Charles Marie de La Condamine

Charles Marie de La Condamine (28 January 1701 – 4 February 1774) was a French explorer, geographer, and mathematician. He spent ten years in present-day Ecuador measuring the length of a degree latitude at the equator and preparing the first map of the Amazon region based on astronomical observations. Furthermore he was a contributor to the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.[1]

Charles Marie de La Condamine
Charles Marie de La Condamine
La Condamine by Charles-Nicolas Cochin (1768) Pierre-Philippe Choffard (1759)
Born28 January 1701
Died4 February 1774 (age 73)


Charles Marie de La Condamine was born in Paris as a son of well-to-do parents, Charles de La Condamine and Louise Marguerite Chourses. He studied at the Collège Louis-le-Grand where he was trained in humanities as well as in mathematics. After finishing his studies, he enlisted in the army and fought in the war against Spain (1719). After returning from the war, he became acquainted with scientific circles in Paris. On 12 December 1730 he became a member of the Académie des Sciences and was appointed Assistant Chemist at the Academy.

The next year (May 1731) he sailed with the Levant Company to Constantinople (now Istanbul), where he stayed five months. After returning to Paris, La Condamine submitted in November 1732 a paper to the Academy entitled Mathematical and Physical Observations made during a Visit of the Levant in 1731 and 1732.

Three years later he joined the French Geodesic Mission to present-day Ecuador which had the aim of testing a hypothesis of Isaac Newton. Newton had posited that the Earth is not a perfect sphere, but bulges around the equator and is flattened at the poles. Newton's opinion had raised a huge controversy among French scientists. Pierre Louis Maupertuis, Alexis Claude Clairaut, and Pierre Charles Le Monnier traveled to Lapland, where they were to measure the length of several degrees of latitude orthogonal to the arctic circle, while Louis Godin, Pierre Bouguer, and La Condamine were sent to South America to perform similar measurements around the equator.

On 16 May 1735, La Condamine sailed from La Rochelle accompanied by Godin, Bouguer, and a botanist, Joseph de Jussieu. After stopovers in Martinique, Saint-Domingue, and Cartagena (Colombia), they came to Panama where they crossed the continent. Finally (on 10 March 1736) the expedition arrived at the Pacific port of Manta. La Condamine's associations with his colleagues were unhappy. The expedition was beset by many difficulties, and finally La Condamine split from the rest and made his way to Quito, Ecuador separately following the Esmeraldas River, becoming the first European to encounter rubber in the process. He joined the group again on 4 June 1736 in the city of Quito. La Condamine is credited with introducing samples of rubber to the Académie Royale des Sciences of France in 1736.[2] In 1751, he presented a paper by François Fresneau to the Académie (eventually published in 1755) which described many of the properties of rubber. This has been referred to as the first scientific paper on rubber.

The meridian (longitudinal) arc which La Condamine and his colleagues chose to measure the length of passed through a high valley perpendicular to the equator, stretching from Quito (now the capital of Ecuador) in the north to Cuenca in the south. The scientists spent a month performing triangulation measurements in the Yaruqui plains — from 3 October to 3 November 1736 — and then returned to Quito. After they had come back to Quito, they found that subsidies expected from Paris had not arrived. La Condamine, who had taken precautions and had made a deposit on a bank in Lima, traveled in early 1737 to Lima to collect money. He prolonged this journey somewhat to study the cinchona tree with its medicinally active bark (containing the anti-malarial drug quinine), the tree being hardly known in Europe.[3]

After returning to Quito on 20 June 1737, he found that Godin refused to disclose his results, whereupon La Condamine joined forces with Bouguer. The two men continued with their length measurements in the mountainous and inaccessible region close to Quito. When in December 1741 Bouguer detected an error in a calculation of La Condamine's, the two explorers got into a quarrel and stopped speaking to each other. However, working separately, the two completed their project in May 1743.

