4 Ports of the Maritime Silk Route

In 1565, Spain conquered the Philippines. The Manila Galleon, a famous trade route, began among; China, the Philippines, New Spain (Mexico) and Spain. This route called the Maritime Silk Road, the Manila Galleon, or the China Ship (Nao de China in Spanish) lasted for 250 years; 1565-1815. Once a year a vessel would begin in Acapulco carrying passengers, silver, chocolate, tobacco, sugar cane, pumpkins, peppers and tomatoes, and sail west for two months to Manila in the Philippines. Chinese merchants in Manila would exchange their goods for the silver, the food and passengers would join the the New Spain expatriots in the Philippines, and the ship would head back to Acapulco, on a six month journey against the trade winds. Upon arrival in Acapulco, a portion of the merchandise would be sold at a fair.

The majority of the products; the silk, cotton, velvet, brocade, stockings, cloaks, robes, kimonos, mother of pearl, tea, spices, camphor, ivory, ceramics and Persian rugs they’d load on donkeys and carry overland to Veracruz. From Veracruz, they’d travel to the Caribbean, then to Sevilla, Spain (later Cádiz) where they’d sell the Asian commodities at a high profit. They’d take Spanish and European manufactured goods, wine, and Belgian lace back to New Spain. This along with silver from New Spain and the Viceroyalty of Peru was sent to Manila to start the exchange circle again.

Manila Galleon route east from Manila to Acapulco.  Diagram: Jrockley, US Army

This was the spice route the Spanish King and Queen had sent Columbus to find, since the Portuguese dominated the Indian Ocean route east. However, it was Magellan not Columbus who landed in the Philippines. Unfortunately for the Pacific explorer, his conquest of the islands was hotly contested by the people who already lived there and he was killed in battle. Nonetheless, forty years later, the Spanish moved in, and stayed three centuries.

The large galleons were built in the Philippines from local hardwoods. Crews were largely made up of Filipinos. Chinese business people also joined the voyages. The route was perilous, full of hunger, typhoons, disease and possibly pirates. The statistics over the two and half centuries are that only a little more than half the crew and passengers survived the journeys.

The first Asian immigrants to Mexico came on these ships. Filipinos were simply part of the Spanish Empire, and could move about, unremarked. People from China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia sailed their five to six month leg of the silk trade route on Spanish galleons from Manila to Acapulco. Every year, a number of Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian and Malay sailors would decide to stay in Nueva España. However, their percentage of the local population would be difficult to determine since there was no census until 1790. Perhaps with time DNA testing will reveal this hidden history.

Would you have dared to journey on the Manila Galleon?

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco and commenting! ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Reproduction of the Spanish galleon Santísima Trinidad  Photo: Basilio




Rebecca Cuningham

9 thoughts on “4 Ports of the Maritime Silk Route

    1. Thanks for the cultural link. Yes, the eastern influence on the city of Puebla culture, of legend a girl from India centuries ago can be seen in the sequined and mirrored skirts of the China Poblana traditional outfit. There was a tendency then for all things eastern to be called Chinese, as there was in English.


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