One of the oldest ships in Spain, the Juan Sebastian de Elcano, used to train the country’s future navy admirals, arrived in İstanbul this morning and berthed at Salipazari quay, in its first trip to Turkey since the 1940s.
Named after a notable 16th-century sailor, the Juan Sebastian de Elcano is one of the most familiar ships in Spain and one of the largest and oldest sailing vessels still in use. It will dock in Istanbul from Jan. 22 to 26 and be open to public visits from Jan. 23 to 25.
The ship typically sails across the Atlantic and drops anchor in North America as part of a six-month training program for young Spanish navy officers.
“This year, we chose Turkey because the ship is more than 70 years old and will be taken to a shipyard in Istanbul,” a Spanish Embassy official said. “It could not afford a long journey across the Atlantic and this year’s training will be less than six months as well.”
One of the historical facts of note about the “Elcano,” as the Spanish call the vessel, is that one of its first commanders in the 1930s was the grandfather of Christopher Gonzales Aller, the current Spanish ambassador to Ankara. Aller presented his credentials to take office to Turkish President Abdullah Gül on Monday but officials said the two events occurring close to the same time was only a coincidence.
The main purpose of the Elcano is to serve as a training ship for officer cadets. Every year, for this purpose, the vessel is dispatched on a six-month training cruise, normally far away from Spain. Approximately three-quarters of this period are spent at sea, where the cadets receive lessons and participate in deck work.
The historical ship also plays a role as Spain’s floating embassy and in supporting Spanish foreign policy at foreign ports.
The ship’s namesake, de Elcano, was behind one of the most important achievements in Spanish maritime history. Born in Guetaria in 1476, he enlisted as a navigation expert in a five-ship expedition ordered by Emperor Charles I. Under the command of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, the expedition departed from Sanlucar de Barrameda in 1519 on a mission to find a new route to the Spice Islands.
After sailing around America via a southern route, becoming the first Europeans to visit the Philippines and experiencing great hardship – including shipwrecks, hunger and the death of Magellan – those on de Elcano’s Victoria, the remaining ship in the expedition, arrived in Spain three years after its departure. It had circumnavigated the globe for the first time in history.
Charles I granted de Elcano the use of a coat of arms bearing the image of a globe and the motto “Primus Circumdedisti me” – or “You were the first to circumnavigate me.”