Carmontelle, Monsieur de la Condamine (1760, détail)
La Condamine (Carmontelle 1760)

Insufficient funds prevented La Condamine from returning to France directly. Thus La Condamine chose to return by way of the Amazon River, a route which is longer and more dangerous. His was the first scientific exploration of the Amazon. He reached the Atlantic Ocean on 19 September 1743, having made observations of astronomic and topographic interest on the way. He also made some botanical studies, notably of cinchona and rubber trees. In February 1744 he arrived in Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana. He did not dare to travel back to France on a French merchant ship because France was at war (the Austrian Succession War of 1740–1748), and he had to wait for five months for a Dutch ship, but made good use of his waiting time by observing and recording physical, biological, and ethnological phenomena. Finally leaving Cayenne in August 1744, he arrived in Amsterdam on 30 November 1744, where he stayed for a while, and arrived in Paris in February 1745. He brought with him many notes, natural history specimens, and art objects that he donated to the naturalist Buffon (1707–1788).

Houghton LSoc 1621.3.10 - La Condamine, title
Journal du voyage fait par ordre du roi, a l'équateur, 1751

La Condamine published the results of his measurements and travels with a map of the Amazon in Mém. de l'Académie des Sciences, 1745 (English translation 1745–1747). This included the first descriptions by a European of the Casiquiare canal and the curare arrow poison prepared by the Amerindians. He also noted the correct use of quinine to fight malaria. The journal of his ten-year-long voyage to South America was published in Paris in 1751. The scientific results of the expedition were unambiguous: the Earth is indeed a spheroid flattened at the poles as was believed by Newton. Not surprisingly, La Condamine and Bouguer failed to write a joint publication. Bouguer's death in 1758 put an end to their quarrel. The other expedition member, Godin, died in 1760. The only surviving member, La Condamine, obtained most of the credit for the expedition which drew a great deal of attention in France, as he was a gifted writer and popularizer.

On a visit to Rome La Condamine made careful measurements of the ancient buildings with a view to a precise determination of the length of the Roman foot. He also wrote in favour of inoculation, and on various other subjects, mainly connected with his work in South America.

La Condamine had contracted smallpox in his youth. This led him to take part in the debate on vaccination against the disease and to propagate inoculation against small-pox. Assisted by the clarity and elegance of his writing, he presented several papers at the Academy of Sciences in which he defended his ideas with passion. He became a corresponding member of the academies of London, Berlin, Saint Petersburg and Bologna, and was elected to the l'Académie française on 29 November 1760. In August 1756, he married, with papal dispensation, his young niece Charlotte Bouzier of Estouilly. La Condamine had many friends, the closest one being Maupertuis, to whom he bequeathed his papers. La Condamine died in Paris on 4 February 1774, following a hernia operation.


La Condamine - Mesure des trois premiers degrés du méridien dans l'hémisphere austral, 1751 - 1454493
Mesure des trois premiers degrés du méridien dans l'hémisphere austral, 1751

South America

  • Journal du voyage fait par ordre du roi à l'équateur (Paris 1751, Supplement 1752)
  • Relation abrégée d'un voyage fait dans l'intérieur del'Amérique méridionale (Paris 1759)
  • "Mémoire sur quelques anciens monumens du Perou [sic], du tems des Incas", in: Histoire de l'Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles Lettres II (1746), Berlin 1748, S. 435–456 (PDF).


  • La figure de la terre déterminée (Paris 1749)
  • Mesure des trois premiers degrés du méridien dans l'hémisphère australe (Paris 1751)
  • Histoire de l'inoculation de la petite vérole (Amsterdam 1773)


This article incorporates material from the Citizendium article "Charles Marie de La Condamine", which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License but not under the GFDL.

