Juan de la Cosa

Juan de la Cosa (c. 1450 – 28 February 1510) was a Spanish navigator and cartographer, known for designing the earliest European world map that incorporated the territories of the Americas that were discovered in the 15th century. De la Cosa played an important role in the first and second voyage of Christopher Columbus to the West Indies, since he was the owner and captain of the Santa María.

In 1499, he served as the chief pilot in the expedition of Alonso de Ojeda to the coasts of South America. Upon his return to Andalusia, he drew his famous mappa mundi ("world map") and soon returned to the Indies, this time with Rodrigo de Bastidas. In the following years, De la Cosa alternated trips to America under its own command with special duties from the Crown, including an assignment as a spy in Lisbon and participation in the board of pilots held in Burgos in 1508. In 1509, he began what would be his last expedition, again with Ojeda, to take possession of the coasts of modern Colombia.

De la Cosa died in an armed confrontation with indigenous people before he could get possession of Urabá.[2]

Juan de la Cosa
BornBetween 1450 and 1460
Died28 February 1510[1]
ResidenceEl Puerto de Santa María
Other namesJuan the Biscayan
OccupationNavigator and cartographer
Notable work
Map of Juan de la Cosa

Origin and youth

Cantabria Santoña Juan de la Cosa 01 lou
Monument dedicated to Juan de la Cosa in Santoña, Cantabria.

No one knows exactly where Juan de la Cosa was born, but the most accepted hypothesis is that it was in Santoña (Cantabria),[3] because there are documents showing that he was a resident there and his wife and daughter lived in that city.[4] Some 16th-century chroniclers called him "the Biscayan," leading to confusion with another sailor called "Juan Vizcaino." However, today they are known to be different people.[5]

His date of birth is also unknown, but it is estimated between 1450 and 1460, nor is any information available from his childhood or adolescence. It is assumed that the young man took part in sailing voyages around the Bay of Biscay and then towards the Canary Islands and West Africa.[6]

The first solid references come from 1488, when Juan de la Cosa was in Portugal. At that time, navigator Bartolomeu Dias had just arrived in Lisbon, after having reached the Cape of Good Hope. The Catholic Monarchs may have sent de la Cosa to that city as a spy to obtain information and details of the discovery. He managed to return to Castile before Portuguese officers captured him.[7]

Early in the 1490s, Juan de la Cosa was living in El Puerto de Santa María and owned a ship called Marigalante or Galician. It is believed that it was there that he established a business relationship with the Pinzón brothers.[6]

Early voyages

JuandelaCosa bust Santoña
Bust of Juan de la Cosa, Santoña

According to some historians he was born in 1460 at Sta. Maria del Puerto (Santoña), in Cantabria, Spain. From early childhood he spent time on the water. From the waters of his native country, which he knew thoroughly, he soon ventured on to the coast of Western Africa, which was at that time the goal of many Spanish expeditions. The first reliable references place him in Portugal in 1488, meeting the explorer Bartolomeu Dias who had just sailed around the Cape of Good Hope.


Travels with Christopher Columbus

Juan de la Cosa sailed with Christopher Columbus on his first three voyages to the New World. He owned and was master of the Santa María, flagship of Columbus's first voyage in 1492. The vessel shipwrecked that year on the night of 24–25 December off the present-day site of Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. De la Cosa, in a notable act of cowardice (or treason, in Columbus's documented opinion), fled the sinking Santa Maria (his partial ownership of the vessel notwithstanding) in the flagship's boat, rather than endeavor to assist Columbus in kedging the stricken vessel from off the coral reef on which it had run aground. He and a handful of loyals made for La Nina, waiting a few hundred yards astern of the flagship, but they were turned back by La Nina's captain Vicente Yanez.

On Columbus's second voyage, in 1493, de la Cosa was mariner and cartographer on the ship Colina. On Columbus' third voyage, in 1498, de la Cosa was on the ship La Niña. Some historians believe de la Cosa did not participate in this voyage.

In 1494 de la Cosa received compensation from the Spanish monarchs for the sinking of his ship on his first voyage. He was awarded the right to transport docientos cahíces de trigo ("two hundred cahices of flour")[8] from Andalucia to Biscay, and exempted from certain duties.

First voyage with de Ojeda

On his fourth voyage, in 1499, de la Cosa was the first pilot for the expedition of Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci, and with them was among the first to set foot on the South American mainland on the Gulf of Paria. At the same time they explored the coast from Essequibo River to Cape Vela.

