Gonzalo Pizarro expedition

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The Gonzalo-Pizarro-Expedition (also Zimtland-Expedition ) was an expedition in the 16th century into the unexplored interior of South America under the direction of Gonzalo Pizarro (one of the four Pizarro brothers ). He was looking for the legendary cinnamon land and the gold land Eldorado .


In 1540 the King of Spain and the Council of India approved an expedition to Gonzalo Pizarro into the interior of South America, unexplored by Europeans. It was about the search for the legendary cinnamon forests. In Quito there were reports that huge cinnamon trees were growing in Montana in the upper Amazon . Back then, cinnamon was very popular and therefore very valuable. In addition, the indigenous people living there should be rich in gold. Pizarro himself hoped to discover the legendary gold country Eldorado.

Botanical identity

Today's botany knows that the genus of cinnamon trees only grows in Asia. The “cinnamon samples” that lured Pizarro on his journey apparently came from other aromatic trees. It is believed that they were representatives of the laurel family , which also includes cinnamon, probably from the Ocotea genus .

In South America there are some Ocotea species with aromatic bark that would be suitable as a spice ; however, none of them has been able to establish itself in the kitchen so far. Ocotea sassafras and Ocotea pretiosa contain safrole , which gives them a spicy aniseed aroma, and are used commercially as sources of safrole. The species Ocotea quixos contains cinnamaldehyde and smells like cinnamon. But it is not possible to say with certainty what kind of goal Pizarro's expedition was aimed at.


The Gonzalo Pizarro expedition set out from the viceroyalty of Peru in 1540 . It is estimated that around 350 Spaniards (200 horsemen and 150 foot soldiers) and 4000 Indians and around 3000 companion animals ( blood dogs , llamas and pigs ) accompanied him. On the Río Coca they are said to have stayed in an Omagua settlement for a long time before they burned it down.

According to expedition reports, the "cinnamon trees" were supposedly too close together to be felled at the supposed destination. They were also difficult to debark, whereupon Pizarro canceled the project. Instead, based on local stories, he decided to start an expedition to an alleged gold country called "Curicuri".

In October 1541 the expedition reached the Río Napo . Since this was too deep to cross, the crew had to build a ship. Francisco de Orellana was in charge of the construction because Gonzalo Pizarro fell ill with a severe fever during the trip. The carpenter Juan de Alcántara is said to have worked the horseshoes and stirrups of the dead horses into nails.

On December 10, 1541, the "San Pedro" brigantine was completed. According to the expedition report, the expedition started on December 25th. The command of 57 men (according to other sources also 51 men) was given to the troop leader Francisco de Orellana with the task of procuring food. Among the men on the ship were Father Carvajal and Sánchez de Vargas . The rest of the men stayed with Pizarro.

On January 1, 1542, the "San Pedro" reached the Amazon . They were the first Europeans to sail the Amazon, which is why the Amazon was for a while named after the leader of the expedition Rio Orellana . In view of the sometimes rapid current, a return to Pizzaro's camp seemed hardly possible. The crew decided to build a second, smaller ship called the Victoria. According to controversial information from the Dominican Gaspar de Carvajal , they are said to have met light-skinned Indian women at the mouth of the Rio Jamundá . They defended their alleged kingdom " Coniupuara " with the queen "Coñori". However, he probably invented these " Amazons " (possibly derived from the word "Amassonas") to prove why they could not return to Pizzaro's camp.

On September 11, 1542, the San Pedro and the Victoria reached the Atlantic. They were on the road for about 260 days. Orellana traveled to Trinidad , then to Santo Domingo, and finally from there to Spain. He had to explain his offense to the Council of India. Crown Prince Philipp acquitted Orellana and the authorities awarded him lands on the Amazon. He returned there in 1545 and is said to have disappeared there with his companions or to have died of marsh fever .

Gonzalo and his remaining men are said to have waited several weeks until he ordered the march back. In late summer Pizarro and his men finally arrived in Quito.

Less than half of the Indians and only 80 of the Spaniards are said to have survived, including the leader Gonzalo Pizarro. He was executed for rebellion six years later.

In terms of literature, the expedition was edited by Otto Emersleben ("Strom ohne Brücke").


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