  1. ^ Frank A. Kafker: Notices sur les auteurs des dix-sept volumes de « discours » de l'Encyclopédie. Recherches sur Diderot et sur l'Encyclopédie Année (1989) Volume 7 Numéro 7 p. 145
  2. ^
  3. ^ de la Condamine (1738) "Sur l'arbre du quinquina" (On the quinquina tree) Histoire de l'Académie royale des Sciences, pages 226-243.
  4. ^ IPNI.  Cond.

External links


1701 (MDCCI)

was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar, the 1701st year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 701st year of the 2nd millennium, the 1st year of the 18th century, and the 2nd year of the 1700s decade. As of the start of 1701, the Gregorian calendar was

11 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923. In the Swedish calendar it was a common year starting on Tuesday, one day ahead of the Julian and ten days behind the Gregorian calendar.

1701 in France

Events from the year 1701 in France.

1701 in science

The year 1701 in science and technology involved some significant events.

1735 in science

The year 1735 in science and technology involved some significant events.

1736 in science

The year 1736 in science and technology involved some significant events.

1749 in science

The year 1749 in science and technology involved some significant events.

1774 in France

Events from the year 1774 in France


Cinchona is a genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae containing at least 23 species of trees and shrubs. They are native to the tropical Andean forests of western South America. A few species are reportedly naturalized in Central America, Jamaica, French Polynesia, Sulawesi, Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, and São Tomé and Príncipe off the coast of tropical Africa. Several species were sought after for their medicinal value and cultivated in India and Java where they also formed hybrids. The barks of several species yield quinine and other alkaloids that were the only effective treatments against malaria during the height of colonialism which made them of great economic and political importance. The synthesis of quinine in 1944, an increase in resistant forms of malaria, and alternate therapies ended the large-scale economic interest in their cultivation. Academic interest continues as cinchona alkaloids show promise in treating falciparum malaria which has evolved resistance to synthetic drugs.

Carl Linnaeus named the genus in 1742 based on a claim, first recorded by the Italian physician Sebastiano Bado in 1663, that the plant had cured the wife of the Luis Jerónimo de Cabrera, 4th Count of Chinchón, Count of Chinchón, a viceroy in Lima. While the veracity of the claims and the details are highly debated leaving it best treated as a legend, the curative properties were known even earlier. The history of the plants, their identification, extracts, and the cures are disputed. Suggestions that the plant went by the native name of Quina Quina which yielded Quina bark have been questioned. Other fever cures from South America were known as Jesuit's Bark and Jesuit's Powder in Europe earlier but although they have been traced to Cinchona, there is evidence of materials being derived from other species such as Myroxylon. The species that Linnaeus used to describe the genus was Cinchona officinalis which is found only in a small region in Ecuador and specimens of which were obtained by Charles Marie de La Condamine around 1735. This species is of little medicinal significance. In the course of the quest for species yielding effective remedies, numerous species were described, some now considered invalid or synonyms of others. Linnaeus used the Italian spelling used by Bado but the name Chinchón (pronounced [tʃinˈtʃon] in Spanish) led to Clements Markham and others proposing a correction of the spelling to Chinchona and some prefer the pronunciation for the common name of the plant.

The national tree of Peru is in the genus Cinchona.

Ciudad Mitad del Mundo

The Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Spanish: [sjuˈðað miˈtað ðel ˈmundo], Middle of the World City) is a tract of land owned by the prefecture of the province of Pichincha, Ecuador. It is located at San Antonio parish of the canton of Quito, 26 km north of the center of Quito. The grounds contain the Monument to the Equator, which highlights the exact location of the Equator (from which the country takes its name) and commemorates the eighteenth century Franco-Spanish Geodesic Mission which fixed its approximate location; they also contain the Museo Etnográfico Mitad del Mundo, Ethnographic Museum Middle of the Earth, a museum about the indigenous people ethnography of Ecuador.