In spite of not receiving much remuneration, De la Cosa had benefited considerably, having mapped in detail the coast of the region he explored, information he would use to create his famous map.

On the fifth voyage, in 1500, de la Cosa, Rodrigo de Bastidas, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa explored the lands of present-day Colombia and Panama. He explored further along the South American coast to the isthmus of Panama, and returned to Haiti in 1502. When the Spanish court found soon afterwards that the Portuguese had made several incursions into the newly discovered country, Queen Isabella sent Juan de la Cosa at the head of a delegation to Portugal to protest this incursion. De la Cosa was arrested and incarcerated, liberated only with the help of Queen Isabella.

First independent voyage

De la Cosa was nominated an alguazil, and in 1504–05(?) (or 1506) was commander of an expedition to the Pearl Islands and the Gulf of Urabá to found settlements there. At the same time he visited Jamaica and Haiti.

Second voyage with de Ojeda and de la Cosa's death

The death of La Cosa
An 1887 illustration of de la Cosa's death

In 1509 Juan de la Cosa set out for the seventh and last time for the New World. He carried two hundred colonists on three ships, and on reaching Haiti placed himself under the command of Alonso de Ojeda, who added another ship with one hundred settlers to the expedition. After having settled an old border dispute between Alonso de Ojeda and Diego de Nicuesa, they went with Francisco Pizarro into de Ojeda's territory and landed at the future site of Cartagena. This was against the warnings of de la Cosa, who proposed they disembark on the more peaceful coast of the Gulf of Urabá. When the Spanish came ashore, they got in a fight with the natives on the Bay of Calamar, and drove them off. Emboldened by the Spanish victory, de Ojeda decided to go further into the forest, to the native village at the future site of Turbaco. When they arrived at the town, they were attacked by the natives, and de la Cosa was shot with poison arrows and killed. De Ojeda escaped, and fled to the coast. Another Spanish expedition passed by, and de Ojeda told them of the murderous natives. The men of the other expedition joined de Ojeda for a punitive attack on that village, killing all of its inhabitants to avenge de la Cosa's death. De la Cosa's widow received 45,000 maravedís and all the natives he had in his possession as indemnity for services rendered.


Juan de la Cosa made several maps of which the only survivor is his famous world map from 1500. It is the oldest known European map that shows the New World. Of special interest is the outline of Cuba, which Christopher Columbus never believed to be an island. Walkenaer and Alexander von Humboldt were the first to point out the great importance of this chart. It is now in the Museo Naval in Madrid. Reproductions of it were first given by Humboldt in his Atlas géographique et physique.

See also


  1. ^ Cánovas del Castillo y Vallejo, p.28
  2. ^ Floyd, Troy (1973). The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean, 1492-1526. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. p. 135.
  3. ^ Cánovas del Castillo y Vallejo, p.11
  4. ^ Bilbao, Pedro (1948). "Juan de la Cosa" (pdf). VII Congreso de Estudios Vascos (Biarritz) (in Spanish). San Sebastián: Eusko Ikaskuntza: 321–328. ISBN 84-8419-931-2. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  5. ^ León Guerrero, tomo 1, p.164
  6. ^ a b Cervera Pery, José (2000). "Juan de la Cosa: el marino y el hombre" [Juan de la Cosa: the sailor and the man]. Cuadernos Monográficos del Instituto de Historia y Cultura Naval (in Spanish) (35): 49–57. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  7. ^ "Juan de la Cosa" (in Spanish). ArteHistoria. Archived from the original on 26 March 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  8. ^ A cahice was approximately 15 bushels.


  • Davies, Arthur (1976). "The Date of Juan de la Cosa's World Map and Its Implications for American Discovery". The Geographical Journal. 142 (1): 111–116.
  • Floyd, Troy (1973). The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean, 1492-1526. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. p. 135.
  • Phillips, William D.; Phillips, Carla Rahn (1992). The Worlds of Christopher Columbus. Cambridge University Press.
  • Sauer, Carl Ortwin (1966). The Early Spanish Main. University of California Press.
  • Vigneras, Louis-Andre (1976). The Discovery of South America and the Andalusian Voyages. University of Chicago Press.
  • Weddle, Robert S. (1985). Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685. Texas A&M University Press.


External links

1500 in science

The year 1500 AD in science and technology included many events, some of which are listed here.

1509 in science

The year 1509 in science and technology included many events, some of which are listed here.


