Links on Vasco Nunez Balboa - History

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History who is vasco nunez de balboa

Who is Vasco Núñez de Balboa? Please give a quick overview (around 3-5 paragraphs will do) of his early life, major contributions to explorations and history in general.

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Time to put Balboa on a pedestal

Balboa Park is short on heroic statues, life-like sculptures with stories behind them.

New York’s Central Park has 22 of the heavy-metal memorials, I gather, including one of a dog, but our larger central park a mere five.

Given the glaring absence of a likeness of Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, it’s a wonder children don’t assume the park is named after the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa.

To make matters worse, El Cid, the medieval Spanish soldier who never set foot in the New World, rides his horse outside the Museum of Art, leading visitors to wrongly infer that the 1930 statue represents the park’s namesake.

Commentary: More Logan Jenkins columns about our region

On Sept. 26, 1913, The San Diego Union reported that the upcoming Panama-California Exposition in 1915 would feature “a monument to Balboa costing $15,000 at the east end of El Prado that would be surrounded by a semicircle of columns.”

More than a century later, Balboa still waits for his bronze close-up.

Not to sidestep the obvious, Balboa was a conquistador in today’s Panama. To some modern sensibilities, that job title by definition disqualifies Balboa from an adulatory statue.

What’s more, if you click on Wikipedia, you’ll read that Balboa reportedly fed 40 homosexual Indians to a pack of dogs.

It’s a salacious story, but it’s also untrue, says Iris Engstrand, San Diego’s historian emeritus who’s helping lead the fight for a Balboa statue. She ascribes the apocryphal narrative to the “Black Legend,” propaganda against the Spanish Empire.

In fact, Engstrand tells me, Balboa was executed because he was too friendly to Indians. Balboa had written to the Spanish king to warn him of a governor’s harsh treatment. The rival in charge condemned the whistleblower to death.

In Panama, his tropical stomping ground, Balboa’s name is on national currency and beer. His statue, holding a flag and a sword, is a symbol of national pride that overlooks Panama Bay.

Balboa, as we should learn early, was the first European to lay eyes on the Pacific Ocean. Four days later, on Sept. 29, 1513, he planted the Spanish flag in the ocean, claiming all the lands touched by the “South Sea” for Spain, surely the most far-flung property claim ever recorded.

The historical profile of Balboa, which should be viewed through the dark prism of colonization, is just one of the stumbling blocks for the two-year Balboa statue campaign initiated by the House of Spain to commemorate last year’s centennial.

In several workshop presentations, Balboa Park’s official guardians have offered a range of objections to a Balboa statue, Engstrand reports. Somebody doesn’t like historic statues. Another doesn’t care for bronze as a material. Another thinks it’s beneath the park’s dignity to have a replica from Balboa’s hometown statue in Spain, as was originally planned. (El Cid, it should be noted, is itself a copy of an original created by Anna Hyatt Huntington.)

“We never get anywhere with these committees,” Engstrand, a USD history professor, tells me. “You have to wonder what’s going on.”

However, a formidable bloc has lined up in support of the Balboa statue, including the San Diego History Center, the Natural History Museum and Save Our Heritage Organisation.

“Honoring public figures through statues is a fundamental part of our culture,” Thomas Workman, retired superintendent of the Cabrillo National Monument, wrote Mayor Faulconer a few weeks ago.

“Cultures identify themselves and separate themselves from other nations through history. Specifically, the statue can strengthen our ongoing ties with both Spain and Panama. It should be approved without reservation.”

Armando Hinojosa, a well-known Texas sculptor, has agreed to craft a 9-foot-high statue costing $325,000, which would be paid by an anonymous donor, Engstrand says. If ultimately approved by the Park and Recreation and other boards, the statue would be installed with a plaque near the entrance to the Natural History Museum.

On the plus side of the ledger, a historic error permitted by poetic license will be forcefully corrected.

“On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer,” a widely taught sonnet by John Keats, ends with this stirring sextet:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men

Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Keats shanked it, of course. Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztecs but wasn’t an adventurous hiker. It was Balboa who “star’d at the Pacific” while his men waited below.

The proposed statue of Balboa, at least in the renderings I’ve seen, doesn’t glorify military conquest. He’s a soldier in armor shading his eyes, looking into the distance.

The guardians of Balboa Park (and, my goodness, there are a host of them) should help Balboa climb up on his bronze pedestal.

In 1910, one San Diegan wrote in defense of the City Park’s new, and much-debated, name. His summary should go on the plaque:

Balboa, he reminded, was the fellow “who beat the real estate men to the Pacific Ocean.”

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Is Vasco Núñez de Balboa a role model for our children?

