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Home > An history of Patagonia and Antarctica

ARG - An history of Patagonia and Antarctica
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An History of Patagonia, Cape Horn and Antarctica


The history of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica are closely related to the navy and the crossing of the American continent by its southern end.
The aim of these expeditions was to achieve Columbus’ prophecy who claimed the existence of a maritime road that, from west to east, joined Europe to Asia !
Not only was Columbus the inspiration for these incredibles travels but he also gave way to other heroes who contributed to the myth of Patagonia and Antarctica .

After Columbus and the discovery of the new continent , it took just a little time to other people to stsart thinking about crossing it, but no one knew what would be the price to pay, nor what would be discovered.
The first one to cross the American continent was the Portuguese Hernando de Magallanes. On behalf of Spain he tried to find a way that would lead to Asia, that he believed was behind. He discovered the strait that bears his name at the end of Patagonia, as well as the vast ocean that was on the other side of the continent, the Pacific Ocean. He is the first to find out that the two oceans join, and to sail them. Spain took advantage of this discovery to create trading posts all along the Pacific coast during the Spanish conquista of South America. 

It is now recognized that the turbulent waters of the Pacific and the Atlantic meet at the Southern Cross  in the southern tip of the American continent , named Cap Froward in Chile, bordering the Strait of Magellan. But even after Magallanes´achievement, the world was still unaware of what could be located south from the strait, but imagined that Terra Australis, the uncrossable continent, existed to balance the earth.
The second circumnavigation took place in 1578 and was run by the pirate Francis Drake.
 
During the golden era of the conquistadores , the Spanish government sent Sarmiento de Gamboa in 1581 over the Strait of Magellan to complete the first colonization of Patagonia and control the area, strategic location and at that time, the unique way to do business by sea between Europe and the American cities of gold . But it ended up being a fiasco and from then on, the Spaniards stopped colonizing the Strait area. Today one can still find traces of this first colonization in Port Famine in Chile.

It was still unknown that, at the south of the Strait, there were the hostile Tierra del Fuego, and even a rock, that would be later called the Cape Horn, where the two oceans join. Later on, the world would find out about the existence of a third ocean, the Southern one, surrounding the Antarctic continent and being quite different from the two others.  

It was almost a century after Magallanes that 2 Dutch, Jacob le Maire and Willem Schouten discovered the Cape Horn, in 1616, wich resulted being an interesting, yet quite technical and not  mapped enough, alternative to the Magallanes Strait. After Spain’s decline the Dutch East Indian Company took over the strait. The two navigators were trying to find another maritime road to do business without having to pay high fees to the company. They were the first ones to cross successfully the Cape Horn and the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. The Cape Horn, last piece of earth before Antarctica, was named after their hometown, Hoorn. From then on, the Cape Horn would be the main road to join both oceans untill the opening of the Panama Channel in 1914.

During his second journey around the world in 1773, and second attempt to discover the Antarctica – sill mythical at that time, he was the one who approached it the most without seeing it. He still crossed the Arctic Circle but turned back, considering i twas too dangerous.

It was not until 1820 that the continent would be seen for the first time in 1820 by the Russian expedition of Mikhail Lazarev and Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, second to cross the Arctic Circle after Cook. Roald Amundsen’s is remembered cause he reached the South Pole in 1911.
 
Since  the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, Antarctica does not belong to any nation but hosts international scientific basis. It remains a continent dedicated to science, peace and international cooperation.


But as soon as in 1843, the new Chilean Nation understood the strategic importance to have an opening on both oceans and to control the Strait of Magallanes. These Patagonian lands were still wild and ignored, but the Captain John William Wilson, started over the colonization, on behalf of Chile. He created the famous Fuerte Bulnes, near the sadly known Port of Sarmiento. This settlement was then moved a few kilometers away along the strait, what would become the city of Punta Arenas.


We should not forget to mention the numerous scientific expeditions that sailed in these tumultuous waters and brought a necessary light on these shores, maps, people, fauna and flora.
To be remembered : the Beagle Channel, where Darwin stopped during his world wide journey, and on which is based his theory about evolution, Bougainville’s ship la Boudeuse, Dumont D’Urville and his compass for their investigations, and other sailors, writers etc. who contributed to make this end-of-the-world- region mythical.

In 1914, the opening of the Panama Canal put an end to the Cape Horn`s golden era.
However, the story of the ship Endurance is to be recalled. Led by the Irish Ernst Shackleston in 1914 to go through the whole length of Antarctica, the expedition lost its boat to the ice. To save the men, Shackleston had to embark on a makeshift boat, to climb mountains covered in ice to reach man, and come back with help. After two years, he managed to do so thanks to Chile’s help. 

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