legacy of a Genius

Leonardo was not simply a painter, even though he was one of the foremost artists of the Italian Renaissance. In his parallel career as an inventive genius he anticipated a host of modern innovations, from the tank to the helicopter.

When Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519, contemporaries mourned the passing of a genius who had come to epitomise the spirit and ideals of the Renaissance. Yet this celebrated public figure was at the same time one of the most enigmatic and secretive characters of his day.

Leonardo was a brilliant painter, but he often became 'bored of working with the brush' and left many of his canvasses incomplete. Possibly because he found it hard to work for people in positions of authority, he seldom finished a commission successfully. His quick mind led him to make or foresee many important scientific discoveries, but he never published his ideas. A gentle vegetarian who loved animals, he despised war, yet spent a considerable part of his career devising weaponry that could maim or kill.


Born on April 15, 1452, in the small town of Vinci, just outside Florence, Leonardo was the illegitimate son of Ser Piero d'Antonio, an ambitious 25-year-old notary, and a peasant girl, Caterina. Shortly after the boy's birth, his father took legal custody of him and he was brought up by his paternal grandparents for a few years until his father realised that the woman he had married could not bear children of her own. He then took Leonardo into his own home to raise and educate him. Even as a young boy, Leonardo showed extraordinary talent. He learned to play the lyre and sing beautifully, and was often found sketching animals and plants.


In 1468, when his grandfather died, Leonardo's family moved to Florence. Leonardo's father realised that his son had unusual artistic gifts and apprenticed him to Andrea del Verrocchio, a renowned painter, sculptor and goldsmith, who was the most sought-after Florentine artist of the day. The foremost artists and thinkers in the city were habitues of his studio. Even as a humble

Leonardo da Vinci died in the presence of King Francis I of France, at least according to this romanticised 19th-century portrayal of the scene. In fact, Francis was away at the time, celebrating the birth of his second son.

A wooden model of a bicycle was constructed on the basis of Leonardo's sketches, but few of his many inventions were made in his lifetime.

apprentice he was quick to demonstrate his phenomenal talents. He contributed an angel to his master's Baptism of Christ. The result was so superior to the rest of the painting that Verrocchio apparently resolved never to paint again.

In 1477, Leonardo decided to strike out on his own. In 1482 he applied for a post at the court of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, abandoning The Adoration of the Magi, his first important commission in Florence, when his application succeeded. In his letter, Leonardo stressed his military expertise, claiming that he could provide the Milanese forces with everything from 'bombards, mortars and fire-throwing engines to catapults, mangonels, trabocchi or other unusual machines of marvellous

'There are some people. ..who leave nothing behind in this world except full privies.'


efficiency. In time of peace, he could give his master as complete satisfaction as anyone else in architecture, in the construction of buildings both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to another. Finally, he could 'execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay and also painting in which my work will stand comparison with that of anyone else whoever he may be'.

Leonardo mentioned his artistic talents almost as an afterthought. He obviously believed that his abilities as an engineer would count for far more in the duke's eyes. From 1485 until he returned to Florence in 1499, he delved into a host of subjects, including the workings of nature, flying machines, geometry, mechanics, canals and architecture, designing everything from churches to fortresses. The weapons included embryonic designs for a tank and ideas for the design of submarines. His interests, talents and abilities seemed limitless.


Leonardo's experiments in anatomy were truly revolutionary, as was much of the other work he undertook in fields as far removed as zoology, botany, geology, optics, aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. Starting while he was still in Milan and accelerating from around 1505, he became more and more wrapped up in his scientific investigations.

Leonardo would go to extreme lengths to ensure accuracy. Paolo Giori, his first biographer, wrote 'in the medical faculty, he (Leonardo) learnt to dissect the cadavers of criminals under inhuman, disgusting conditions. Leonardo himself vividly described his ordeal living through the night hours in the company of quartered and flayed corpses fearful to behold'.

