Antila is a mythical land in Spanish history that was an important story in terms of spurring exploration and colonization.
History is filled with stories of mysterious lands and lost kingdoms. These stories and tales prompted journeys of exploration, excited travelers, and fueled the imaginations of those who did not travel further than a few miles from their homes during their lifetimes. Even today, stories about Atlantis, Mu, and El Dorado continue to fascinate and inspire people around the world. There is one story of a lost kingdom, however, that while popular in the Middle Ages and early colonial period, is today largely forgotten. This is the story of Antilia.
Tales of Antilia relate that during the Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the 700s, seven Portuguese bishops fled in order to save their lives. They brought many of their followers with them and set sail into the uncharted waters of the Atlantic Ocean. There, it is said, they found an uninhabited island where they decided to settle. These bishops burned their ships, and founded seven cities, calling their island Antilia.
Antilia and the Reconquista
This story was quite popular in Spain for centuries after the Moorish conquest and gained new prominence during the Reconquista. The notion that there was a strong Catholic nation somewhere in the ocean was a strong motivation for people who had felt, justified or not, that their religion and way of life were threatened by Islam. The stories also labeled Antilia as a land blessed by God, where the inhabitants dwelt in righteousness and prosperity. For a people claiming that God was on their side as they waged a long war to oust non-Christians from Spain, this was a rallying cry, a sign of how things could be.
Antilia appears on maps from the period of the Reconquista. On one such map, dating from 1424 and drawn by Zuane Pizzigano, Antilia is there in the Western Atlantic and clearly labeled. The rest of the map is filled with contemporary ports and place names throughout Europe and Africa. In all, there are 507 accurate European and African place names, including the Azores and Canary Islands. Such a detailed map was not likely to include places that were considered mere myths and legends and is a testament to the compelling nature of the Antilia myth.
Voyages of Exploration
The notion that there was a civilized land to the west most likely contributed to Christopher Columbus’s initial voyage of exploration. After Columbus arrived in what is now the Caribbean Sea, those in Europe referred to the area for quite a long time as the Antilles, after the Antilia myth. Even today, this name remains in the Dutch Antilles. Even though Columbus did not find an island ruled by seven bishops, hope of this forgotten kingdom appears in the Cibola myth, or the Seven Cities of Gold that spurred the Coronado Expedition of 1540.
Today, the legend of Antilia is for the most part, obscure, but for students of history, it is a unique story that has a place in the study of medieval history as well as the history of Spanish conquest and exploration.