The 30-meter-tall monument was constructed between 1979 and 1982 by Pichincha's Province Council to replace an older, smaller monument built by the Government of Ecuador under the direction of the geographer Luis Tufiño in 1936. It is made of iron and concrete and covered with cut and polished andesite stone. The monument was built to commemorate the first Geodesic Mission of the French Academy of Sciences, led by Louis Godin, Pierre Bouguer and Charles Marie de La Condamine, who, in the year 1736, conducted experiments to test the flattening at the poles of the characteristic shape of the Earth, by comparing the distance between a degree meridian in the equatorial zone to another level measured in Sweden. The older monument was moved 7 km to a small town near there called Calacalí.

The UNASUR headquarters is currently under construction in this place. Contrary to popular belief, there are only two points of interest positioned exactly on the equator: the Catequilla archaeological site, and the Quitsato Sundial.

Corazón (volcano)

Corazón (Spanish: "heart") is an inactive eroded stratovolcano of Ecuador, situated about 30 km southwest of Quito in the western slopes of the Andes.

Esmeraldas River

The Esmeraldas River is a river in northwestern Ecuador that flows into the Pacific Ocean at the city of Esmeraldas. Among its tributaries is the Guayllabamba River which drains Quito. Charles Marie de la Condamine sailed up it and then climbed the Andes Mountains when on the Ecuadorian Expedition that left France in May 1735.

The mouth of the river has extensive stands of mangroves, part of the Esmeraldes-Pacific Colombia mangroves ecoregion.

French Geodesic Mission

The French Geodesic Mission (also called the Geodesic Mission to Peru, Geodesic Mission to the Equator and the Spanish-French Geodesic Mission) was an 18th-century expedition to what is now Ecuador carried out for the purpose of measuring the roundness of the Earth and measuring the length of a degree of latitude at the Equator. The mission was one of the first geodesic (or geodetic) missions carried out under modern scientific principles, and the first major international scientific expedition.

Lake Parime

Lake Parime or Lake Parima is a legendary lake located in South America. It was reputedly the location of the fabled city of El Dorado, also known as Manoa, much sought-after by European explorers. Repeated attempts to find the lake failed to confirm its existence, and it was dismissed as a myth along with the city. The search for Lake Parime led explorers to map the rivers and other features of southern Venezuela, northern Brazil, and southwestern Guyana before the lake's existence was definitively disproved in the early 19th century. Some explorers proposed that the seasonal flooding of the Rupununi savannah may have been misidentified as a lake. Recent geological investigations suggest that a lake may have existed in northern Brazil, but that it dried up some time in the 18th century. Both "Manoa" (Arawak language) and "Parime" (Carib language) are believed to mean "big lake".Two other mythical lakes, Lake Xarayes or Xaraies (sometimes called Lake Eupana), and Lake Cassipa, are often depicted on early maps of South America.

List of French explorers

The following is a list of French people known as explorers.

Louis Feuillée

Louis Éconches Feuillée (sometimes spelled Feuillet) (1660, Mane, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence – 18 April 1732) was a French member of the Order of the Minims, explorer, astronomer, geographer, and botanist.

Feuillée was educated at the Minim convent of Mane, in Provence. He was born in Mane, near Forcalquier, in 1660. He was taught astronomy and cartography by Jean Mathieu de Chazelles, and Charles Plumier, who had described some 6,000 species of plants during a voyage to the Caribbean, taught him botany.

He attracted the attention of members of the Academy of Sciences and in 1699 was sent by order of the king on a voyage to the Levant with Giovanni Domenico Cassini to determine the geographical positions of a number of seaports and other cities. The success of the undertaking led him to make a similar journey to the Antilles in 1703. He left Marseilles on 5 February 1703 and arrived at Martinique on 11 April.

A severe sickness was the cause of considerable delay, but in September of the following year he began a cruise along the northern coast of South America, making observations at numerous ports.

In the Antilles, he collected new species of flora and drew a map of Martinique; he also explored the Venezuelan coast. He returned to France in June 1706. his work won recognition from the Government, and he immediately began preparations for a more extended voyage along the western coast of South America to continue his observations. He received the title of "Royal Mathematician" from Louis XIV of France, and armed with letters from the ministry, set sail from Marseilles on 14 December 1707.

