Florida prepares to mark 500th anniversary of its discovery


Miami : Florida is preparing to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon’s discovery of the peninsula in 1513, an expedition that marked the start of European exploration of what is today the US.

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday the start of the “500 days to 500 years” campaign, a series of activities that will highlight the importance of Spain’s contributions to the Sunshine State.

Ponce de Leon’s arrival on Florida’s east coast occurred on Easter Sunday, known as Pascua Florida (Festival of Flowers) in Spanish because the day falls near the start of spring, and that coincidence explains the name chosen for the new territory, which the explorer occupied on behalf of the Spanish crown.

To highlight the importance of the discovery, 94 years before the arrival of the first English settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, officials will organize various cultural and commercial activities in coordination with organizations such as the Spain-Florida Foundation 500 Years.

That foundation’s board of directors is made up of representatives of Spanish companies with operations in that US state.

“Florida’s quincentennial is an extraordinary chance to look back on Spain’s important contribution to Florida history. It will serve to strengthen cultural and business ties and create new opportunities to underscore the Hispanic legacy in the United States,” Spain-Florida Foundation 500 Years president Emilio Sanchez told EFE.

Spain’s legacy in Florida can be seen in the numerous Spanish names of beaches, cities and other places, from Ponte Vedra Beach in the north to the city of Bonita Springs in the southwestern part of the peninsula.

Citrus trees were introduced to the state when St. Augustine was founded in 1565 and Florida now accounts for almost three-fourths of the oranges and grapefruits produced in the US.

And Spanish-style architecture can be seen in the lavish hotels that Henry Flagler built in the 1880s for the first tourists who arrived in Florida by railroad along the east coast of his property.

The year 2012, meanwhile, also will mark the 200th anniversary of the Spanish Constitution of 1812.

A monument was built to honour that charter in St. Augustine, the US’ oldest city, which in 2015 will commemorate 450 years since its founding by Spanish admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles.