View of the city from the Setas de Sevilla (Metropol Parasol) in Seville, Spain
500th anniversary of the world getting smaller. Seville, Spain
The first recorded expedition to successfully circumnavigate the Earth returned here to Seville, Spain, 500 years ago today. This was the remnants of the Spanish fleet that had set sail under the command of Ferdinand Magellan almost exactly three years previously with the goal of finding a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia. While Magellan gets the glory as leader of the expedition, he didn't actually complete the marathon voyage—he had been killed in a skirmish in the Philippines in April 1521. In the end, his place as leader of the five-ship voyage was filled by Juan Sebastián Elcano, whose command ship, the 'Vittoria,' was the only one in the convoy that survived the trip. Harsh conditions, starvation, scurvy, hostile encounters, and other struggles had taken their toll: Of the roughly 270 crew members who set out, only 18 returned with the expedition.
Although he made only half of this globe-circling journey, Magellan is rightly honored as an outstanding navigator, especially given the rudimentary knowledge of world geography and relatively primitive navigational tools of the time. He was the first European to traverse the strait that now bears his name near the tip of South America, trailblazing the first known passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The eventual success of Magellan's expedition, however bedraggled its remaining crew, also offered the first practical proof of a notion many 16th-century people were still skeptical about: The Earth is round.