In 1707, he voyaged to what is now Argentina, rounded Cape Horn at the end of 1708 after a tempestuous voyage, and arrived at Concepción, Chile on 20 January 1708. He remained in that city for a month, conducting astronomic, botanical, and zoological surveys and at the end of February traveled to Valparaíso. He then traveled to Peru and returned to France in August 1711, where he published a complete inventory of his observations in three volumes (1714–1725). Louis XIV granted him a pension and built an observatory for him at the convent on the Michaelmas Plain at Marseilles.

The Spanish colonies of Central and South America seemed to have received many visits by French scientists during this period. These men served both as unofficial "scientific advisors" –but also as spies. Between 1735 and 1744, scientists like Louis Godin, Charles Marie de La Condamine, and Pierre Bouguer would take part in similar expeditions.

He died at Marseilles.

Manta, Ecuador

Manta is a mid-sized city in Manabí Province, Ecuador. It is the second most populous city in the province, the fifth most populous in the country. Manta has existed since Pre-Columbian times. It was a trading post for the Mantas. According to the 2001 census, the city had 192,322 inhabitants. Its main economic activity is tuna fishing. Other economic activities include tourism and a chemical industry with products from cleaning supplies to oils and margarine.

Manta possesses the largest seaport in Ecuador. The port was used by Charles Marie de La Condamine upon his arrival in Ecuador when leading the French mission to measure the location of the equator in 1735. From Manta, Condamine started his trip inland towards Quito.

Manta has an international airport, Eloy Alfaro International Airport with passenger airline service, and an important military base (known as Manta Air Base or Eloy Alfaro Air Base). Between 1999-2009 Manta Air Base was used by U.S. air forces to support anti-narcotics military operations and surveillance flights against Colombian drug trafficking cartels. The lease was not renewed by the Ecuadorean government.

Manta is recognized thanks to its international film festival featuring groups from different places in the world. The Ecuadorian actor Carlos Valencia, once invited to Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Ratas Ratones y Rateros (1999) directed by Sebastián Cordero, who was born in the capital city of Quito.

Parima River

The Parima River is a river of Roraima state in northern Brazil. According to explorer and scientist Charles-Marie de La Condamine, the river received its name because it was once believed to flow into the mythical Lake Parime.

Pedro Peralta y Barnuevo

Pedro Peralta y Barnuevo (Lima, 26 November 1663-30 April 1743) was an Enlightenment-era Peruvian mathematician, cosmographer, historian, scholar, poet, and astronomer, and was considered a polymath. He was rector of University of San Marcos in Lima.

Peralta's parents were Spaniard Francisco Peralta Barnuevo and Magdalena E. Rocha Benavides from Lima. He was the brother of José de Peralta Barnuevo, Bishop of Buenos Aires.

He studied Roman and canonical art and law at the University of San Marcos, from which he obtained the degree of doctor in canons and laws (1680-1686). Subsequently, he obtained the title of lawyer before the Royal Court (1686). He mastered Latin, Greek, French, Portuguese, Italian, English and Quechua, and had in his library works that reveal an all-embracing curiosity: grammar, poliorcetics, astronomy and metallurgy, among others. Upon the death of his father, he inherited from him the position of royal accountant of the Court of Audit. He also received income from his wife's landed estates.He became rector of the University of San Marcos in very difficult circumstances for the University in 1715 and 1716. He was a member of the Académie des sciences of Paris, because of his decision to collaborate in a very important Franco-Spanish geodesic expedition, and the head of the expedition, begun in 1735, was the French naturalist and geographer Charles Marie de la Condamine. It was sought (and was done after long and very careful work), determine the length of the meridian arc, and numerous observations of the nature of that area were also carried out. Spaniards Antonio de Ulloa and Jorge Juan participated as principals.

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