Year 1510 (MDX) was a common year starting on Tuesday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar.

1510 in science

The year 1510 in science and technology included many events, some of which are listed here.

Alonso de Ojeda

Alonso de Ojeda (Torrejoncillo del Rey, Cuenca 1468 (some sources state 1466) – Santo Domingo 1515) was a Spanish navigator, governor and conquistador. He travelled through Guyana, Venezuela, Trinidad, Tobago, Curaçao, Aruba and Colombia. He is famous for having named Venezuela, which he explored during his first two expeditions, for having been the first European to visit Guyana, Colombia, and Lake Maracaibo, and later for founding Santa Cruz (La Guairita).

Castle of San Marcos (El Puerto de Santa María)

Castle of San Marcos (also Castillo de Alfonso X El Sabio) is a medieval castle located in El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz, Spain. The castle was erected as a fortified church by King Alfonso X of Castile. It was built on the site of a mosque of which the wall of the qibla survives.

Close to the castle there is a replica of the map of Juan de la Cosa and a little fountain.

Early world maps

The earliest known world maps date to classical antiquity, the oldest examples of the 6th to 5th centuries BCE still based on the flat Earth paradigm.

World maps assuming a spherical Earth first appear in the Hellenistic period.

The developments of Greek geography during this time, notably by Eratosthenes and Posidonius culminated in the Roman era, with Ptolemy's world map (2nd century CE), which would remain authoritative throughout the Middle Ages.

Since Ptolemy, knowledge of the approximate size of the globe allowed cartographers to estimate the extent of their geographical knowledge, and to indicate parts of the globe known to exist but not yet explored as terra incognita.

With the Age of Discovery, during the 15th to 18th centuries, world maps became increasingly accurate; exploration of Antarctica, Australia, and the interior of Africa by western mapmakers was left to the 19th and early 20th century.

El Puerto de Santa María

El Puerto de Santa María (Spanish pronunciation: [el ˈpweɾto ðe ˈsanta maˈɾi.a], "The Port of Saint Mary"), locally known as El Puerto, is a municipality located on the banks of the Guadalete River in the province of Cádiz, Andalusia. As of 2016, the city has a population of c. 88,184, of which some 50,000 live in the urban center, and the remainder in the surrounding areas.

The town of El Puerto de Santa María is 10 kilometres (6 miles) north east of Cádiz across the bay of Cádiz .


Falcón State (Spanish: Estado Falcón, IPA: [esˈtaðo falˈkon]) is one of the 23 states (estados) that constitute Venezuela. The state capital is Coro.

Government of Santa Marta

The Government of Santa Marta was a capitulation given by the King of Spain between 1526 and 1618 to his loyals to manage newly discovered and conquered territories in the Americas. The Government of Santa Marta became part of the New Kingdom of Granada in 1528 as a subdivision. In 1549 the Government of Santa Marta was subject to the Royal Audience of Santa Fe de Bogotá.


Guanahani is an island in the Bahamas that was the first land in the New World sighted and visited by Christopher Columbus' first voyage, on October 12, 1492. It is not known precisely which island it was, and several theories have been put forth by historians. Guanahani is the native Taíno name; Columbus called it San Salvador.

History of Valledupar

The History of Valledupar (Spanish: Historia de Valledupar) refers to the historical events related to the Colombian city of Valledupar. The region of what is now Valledupar was prior to the Spanish conquest of the Americas inhabited by numerous indigenous tribes pertaining to three major language families; the Arawaks, Kalina (Caribs) and Chibchas.

La Guajira Department

La Guajira (Spanish pronunciation: [la ɣwaˈxiɾa]) is a department of Colombia. It occupies most of the Guajira Peninsula in the northeast region of the country, on the Caribbean Sea and bordering Venezuela, at the northernmost tip of South America. The capital city of the department is Riohacha.

Various indigenous tribes populated the arid plains of the region long before the Spanish expeditions reached the Americas. In 1498, Alonso de Ojeda sailed around the peninsula of La Guajira, but the first man to set foot in what is known today as La Guajira was the Spanish explorer Juan de la Cosa in 1499. During the colonial era, the territory of La Guajira was disputed by the governors of Santa Marta and Venezuela, owing to deposits of pearls. English pirates, Frenchmen, and Germans also fought for control of the territory.

