European Exploration of South America

On his fourth voyage, Columbus (1498-1500) sighted the South American coast near Trinidad, but believed the stretch of coast to belong to yet another island. It was Italian navigator Americo Vespucci, then sailing for the King of Spain (1499-1500), explored the coast of Guyana and northern Brazil, realizing that this was part of a continent (which subsequently was named after him). In 1501 he undertook another expedition, in the name of Portugal (Brazil was located in the Portuguese sector), on which he explored the Brazilian coast and beyond, as far south as Patagonia. Just before Verspucci, Pedro Alvarez Cabral accidentally had found the coast of central Brazil and is credited with the discovery of the country.
Spaniard Alonso de Ojeda had explored the coast from Guyana to Panama in 1500-1501; Vasco Nunez de Balboa crossed the isthm of Panama in 1509 and found the Pacific Ocean. Panama was to become the joint of Spanish South America, ports on the Caribbean and on the Pacific coast, on the latter a fleet built on location. From here, Francisco Pizarro undertook his exploration and Conquest of the Inca Empire, which, failed expeditions included, took from 1524 to 1533. Federmann, Benalcazar and Quesada explored and conquered modern Colombia, in competition with each other, in 1529-1542. Diego de Almagro, from Peru, explored and conquered northern Chile 1535-1537. In 1544 the silver mine at Potosi was found, in Alta Peru (modern Bolivia), the most productive in the world.
In 1519, Fernao Magelhaes (Ferdinand Magellan), a Portuguese navigator in the service of the King of Spain, began his quest for the first circumnavigation in history. He passed the Magellan Straits, thus establishing the southern end of the American continent. A first Spanish expedition under Sebastian Cabot sailed into the South Atlantic in 1526-1530. In 1536 another expedition under Pedro de Mendoza followed, Buenos Aires was founded by Juan de Ayoles and Domingo Martinez de Irala (1536), they sailed up the Parana and Paraguay Rivers, founded Asuncion (1536) in order to find a direct route to Peru. It was not to be, and Spain paid little attention to her possessions in the South Atlantic, focussing her efforts instead on the Caribbean, Central America and Pacific South America, reached via the Panama joint. The Spanish settlement at Buenos Aires was given up (1541); Asuncion survived.
In 1616 Dutchman Willem Schouten sailed past the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego, naming it Cape Hoorn. Its significance lay in the fact that the passage through the Magellan Straits was barred to him by the V.O.C. privilege (monopoly); Cape Hoorn provided an alternative route. Sir Francis Drake had been there in 1578 and therefore may be credited with the European discovery.

REFERENCE Chapter Seven :The Discovery of South America, pp.90-107, in : Angus Konstam, Historical Atlas of Exploration, 1492-1600, NY : Checkmark Books 2000 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 26th 2003, last revised on May 11th 2006

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