International Map Day

Around the Globe with Ferdinand Magellan

On February 3rd, we celebrate International Map Day. The date has not been chosen randomly, as it is to honor the first known explorer who circumnavigated the globe. A Portuguese nobleman, Fernão de Magalhães, later better-known as Ferdinand Magellan, was born on the 3rd of February in the 1480s.

There are good reasons why we should celebrate maps. Firstly, they give us a thorough understanding of our surroundings and the world we live in. Secondly, maps feed our imagination and grow our appetite to learn and discover more about our world. Thirdly, maps are often aesthetically pleasing and tend to awake our curiosity.

For this year’s International Map Day, we decided to take a deeper look at Ferdinand Magellan.  It is surprising that a man who lived 500 year ago was able to change the way we perceive the world.

Who was Ferdinand Magellan?

The Portuguese nobleman Fernão de Magalhães, later known as Ferdinand Magellan, was an explorer early on. In his youth, he sought new spice routes in Africa and India for his home country Portugal. However, his services for Portugal were short lived, as he fell out of King Manuel I’s graces. The king accused him of illegal trading.

Ferdinand Magellan left Portugal for good. He received Spanish citizenship. Spain’s King Charles V took Ferdinand Magellan with open arms and gave him a decade-long monopoly on any sea route he would discover. In addition, he received both a Spanish noble title and a good cut of the profits. In September 1519, he decided to try a new route. As we now know, it was to be the beginning of his journey around the globe.

Being a Portuguese-born nobleman, he was not considered to be a popular leader by his crew members. The majority of them were Spanish; and they considered it as an embarrassment to be sailing under the leadership of a Portuguese. He was not popular with his former compatriots either. The few Portuguese grew members onboard considered him as a traitor. Things went from bad to worse. There was a mutiny on the ship, but Ferdinand Magellan was able to subdue the rebels.

For a moment, things looked well. However, Ferdinand Magellan’s lucky streak did not last long. After having sailed over a year, Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Mactan, Philippines, in 1521. When he arrived on the island, his plan was to claim the island for the Spanish Empire. Unfortunately, Ferdinand Magellan was killed on April 27, 1521 by a poison arrow. After his death, his remaining crew members left his dead body behind and set sail back to Spain.

Who then was the first person to get around the globe?

Ferdinand Magellan died in Mactan, Philippines, which means that he was not the first person to get around the globe. Juan Sebastián Elcano was the person who led the remaining crew and two ships to Indonesia. From there onwards, they sailed back to Spain. Unfortunately, only one of the ships made it back. Globetrotting was not risk-free undertaking. Around 80% of the entire crew died during the expedition.

The Basque, Juan Sebastian Elcano, encountered with the rest of the crew a new ocean and were able to map new routes for trade. This daredevil voyage is considered as the starting point of modern globalism. However, it is believed that Juan Sebastian Elcano and the remaining crew members were not the first people to get around the globe. The proof was on the ship. A slave on the ship was capable to communicate with the locals on the Mactan island, Philippines. It is believed that he originally was born there and then brought through slave trade to Europe. This would make him the first person known to have travelled around the globe.

Then why did Ferdinand Magellan end up in the history books?

You might be wondering why Ferdinand Magellan has remained in history books as an important figure. How come his birthday has been chosen as the International Map Day? We need to go back to history and understand the way of thinking at that time. The very idea to sail around the globe was unheard of. It was believed to be impossible. During that time people believed in demons and sea monsters. For the most people who lived 500 years ago, the task Ferdinand Magellan received from the Spanish King sounded like a sure suicide.

Although he was not able to finish the sixty-thousand-mile-long trip, his legacy in proving the impossible to be possible, opened a new era in human history. We know it now as globalization. After Magellan it was colonization in the name of global trade.

Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage gave people a better understanding of the Earth. After him previously unknown regions were discovered and more precise maps could be created. His voyage also opened up the path for other explorers. Magellan made it easier to navigate around the globe, thus International Map Day is on his birthday.

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