Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 7, 2018

A very special green door

The sleepy town of Getaria on the coast of Spain has a famous son. You may not have heard of him, I had not, but Juan Sebastian Elcano was the first person to circumnavigate the world in one voyage.

He was born in Getaria around 1486. One day he stepped out of this door, hopped on a ship and sailed off on a grand adventure…it is a bit more complicated than that, it was a convoluted journey to get to that stage, but he did live here.

El Cano

I learned at school (many years ago) that Portuguese sailor, Ferdinand Magellan, was the first to sail around the world. He led the vogage in 1519 with a crew of 260 on 5 ships. Elcano eventually became captain of one of these, Victoria. (photo of the replica courtesy of Wikipedia)

El Cano


Magellan might have been the first had he not been killed in the Philippines before the voyage was finished. There were mutinies, boat failures and many deaths before Elcano finished the vogage with what remained of the crew in September 1522.

All that is left of Elcano’s house in Getaria is a couple of crumbling walls, the front door and a sign.

El Cano

El Cano

Elcano returned home after just over 3 years at sea. Only 18 men from the original crew survived the journey. 4 Timorese (out of 13) also made it to Spain. The hold of Victoria was filled with much prized cloves and nutmeg.

A monument to the intrepid sailor stands proudly at the entrance to the old town. Next year will mark the 500th anniversary of this incredible journey.

El Cano

El Cano

What brave men these were to set off in small boats to explore the world!

Getaria has another famous son…next post.


  1. Thank you Deb for the beautiful story. Yes, History is sometimes wrongly taught, but as you rightly say it was Elcano and not Magellan who completed that awesome voyage of circumnavigation of the earth. With him, only a handful of brave men, some from Guetaria, a traditional birthplace for explorers, sailors, whalers and sea people. The majority are not remembered nowadays, but they were the astronauts of the 16th Century.
    Guipuzcoa was such a land and even the Victoria was built here, as Basque shipyards were considered the best in the world.
    Nowadays, the Juan Sebastián Elcano is the training ship of the Spanish Navy. One of the most beautiful sailing ships that exist. If it ever comes near you, it is really worth a visit.án_Elcano

    • I am astounded by the bravery of these men who set out in tiny boats into unknown territory.

  2. I’m with you … that is, news to me. Then again, I love factoids like this!

    • I do too. I have been boring everyone I meet with the information. It seems not many people are interested…what a pity.

  3. Wow I had never heard of him before. To think that the door is still intact is incredible too!

    • I had not heard of him either. It was a big surprise.

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