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The First Parachute Jump. October 22, 1797.

By the dawn of the 19th century, ballooning had become a staple of popular culture. No féte or celebration was complete without at least one ascent. Aeronauts, both male and female, rose majestically from pleasure grounds and gardens all over Europe. Tivoli Gardens in Paris, was one of the most popular spots for this entertainment and soon became the playground of the “flying” Garnerin family. Andre-Jacques Garnerin was the greatest French aeronaut to follow J.P. Blanchard, and during his aerostatic career he was accompanied and abetted by his wife Jeanne-Genevieve (the first woman parachutist, 1798) and niece Elisa (who learned to fly balloons at age 15 and became the first professional parachutist, making 39 parachute descents from 1815 to 1836). Garnerin had made his first balloon ascen...

The Columbus Day. October 12, 1492.

Columbus Day is a national holiday in many countries of the Americas and elsewhere which officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus‘s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492. Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer on behalf of Spain, who set sail across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a faster route to the Far East only to land at the New World. His first voyage to the New World on the Spanish ships Santa María, Niña, and La Pinta took approximately three months. Columbus and his crew’s arrival to the New World initiated the Columbian Exchange, also known as the Columbian interchange, named after Christopher Columbus. It was the widespread transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations, technology, and ideas between the Americas, West Afric...

The Battle of San Juan de Ulúa. September 24, 1568.

The Battle of San Juan de Ulúa was a battle between English privateers and Spanish forces at San Juan de Ulúa (in modern Veracruz, Mexico). It marked the end of the campaign carried out by an English flotilla of six ships that had systematically conducted what the Spanish considered to be illegal trade in the Caribbean Sea, including the slave trade, at times imposing it by force. Subsequent to the beginning of the Age of Discovery and the European exploration of the New World it was determined that in order to minimize potential conflict between the two major naval powers of the world at the time, Spain and Portugal, that a demarcation line between the two spheres of influence would be necessary. In the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, dividing the New World into Spanish and Portuguese zones w...

The Ashmolean Museum, the first university museum. May 24, 1683.

Its first building was finished in 1683 to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole gave to the University of Oxford in 1677 and opened its doors on May 24. Ashmole was an antiquary with a strong Baconian leaning towards the study of nature. His library reflected his intellectual outlook, including works on English history, law, numismatics, chorography, alchemy, astrology, astronomy, and botany. Although he was one of the founding Fellows of the Royal Society, a key institution in the development of experimental science, his interests were antiquarian and mystical as well as scientific. He was an early freemason, although the extent of his involvement and commitment is unclear. Throughout his life he was an avid collector of curiosities and other artefacts. Ashmole donated most...

Thanksgiving Day. November 26, 1789.

Setting aside time to give thanks for one’s blessings, along with holding feasts to celebrate a harvest, are both practices that long predate the European settlement of North America. The first documented thanksgiving services in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards and the French in the 16th century. Thanksgiving services were routine in what became the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610. In 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia. The group’s London Company charter specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned… in the land of Virginia shall be year...

The Battle of Actium. September 2, 31 BC.

The Battle of Actium was the decisive confrontation of the Final War of the Roman Republic, a naval engagement between Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra on 2 September 31 BC, on the Ionian Sea near the promontory of Actium, in the Roman province of Epirus Vetus in Greece. Octavian’s fleet was commanded by Agrippa, while Antony‘s fleet was supported by the power of Queen Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt. Octavian’s victory enabled him to consolidate his power over Rome and its dominions. He adopted the title of Princeps (“first citizen”) and some years later was awarded the title of Augustus (“revered”) by the Roman Senate. This became the name by which he was known in later times. As Augustus, he retained the trappings of a ...

First evidence of HMS Erebus found. August 15, 1855.

The search by Europeans for a western shortcut by sea from Europe to Asia began with the voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and continued through the mid-19th century with a long series of exploratory expeditions originating mainly in England. These voyages, when to any degree successful, added to the sum of European geographic knowledge about the Western Hemisphere, particularly North America, and as that knowledge grew larger, attention gradually turned toward the Arctic. By 1800, the discoveries had already showed conclusively that no Northwest Passage navigable by ships lay in the temperate latitudes between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. In 1804, Sir John Barrow became Second Secretary of the Admiralty, a post he held until 1845, and began a push by the Royal Navy to comple...

Deciphering Rosetta Stone. July 15, 1799.

The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele, rediscovered in the western world in 1799, inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphic script and demotic scripts, respectively, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek. As the decree has only minor differences between the three versions, the Rosetta Stone proved to be the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, thereby opening a window into ancient Egyptian history. The stone, carved during the Hellenistic period, is believed to have originally been displayed within a temple, possibly at nearby Sais. It was probably moved in Late Antiquity or during the Mameluk period, and was eventually use...

Sacco di Roma. May 6, 1527.

The growing power of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V alarmed Pope Clement VII, who perceived Charles as attempting to dominate the Catholic Church and Italy. In effort to free both from Imperial domination, Clement VII formed an alliance with Charles V’s arch-enemy, King Francis I of France, which came to be known as the League of Cognac (including France, Milan, Venice, Florence and the Papacy). The imperial troops were 14,000 Germans, 6,000 Spanish, and an uncertain number of Italian infantry. The troops defending Rome were not at all numerous, consisting of 5,000 militiamen led by Renzo da Ceri and 189 Papal Swiss Guard. The city’s fortifications included the massive walls, and it possessed a good artillery force, which the Imperial army lacked. Charles III, Duke of Bourbon nee...

Cabral lands foot in Brazil. April 22, 1500.

On 15 February 1500, Cabral was appointed Capitão-mor (literally Major-Captain, or commander-in-chief) of a fleet sailing for India. It was then the custom for the Portuguese Crown to appoint nobles to naval and military commands, regardless of experience or professional competence. Cabral became the military chief, while far more experienced navigators were seconded to the expedition to aid him in naval matters. The most important of these were Bartolomeu Dias, Diogo Dias and Nicolau Coelho. They would, along with the other captains, command 13 ships and 1,500 men, of which 700 were soldiers, although most of them had no combat experience. The fleet had two divisions. The first division was composed of nine naus (carracks) and two round caravels, and was headed to Calicut in India with th...

The sinking of RMS Titanic. April 15, 1912.

      RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died, making it one of modern history’s deadliest commercial marine disasters during peacetime, followed by RMS Empress of Ireland two years later, when the passenger liner sank after colliding with a cargo ship on the Saint Lawrence River, killing 1,012 people. RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time she entered service and was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line. She was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Thomas Andrews, chief naval architect of t...

The capture of Suvarnadurg. April 2, 1775.

Suvarnadurg is a fort that is located between Mumbai and Goa on a small island in the Arabian Sea, along the West Coast of India, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The fort also includes another small land fort called the Kanakadurga at the base of headland of Harnai port on the coast. Building of the fort is credited to Shivaji Maharaj, founder of the Maratha Empire, in 1660. Subsequently, Shivaji, other Peshwas and the Angres further fortified the forts for defensive purposes. The literal meaning of Suvanadurga is “Golden Fort” as it was considered as the pride or the “feather in the golden cap of Marathas“. Built for the Maratha Navy, the fort also had a shipbuilding facility. The basic objective of establishing the fort was to counter enemy attacks, mainly by ...

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