Galapagos Islands Large Map

Map of the Galapagos

An edited version appeared in Mercator's World, May/June 2000, Volume 5 Number 3. Some information not found in that feature is included on this page.—JW.

“Wee sayled away to the westward to see if wee could find those Islands called the Gallipoloes, which made the Spaniards laugh at us, telling us they were enchanted Islands, and that there was never any but one Capt. Perialto that had ever seen them, but could not come neare them to anchor at them; and that they were but shadows and no reall islands.”

Geologists don't have much trouble dating the various members of the Galápagos Islands group, from the youngsters at its western boundary to the old-timers back east. Map collectors don't have it quite so easy though, even though the oldest known map is still well short of celebrating its 500th birthday. Generally speaking, maps of Galápagos — or of anywhere else for that matter — can be placed in one of three categories when it comes to the dating game. The first takes in the earliest survivors, which often bear neither date nor other specific information. One can only compare such maps to others thought to be of the same era, or look for clues on the map itself. The job is made easier if the cartographer is identified, in which case something might be found in the written historical record to help date the map. Finally, there are the “easy” ones, where publication details are printed on the sheet for all to see. But even here there may be uncertainty if other details on the same map contradict that information. Needless to say, one often finds maps of a favorite place in each of these categories, and although there may not be sufficient information to put a definitive date stamp on every one of them, sometimes they can at least be placed in chronological order.

The Galápagos Islands are no exception. Perhaps their earliest public appearance may be found on a — one of two presented to the Library of Congress in the late 1920s by the American philanthropist Edward Stephen Harkness (1874-1940). The Library's complete Harkness Collection of documents from colonial Mexico and Peru spans much of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, but there is nothing in the collection to indicate the date of either chart. The one showing Galápagos covers the Pacific coast of Central and northern South America and measures about 33.5 × 61.5 cm. The appearance of part of a compass rose at the lower border suggests that this surviving fragment is the upper portion of a considerably larger chart. What became of the rest is unknown, but it's probably safe to write if off as a casualty of the centuries, now permanently lost. The chart was tentatively dated in a Report of the Librarian of Congress for the Fiscal Year ending June 1929:

“It appears likely that it was not made until after the year 1561, because it contains the place name Landecho for a village in Guatemala. The village seems to have been named for a president of the Audiencia of Guatemala, named Landecho, who assumed office in 1561.”

The chart's general style though suggests it might be much earlier than that date — a possibility not necessarily ruled out by the Landecho place name. In the absence of reliable information, we may speculate that el Presidente was named after his village, and not vice versa. For example, Fray Tomás de Berlanga (Archbishop of Panamá ca. 1535) is known by the name of his native village of Berlanga in Spain. If the same might be said of Señor Landecho, then the village could have existed long before he took office.

There is some circumstancial evidence to suggest this is indeed the case: The Audiencia (High Court) of Guatemala was created in about 1540, and a Juan Nuñez de Landecho served as its president ca. 1559 or earlier. Also, the Archivo General de Indias contains a reference to a “gobernador Juan Martínez de Landecho de 1563-1568.” In both cases, the “de Landecho” style suggests the men were from the village of the same name, and that would allow the name to appear on a chart drawn before either one of them were in office.

Considering that the chart is relatively unknown, it's not surprising that it does not show up in the literature of Galápagos. What is surprising is that much of that literature credits Abraham Ortelius as the first to name and place the islands on a map in his 1570 Theatrum Orbis Terrarum atlas. Actually, his friend and colleague Gerard Mercator beat him to it by one year: the celebrated “Mercator Projection” of 1569 shows two island groups separated by slightly more than four degrees of longitude, but both labeled “y: de los galopegos.” Ortelius apparently referred to Mercator's map when preparing his atlas, although he did make a few changes. His Typus Orbis Terrarum world map follows Mercator's dual-label example and the longitudinal spacing is about the same. But in the same atlas, his Americae Sive Novi Orbus, Nova Descriptio map of North and South America shows only 2½ degrees of separation between the groups. The Southwest cluster retains Mercator's “galopegos” label, while the Northeast cluster becomes “galepegos.”

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