The movement to remove the names of slave owners from positions of honor has taken down individuals both famous and obscure, from Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statutes in the South to Berkeley’s LeConte Elementary School, until recently named for the University of California’s first geology professor – who was also a slave owner and Confederate Army munitions supplier.

And yet there’s one category that seems to slip through the cracks — the conquistadors, like Balboa. San Franciscans may actually find it hard to believe that anyone could have escaped scrutiny in all of this, given that just last year the city’s School Board president floated the idea of renaming the high school named after George Washington, since the enslavement of Africans has quite rightly come to be recognized as a sort of national “original sin” and, as is widely known, the nation’s first president was also a slave owner. But there was another American original sin that has not yet received the same attention in the naming debates –- the extermination of the nation’s native population.

This issue was actually lightly touched upon in the San Francisco discussion, as one observer suggested the “need to remove the names Serra, Balboa, Ulloa, and Noriega from our schools.” The four all date from the Spanish colonial era, a period that understandably tends to draw less scrutiny because it is not strictly speaking a part of U.S. history. Antonio de Ulloa and José Antonio de la Guerra y Noriega, quite obscure names today, were once big wheels in the colonial world Ulloa, the first Spanish governor of Louisiana and Noriega a military officer who later owned a half million acres of California.

Opinion is mixed on the much more prominent Junipero Serra, the Franciscan priest who founded the first nine of the California missions. He is literally a saint to some –- the Roman Catholic Church canonized him in 2015– while others decry his role in taking the state away from its rightful owners.

On the other hand, the most famous of the four, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who even has a crater on the moon named after him, was an archetypical conquistador –- and no one considers him a saint. Once known as the discoverer of the Pacific Ocean, in the same way that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, Balboa is today more appropriately described as the first European to look upon that ocean’s eastern shore. But there’s a lot more to his story.

The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us he “organized .. slave-hunting expeditions” and had an “Indian policy” included “the use of … every kind of force, including torture.” And in case you thought the “dogs of war” might just be an expression, the encyclopedia explains that the “Spanish arsenal included their terrible war dogs, sometimes used by Balboa as executioners to tear Indian victims to pieces.”

An incident described by Peter Martyr d’Anghiera in his 1530 account of Spanish exploration and conquest, On the New World, would seem to have particular resonance in San Francisco: “Vasco [Balboa] discovered that the village of Quarequa was stained by the foulest vice. The king’s brother and a number of other courtiers were dressed as women, and according to the accounts of the neighbours shared the same passion. Vasco ordered forty of them to be torn to pieces by dogs.”

And with this, d’Anghiera tells us, “the Christians” — as he routinely referred to the Spaniards –- actually found local favor: “When the natives learned how severely Vasco had treated those shameless men, they pressed about him as though he were Hercules, and spitting upon those whom they suspected to be guilty of this vice, they begged him to exterminate them, for the contagion was confined to the courtiers and had not yet spread to the people. Raising their eyes and their hands to heaven, they gave it to be understood that God held this sin in horror, punishing it by sending lightning and thunder, and frequent inundations which destroyed the crops. It was like wise the cause of famine and sickness.”


  1. ↑ 1.01.1"Vasco Núñez de Balboa Biography" . Bio. A&E Television Networks, LLC . Retrieved January 19, 2017 .
  2. ↑"Vasco Núñez de Balboa" . History. A&E Television Networks, LLC . Retrieved January 19, 2017 .
  3. ↑"Vasco Núñez de Balboa" . Biografías y Vidas . Retrieved January 19, 2017 .

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Vasco Nuñez de Balboa

Discoverer of the Pacific Ocean from the west coast of Central America, born in Spain, 1475, either at Badajoz or at Jerez de los Caballeros died at Darien, 1517.

He went to Central America, in 1500 with Rodrigo de Bastidas and thence, in secret, with Martín Fernández de Enciso to Cartagena. The story that he got aboard either in an empty barrel or wrapped up in a sail may be true. He soon assumed an important role among the participants of the expedition, and settled Darien in 1509. Then he proclaimed himself governor, and sent both Enciso and Nicuesa away. From Darien he undertook, with a few followers, the hazardous journey across the isthmus that led to the discovery of the Pacific Ocean. 25 September, 1513, and established beyond all doubt the continental nature of America.

