The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus was a turning point in world history. His discovery ushered in an age of exploration and conquest that made Spain the most powerful country in the world. The flow of silver, gold and precious stones that started out as a trickle, became a torrent that brought about an economic revival throughout all of Europe.
The west coast of South America was one of Spain’s richest possessions. What was once the Vice-Royalty of Peru are today the countries of Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. Throughout the colonial period the Spaniards located and exploited rich silver and gold mines throughout the Andes Mountains. These sources were so rich that various mints were established over the centuries for the production of coinage. Mints at Lima, Cuzco, and Potosi produced coinage that became the national currency for many nations of the world, including the American colonies and eventually the early United States. As these sources of precious metals were exploited, the treasure, in coin, ingot and jewelry form, was loaded aboard ships of the “South Seas Armada”.
These ships would travel the western coast of South America to pick up and deliver goods to ports along the coast. The principal route taken by these galleons would see them start at the south and stop at ports along the coast while making their way to Panama for final delivery of all the treasure that had been collected from the mints and mines. From there the treasure would be transported across the isthmus by mule train where it would be picked up by the Tierra Firme Armada and shipped back to Spain.
Over the centuries hundreds of ships were lost along the west coast of South America as they sailed the coast laden with treasure and other merchandise. The South Sea Expeditions Project, working in cooperation with the Governments of Ecuador, Peru and Chile, will continue to locate and recover treasure from these lost Spanish galleons.