 by Juan Sebastián Elcano to Carlos I, giving an account of his arrival in Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cádiz) –the original document is unaccounted for– or the testimonies of Elcano and the also survivors Francisco Albo and Fernando de Bustamante in Valladolid in October 1522, about the events and details of the expedition.

‘The longest trip’, which after its installation in Seville will stop at the San Telmo Museum of San Sebastián (Guipúzcoa) between July and September 2020, thus constitutes an unparalleled opportunity to get closer to the first circumnavigation of the Earth with the packaging of all these documents, handwritten at that time.

Europa Press journalist, collaborator of "Sevillanos de Guardia" in Onda Cero Radio and collaborator writer in MRN Aljarafe.

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