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Spanish ship ‘Elcano’ lands in Samar 500 years after the world's first voyage

The Magellan Route finds its way back to the Philippines over five centuries later.

This year, the Philippines commemorates the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the world: the Magellan-Elcano expedition. From March to October, the National Quincentennial committee has prepared a host of activities, from the unveiling of historic markers to international conferences, in remembrance of this historic event. 

As part of the celebration, the Spanish Navy training ship Juan Sebastián Elcano is retracing the expedition’s original route, after departing from Spain in October 2020. On March 16, it anchored at Guiuan, Eastern Samar where the Spanish fleet first landed in 1521. The ship will be en route for Cebu on March 20. 

“The expedition is important in world history because it is a triumph of science and humankind. It proved to us that the earth is round.” <callout-alt-author>XIAO CHUA<callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author>

But what is the Magellan-Elcano expedition, and why is it important?  The Magellan-Elcano expedition was what brought Christianity to the Philippines, setting the stage for the country’s time under Spanish colonization. In September 1519, over 200 men led by Ferdinand Magellan left Seville, Spain in search of the island of Moluccas, also known as the Spice Islands; two years later, they arrived in Homonhon, Eastern Samar. 

The boats of Rajah Kolambu and Rajah Siagu—who later become Magellan’s blood brothers—came across the expedition and extended assistance to the famished crew. They eventually pointed them in the direction of Cebu, where the Spaniards would first introduce Christianity.

Though Magellan did not live to tell the tale—killed by islanders in the Battle of Mactan—it was Elcano, the commander of the ship Victoria, who concluded the first circumnavigation around the world. He returned to Spain three years later with only 60 men left onboard.

“The expedition is important in world history because it is a triumph of science and humankind. It proved to us that the earth is round,” says Filipino historian Xiao Chua. “I think that is the deeper meaning of the Quincentennial Celebrations. It’s to remind us of who we are, hindi yung mamamatay-tao ang mga Pilipino, kundi yung mga Pilipino [ay] may pakikipagkapwa-tao.”

As the Elcano continues its travels around the country, 34 historical markers in areas where the expedition made first visual contact will be unveiled. These include islands in Guiuan, Leyte, Bohol, Palawan, and more. After its Philippine stops, the ship will sail westward to Moluccas (or as we now know it, Indonesia) and around Africa, before heading back to its homebase in Europe. 

Activities for the Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines will last until October 2021. Due to the ongoing pandemic, all activities are closed to the public but will be live streamed on the National Quincentennial Committee’s Facebook page.

Interested to see the Philippine portion of the first circumnavigation of the world? Check out the interactive map here