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The Spanish Crown sponsored five hundred years ago (1519) an impossible mission that would end up being a historical fact: the first circumnavigation of the Earth, the first round the world. The odyssey of Magellan and Elcano had a lot of audacity … and -with the passage of time- inspiration. From the Age of Discovery, in the XV and XVI centuries, we have countless expeditions of Spanish, Portuguese or English converted into epics. We must remember that the bulls of Alexander VI (1493) and the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) clearly defined between Spain and Portugal the preferences for treading unknown lands and evangelizing, especially in the New World , including America, the great Pacific and a Southern end place ( Terra Australis) from which many began to speak but where nobody had ever set foot.
Beyond the stormy waters of Cape Horn , the southern limit of the South American continent, there was an icy territory that sounded as far away as Mars. Admiral Gabriel de Castilla, in front of the ship Buena Nueva, sighted the South Shetland Islands, on the edge of Antarctica, in 1603. And on May 11, 1819, the so-called division of the South Sea, composed of four ships, departed from Cádiz. Ships, including San Telmo, the flagship, aboard which brigadier Rosendo Porlier and Asteguieta were traveling, head of the fleet. He carried 74 guns and 644 men on board. Inside the mystery that surrounds him, we know that his structure was in bad condition, and that his three-masted sails were prey to the inclemencies in the unknown south. What is suspected, however, could change the history books.
The San Telmo probably arrived further south than expected, until it sank north of Livingston Island . In those waters was also the brig captained by William Smith, who on his third trip (October 1819) managed to land in what is now known as King George Island. Who stepped on Antarctica for the first time, Smith or the crew of San Telmo, the Englishmen who returned to tell it or the Spaniards before they died? An English captain, Robert Fildes, said they found an anchor trap on a 74-gun ship on Livingston’s Media Luna beach. It is even said that Captain Smith was able to take him home to build a coffin. There are other testimonies of the time that relate San Telmo with Antarctica. Spanish researchers of the CSIC searched the remains of the boat -without results- during two campaigns in the 90s. For now, the mystery of San Telmo remains in the conversations between sailors, in some book and in a memory that has never faded.
Five hundred years after the first round the world and two hundred years of arrival in Antarctica, the expedition cruises, some of them luxury, navigate the most extreme areas of the planet. Tourism has become a global industry of the first order, partly from the inspiration of the great explorers. They first saw landscapes that are now within reach of many, including Antarctica. The beginning of the edition number 39 of Fitur serves to celebrate the success of Spanish tourism today and the honor and glory of those heroes of the Discoveries.