J. S. Elkano. Following his footsteps

J. S. Elkano. Following his footsteps, takes an in-depth look at the biography of Juan Sebastián Elkano (1487/88-1526) and takes visitors along his life path before, during and after the first circumnavigation of the globe, which began 500 year ago in a search for a new route to the Spice Islands.

This ambitious project is sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Department of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia and by insurance company Seguros Bilbao, with support from other organisations such as IKEA Barakaldo, Baskegur, Siloe, Antiquus, Horizonte Elkano and Taberna Libraría. It offers visitors attractive infographics created by a specialist team from the El Correo newspaper led by Gonzalo de las Heras, with an audio-guide available in Basque, Spanish, English and French.

What is known about Juan Sebastián Elkano?

The exhibition, curated by Julián Díaz, presents original sources containing information on the life of Elkano and invites visitors to make up their own minds about him, y pone a su disposición diversos recursos expositivos que tratan de dar respuesta a la pregunta ¿qué sabemos de Juan Sebastián Elkano?

Numerous exhibits seek to help reveal just what is known about him.

It looks at his beginnings as a master mariner, details his part in the expedition headed by Magellan, outlines his time in Extremadura and Portugal as a representative of Emperor Carlos V after the circumnavigation of the globe, and chronicles his second expedition to the Spice Islands. That expedition sailed from the Basque port of Bermeo, and Elkano died while his vessel was crossing the Pacific. His young subordinate Andrés de Urdaneta then took over from the great navigator as captain.

The exhibition comprises a wide-ranging collection of documents including reproductions in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Latin and Malay, many of which have never been shown in public before. Transcriptions of their contents in Spanish, Basque and English give visitors a chance to take a first-hand look back into history

The images and objects selected take visitors back five centuries and show the peoples that these early navigators encountered in their voyages around the world, such as the natives of Brazil and the “giants” of Patagonia. Glimpses of day-to-day life are also given: what they ate, their navigation instruments and tools, customs and rules concerning sexuality and the use of the Basque language, all of which help visitors to establish links with life today.

The cooperation of institutions, archives and museums such as the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, the Basque Historical Archive (which has provided reproductions of important documents discovered in Laurgain), the Torre do Tombo National Archive in Lisbon, the National Library of France, the National Library of Spain, the Basque Museum, the National Mountain Museum in Turin and the Armoury Museum of Araba, among many others, was essential in compiling the contents of this exhibition.

The Basque Country and Bizkaia

The outstanding contribution made by the Basque Country as a whole and by Bizkaia in particular is shown by the fact that 7 of the 12 ships that took part in the two expeditions to the Spice Islands were from Bizkaia, and the area also provided many supplies, especially iron-made instruments.

4 of the 18 men who sailed into Sanlúcar on the Victoria were Basque: Juan Sebastián Elkano himself, who was born in Getaria, and three Bizkaia-born sailors in Juan de Arratia, from Bilbao, Juan de Zubileta, from Barakaldo, and Juan de Acurio, from Bermeo.


This project is evidence of universal values such as intrepidness, generosity, cooperation and intelligence, which today’s society shares with that of 500 years ago.


The texts for the exhibition were prepared by its curator Julián Díaz Alonso, a specialist with broad experience in producing and setting up exhibitions for museums and interpretation centres. In recent years he has been mainly studying and documenting voyages to the Spice Islands. He is writing a series of novels on the theme under the generic title Sangre y Especias [“Blood and Spices”], the first two volumes of which are now in print, and has been commissioned by Elkano Fundazioa to write a biography of Juan Sebastián Elkano in the form of an audio-book, which is currently nearing completion.

Download the free audio-guide.

Teaching materials

Itsasmuseum Bilbao as a resource for teachers and students of the 2nd cycle of Compulsory Secondary Education and High School who visit the temporary exhibition “J.S. Elkano. Following his steps”.

The aim is to make known the importance of the first circumnavigation to the Earth now 500 years ago and the consequences that the discovery of new latitudes, cultures and spices has had, both historically and economically, scientifically and socially.

We allow teachers to adapt this didactic material to their students in the way that seems most appropriate. Every Tuesday (except July and August), the entrance of the Museum is free for all the public, thus facilitating the free visit to the temporary exhibition by the educational centers of ESO and Baccalaureate. It would be necessary to make a previous reservation by phone: Tel. 94 608 55 12.


As a group, as a family, individually… Get your tickets now to immerse yourself in an incredible experience.



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