Inventing America

The name America was given to the Western Hemisphere by European writers and mapmakers after Columbus's death. Nothing in their experiences had led the first explorers to realize that they had come into contact with a vast and unrecorded continent, many times the size of Europe. Previously there had been no accounts, or even rumors, of the "unknown" peoples of this "new" continent in European scholarly literature and discussion or in popular chronicles.

Mediterranean explorers in search of the spices and riches of the Far East initially believed that they had reached Asia. In part due to this confusion, Europeans conjured up or "invented" images and tales to explain America that would conform to the descriptions of Marco Polo and others.

In early allegorical images, "America" was sometimes portrayed as a noble, native woman submissively awaiting European arrival. Ferocious sea animals and exotic creatures filled early maps of the region. Regrettably, we still have incomplete knowledge of the world view and everyday life of the varied peoples of the Americas before European settlement.

Spain in America

The Gutierrez map depicts what appears to be the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (Charles I of Spain), as the reborn Caesar in his chariot crossing the Atlantic to lay claim to America. Mediterranean explorers had broken open the "gates of Gilbraltar", considered by the ancient Romans to be the westermost limit of their empire. They revealed a "fourth continent" across the Atlantic and a whole new world of potential for the modern empire builders.

The map contains information available in 1554 at the Casa de Contratacion in Seville, which regulated travel to the Western Hemisphere.

To Europeans, most of the interior of America was still terra incognita (unknown land). Diego Gutierrez filled it in with a mixture of real and highly fanciful images. The map highlights the course of the Amazon River and the location of the silver mines of Potosi.

Continue the Voyage with Europe Claims America or abandon ship and use the Outline.