The appointment in 1514 of Pedrarias Dávila as governor of the regions discovered and partly occupied by Balboa, and his appearance on the coast of Darien with a large armament, at once gave rise to trouble. Arias was an aged man of mediocre attainments, jealous, deceitful, and vindictive. Balboa was generous, careless, and over-confident in the merits of his achievements, and was no match for the intrigues that forthwith began against him. To mask his sinister designs Arias gave one of his daughters to Balboa in marriage. The latter was allowed to continue his explorations while Arias and the Licentiate Gaspar de Espinosa were slowly tightening a net of true and false testimony around him under cover of the inevitable Residencia. The Crown gave Balboa the title of Adelantado of the South Sea, Governor of Coyba and of what subsequently became the district of Panama, but Arias and his agents understood how to reduce these titles to empty honours.

Quevedo, Bishop of Castilla del Oro, was Balboa's sincere friend and assisted him, but with Quevedo's departure for Spain the case was lost. Fearful lest the bishop's appeal for his friend might result against Arias and his party, the Residencia was at once converted into criminal proceedings, death sentence hastily pronounced, and Balboa beheaded for high treason in 1517 at Darien. One of the main pretexts for the sentence was Balboa's action towards Enciso and Nicuesa.

Balboa has been credited by most authors with having been first to hear of Peru. This is incorrect. In his few attempts at exploring the coast of southern Panama he heard only of Indian tribes of northern or northwestern Colombia.

Oviedo Y Valdez, Historia general y natural de las Indios (Madrid, 1850) Documentos ineditos de Indias (various letters and reports) Gomara, Historia general de las Indias (Medina del Campo, 1553, Zaragoza, 1555) Pascual De Andagoya, Relacion de los sucesos de Pedrarias Dávila, in Navarrete, Coleccion de los' viajes y descubimientos (Madrid, 1829), III, tr. Markham in the Hakluyt Society's publications (1865) Irving, Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus (London, 1831) Quintana, Vidas de espanoles celebres (Madrid, 1830), II Diccionario de Historia y Geografia (Mexico, 1853), I Mendiburu, Dictionario Historico (Lima, 1876), II Herrera, Historia General (2d ed., Madrid, 1726-30) Prescott, History of the Conquest of Peru Robertson, History of America

Pizarro Conquers Peru

Desirous of making his own discoveries, Pizarro formed a partnership with fellow soldier Diego de Almagro. From 1524-1525, then again from 1526-1528, he sailed with Almagro and a priest, Hernando de Luque, on voyages of discovery and conquest down the west coast of South America.

The first expedition failed, but in 1526, Pizarro arrived in Peru and heard stories of a great ruler and his riches in the mountains. He returned to get permission to claim the land for Spain.

King Charles of Spain agreed to Pizarro’s request and promised him that he would be governor of any lands he conquered. In 1531, Pizarro and his crew, including three of his half-brothers—Gonzalo, Hernando and Juan Pizarro—sailed from Panama. In November of 1532, Pizarro entered the city of Cajamarca, where Inca leader Atahuapla was celebrating his victory over his brother, Huáscar, in the Inca Civil War. Pizarro took Atahuapla hostage. Despite having paid a large ransom to spare his life, Atahuapla was killed in 1533. Pizarro then conquered Cuzco, another important Inca city, and founded the city of Lima, now the capital of Peru.

One of the more remarkable parts of his story is that he did so with relatively little outside support and funds. His 1513 expedition across the Isthmus of Panama was carried out on a shoestring budget and was predominantly funded by himself. Balboa had indeed requested funding from the authorities of Hispaniola.

Unlike other Spanish explorers and conquistadors, Vasco Nunez de Balboa was not the leader of an expedition and was not financed by royalty when he first went to the New World. Instead, he joined an expedition in 1500 led by Rodrigo de Bastidas and received a share of earnings from Bastidas as a member of his team.

Links on Vasco Nunez Balboa - History

History of the City of Balboa, California

Named after the Spanish explorer, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, this small island town has been a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. You reach the island by taking an old-fashioned ferry which runs day & night between the island and the Balboa Peninsula.

Rendezvous Ballroom Site (historical marker #35)-
For 38 years, the sounds of dance music echoed from the block-long ballroom, which was destroyed by fire in 1966. The music and dancing have ended, but the memories linger on.

Balboa Pavilion - 400 Main St, Balboa
This is one of California's last surviving examples of the great waterfront recreational pavilions from the turn of the century. Built in 1905 by the Newport Bay Investment Company, it played a prominent role in the development of Newport Beach as a seaside recreation area. In 1906, it became the southern terminus for the Pacific Electric Railway connecting the beach with downtown Los Angeles. The railway's Red Cars connected the beach with Los Angeles in only one hour.

The Balboa Fun Zone
Was built on Abbott's Landing in 1936 where Mr. Abbott brought soil from the mainland and planted the Peninsula's first trees. At one time, the then miniature amusement park covered the entire block between Palm Street and Washington Street. The ferris wheel and the merry-go-round remain today,

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