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Magellan in Tenerife, 500 years ago in September 1519 

Soon, if not sooner, Tenerife, in particular Santa Cruz and El Medano, will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the landing of Ferdinand Magellan September 1519, on his way to sail around the world.

On the 10th August 1519 Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastian Elcano set sail from Seville with five ships and about 270 men on a voyage that was to last three years. Although Magellan was given the credit for the voyage, he was in fact killed in the Philippine Islands in April 1521, and it was his colleague Elcano who completed the first circumnavigation of the globe, arriving home in Spain on 6th September 1522.

The cartographer and translator for the expedition was Antonio Pigafetta, whose account of ‘The First Voyage around the World’ was translated into English by Lord Stanley of Alderley. Frustra-tingly for us, the time spent on Tenerife was described in only a few lines, as follows:

“Tuesday, the 20th Sep-tember of the said year (1519), we set sail from St. Lucar (de Barrameda), making the course of the south west named Labeiche, and on the 26th of the said month we arrived at an island of great Canaria, named Teneriphe, which is in twenty-eight degrees of latitude; there we remained three days and a half to take provisions (meat, water, and firewood) and other things that were wanted. After that we set sail thence and came to a port named Monterose (Monte Rosso [Montana Roja]), where we sojourned two days to supply ourselves with pitch, which is a thing necessary for ships.
“Monday, 3rd October of the said year, at the hour of midnight, we set sail, making course auster (the south wind), which the Levantines mariners call Siroc.”

And that’s it! On 27th November Magellan disco-vered the strait at the southern end of South America that came to be named after him.

Magellan sailed from St. Lucar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the River Guadalquivir near Seville, and arrived on 26th September at Tenerife, where he stayed for several days to replenish the stores, leaving again on the 3rd October.
Pigafetta’s biography on Wikipedia states that three printed books (one in French and two in Italian), and four manuscripts (three in French and one in Italian), survive, but it is not known in what language the original account was written. One version, printed in 1800, contained “many modified words and sentences”, which might have affected the whole account, including Tenerife.
However that may be, all we know is that Magellan’s fleet landed first at an unnamed place on the island, where he stayed for three and a half days before moving on to Montana Roja, as it is called now, near El Medano, to stay for a further two days. The question is, ‘Where was his first landing place?’

Possible candidates for places where supplies would be available are Garachico, or Puerto de la Orotava (Puerto de la Cruz as it was), or Santa Cruz. Now then, if Magellan had landed at either of the first two ports, why would he go to the trouble of sailing all the way back around the island in order to go to Montana Roja? Why would he not just continue on his way west to call at La Palma or La Gomera? It’s more logical that he should arrive at the east coast of Tenerife, to land first at Santa Cruz and then sail on down to Montana Roja.
There would have been two important reasons for doing this. In the area around Santa Cruz, although there was a restriction at the time imposed on trade in wood, there was no restriction on water, meat, fish, fruit or vegetables, so Magellan could have obtained them easily, and Santa Cruz being the port for the capital, the community in that part of the island would be well organised to cope with this.
As well as the need to obtain fresh stores for the journey across the Atlantic, Magellan had a royal commission from King Carlos V of Spain, and even without it he would have been obliged to pay his respects to the governor of Tenerife who was at La Laguna, the capital. Therefore Magellan would have to land at Santa Cruz, the port for La Laguna, and either travel to meet the governor in La Laguna, or else the governor would come to meet him at Santa Cruz and view the fleet before it set out on the next stage of its voyage into the unknown. Was this event, this formality, simply too obvious for Pigafetta to record?

So – did Magellan land first at Santa Cruz? I rest my case.