Martin Fernandez de Enciso founded Nuestra Señora Santa María de los Remedios del Cabo de la Vela, the first colonial village in the territory. In 1535, Nicolás de Federmán refounded the settlement as the village of Riohacha, as a result of constant attacks by the Wayuu people. In 1544, it was moved to the site of the present-day city. In 1871, the region was separated from the Department of Magdalena, and La Guajira became a national territory in its own right. The Intendance of La Guajira was created in 1898.In 1911, the Colombian government created the Commissary of la Guajira. In the 1930s, numerous immigrants came to the area from the Middle East (Christians and Maronites) from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan, and countries under the Ottoman Empire. They generally settled in the city of Maicao. In 1954, the Intendance of la Guajira was created again and Riohacha was declared a municipality. Finally, in 1964, the Department of La Guajira was created.The economy of the department depends on royalties from the coal mining at Cerrejón (producing 24.9 million tons of export coal in 2004), natural gas exploitation, and salt mines. A popular ecotourist destination is Cabo de la Vela, a small fishing village located on the headland of the peninsula in the Guajira desert.

List of conquistadors

The following is a list of conquistadors.

List of historical maps

The following is a list of notable extant historical maps.

Map of Juan de la Cosa

The map or chart of Juan de la Cosa is a mappa mundi painted on parchment, 93 cm high and 183 cm wide. Since the nineteenth century it has formed part of the collections of the Naval Museum of Madrid (Spain). A line of text on the map says it was made by the Cantabrian cartographer and sailor Juan de la Cosa in 1500 in the Andalusian port city of El Puerto de Santa María. Its rich decoration hints that it was ordered by some powerful member of the court of the Catholic Monarchs, who ruled the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon at that time.

This map is the earliest undisputed representation of the Americas. The map contains a body of water to the north of Cuba which is within a landmass, a hint of the undiscovered Gulf of Mexico. Some historians have claimed that some of the Antilles appear on earlier maps such as the Pizzigano map of 1424 but there is no consensus about it. Furthermore, the Vinland map shows part of North America but it is most probably fake. The La Cosa map shows the lands discovered up to the end of the 15th century by Castilian, Portuguese and English expeditions to America. It also depicts a large fraction of the Old World, according to the style of medieval portolan charts and including news of the arrival of Vasco de Gama to India in 1498.The map of Juan de la Cosa is the only cartographic work made by an eyewitness of the first voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Indies that has been preserved. Possibly as an allusion to Columbus, it contains a large image of Saint Christopher that covers the region where Central America should have appeared. On the other hand, Cuba is drawn as an island, which contradicts Columbus' opinion that it was a peninsula of Asia.

Piri Reis

Ahmed Muhiddin Piri (1465/70 – 1553), better known as Piri Reis (Turkish: Pîrî Reis or Hacı Ahmet Muhittin Pîrî Bey), was an Ottoman admiral, navigator, geographer and cartographer.

He is primarily known today for his maps and charts collected in his Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book of Navigation), a book that contains detailed information on navigation, as well as very accurate charts (for their time) describing the important ports and cities of the Mediterranean Sea. He gained fame as a cartographer when a small part of his first world map (prepared in 1513) was discovered in 1929 at the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. His world map is the oldest known Turkish atlas showing the New World, and one of the oldest maps of America still in existence anywhere (the oldest known map of America that is still in existence is the map drawn by Juan de la Cosa in 1500). Piri Reis' map is centered on the Sahara at the latitude of the Tropic of Cancer.In 1528, Piri Reis drew a second world map, of which a small fragment (showing Greenland and North America from Labrador and Newfoundland in the north to Florida, Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and parts of Central America in the south) still survives. According to his imprinting text, he had drawn his maps using about 20 foreign charts and mappae mundi (Arab, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Indian and Greek) including one by Christopher Columbus. He was executed in 1553.

Santa María (ship)

La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción (Spanish for: The Holy Mary of the Immaculate Conception), or La Santa María, originally La Gallega, was the largest of the three ships used by Christopher Columbus in his first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. Her master and owner was Juan de la Cosa.


Turbaco is a municipality in the Bolívar Department of Colombia. It is about 20 minutes from Cartagena de Indias and is one of Bolívar's most organized municipalities. Turbaco is known for its famous "Fiesta de Toros" (Bulls's feast) in December to celebrate the new year. Currently, the municipality is undergoing major expansion plans and remodeling.

Juan de la Cosa was mortally wounded here in 1510, before Pedro de Heredia subjugated the area in 1533.Antonio López de Santa Anna spent some of his exile years here, 1850-1853 and 1855-1857.

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