Florida this weekend is commemorating the 1513 arrival of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon on its shores, a landing and expedition that marked the beginning of the Spanish presence on mainland North America and, in effect, put the continent on the map.
It was on Easter Day – March 27, 1513 – that the crew of the vessels commanded by Ponce de Leon spotted an unknown coastline where no European had ever been known to set foot.
On April 3 (although historians are not in agreement on that date) the Spanish commander landed on the coast north of where the city of St. Augustine now stands, near Ponte Vedra Beach, marking the beginning of the modern history of North America.
Five hundred years have passed since that historic date, although Steve Higgins, the communications director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, told Efe that it is a shame that "almost nothing (of that era) is taught in schools" nowadays.
"More than a century before the famous 'Pilgrim Fathers' arrived on the coast at Plymouth (Massachusetts), the Spaniards were already here" and they gave rise to the country's "first melting pot of cultures," Higgins said.
This 500th anniversary is "a very important commemoration not only for Florida but also for the entire United States," Higgins said, noting the expositions and events taking place these days at the lighthouse of Victorian design built in 1871.
The lighthouse houses a museum on its three floors and is devoted to the preservation and dissemination of historical heritage.
Numerous events to commemorate the state's founding are being held this year all across Florida, in Miami, St. Augustine, Pensacola, Gainesville, Melbourne Beach and Ft. Pierce, among other cities.
The celebrations include expositions, conferences, gastronomic events, music, re-creations of historic events in period costumes, parades and folk dances.
St. Augustine, in particular, the oldest city in the United States, founded by Spain's Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565, is devoting special attention to its program for the 500th anniversary celebrations.