His insatiable curiosity pushed him onwards. The result was a vast collection of notes on a bewildering variety of topics, from the nature of the Sun, Moon and stars to the mysteries of flight. He nurtured a passionate dream of being able to ascend into the sky and gain a view over the whole external world. For years, he immersed himself in studying the anatomy of birds and the mechanics of their flight. His designs for parachutes and flying machines were a portent of the future, even though his ideas did not get beyond the drawing board. Not until 1783 was man's dream of flying realised with the Montgolfiers' hot-air balloon.

Leonardo's interest in human anatomy is evident in his famous drawing showing the proportions of the body. His biographer recalled that he dissected bodies 'because he wanted to draw the different deflections and reflections of limbs and their dependence on the nerves and joints. This is why he paid attention to the forms of even very small organs, capillaries and hidden parts of the skeleton.'


In 1516, following the death of his patron Guiliano de Medici, Francis I of France offered Leonardo the post of Premier Painter, Engineer and Architect of the King. Francis provided him with a generous stipend and a comfortable manor house near the royal chateau at Amboise. Although his right hand was partially paralysed as the result of a stroke, he could still draw, teach and theorise. He died in May 1519, leaving a remarkable legacy.

A catalogue of masterpieces

Mona Lisa 


The enigmatically smiling Mona Lisa (c.1503)

is the world's most famous painting.

The Last Supper 

The fresco (1497) in Milan's Santa Maria delle Grazie has engendered endless debate as to its symbolism and meaning.

Designs for sculpture 

Leonardo came up with bold, innovative solutions for his monumental Equestrian Statue of Francesco Sforza (c. 1485-99). But the actual statue was never completed.

Architectural influence Leonardo's designs for buildings helped shape the course of architecture throughout the 16th century.


Leonardo's maps of Tuscany are some of the

earliest examples of modern cartography.

From the 1490s onwards, Leonardo had recorded his studies in meticulously illustrated notebooks. Some 13,000 drawings survived him. In his will, Leonardo left all his manuscripts, drawings, instruments and tools to Francesco Melzi, one of his surviving pupils. Melzi made it his life's work to conserve and archive his former master's legacy, not an easy task given his master's lack of organisation. In addition, fearing that spies might steal his ideas, Leonardo drafted all his notes in mirror writing and encrypted them in self-devised codes.

When Melzi died in 1570, Leonardo's effects passed to his son, who gradually realised what a treasure trove he had inherited, and turned it to his financial advantage. He sold off Leonardo's papers piecemeal - and as a result we now only know the whereabouts of around half of the notebooks. Most are in public collections around the world, while a few are in private hands.

By striving to combine the arts and the sciences, Leonardo sought to provide answers to the great, universal questions. At the same time, he was a compulsive perfectionist, who rarely saw anything through to completion. For the constant driving force behind everything he created was the conviction that he could never quite capture the essence of what he was trying to portray.



New  weapons,  first  the  crossbow  and  longbow  and  later  firearms  and  cannon,  ended  the  days  when  armoured  knights  could  charge  to  triumph  almost  at  will.

New weapons, first the crossbow 

As the contemporary chronicler Jean Froissart wrote, they 'fell like snow'. Edward III of England had wrongfooted the numerically superior French with his revolutionary tactics. His battle plan relied on the deployment of archers, who, firing from concealed positions, decimated the ranks of the French knights with wave after wave of deadly fire. Edward's force of 3000 skilled archers were each loosing between 10 and 20 arrows a minute. Charge after charge was repulsed until the French, who had come prepared for a conventional fight, man-to-man and knight-to-knight, were forced to withdraw in total defeat.

For the first time in history, bows and arrows had trounced a powerful mounted army. Philip VI of France was forced to flee the field, leaving as many as 1500 French noblemen dead, while countless others were captured.

A knight's apparel


Generally made of linen, they comprised the braie, a form of breeches worn by knights, leggings, and a shirt.   

Extra padding

A thickly quilted garment known as a gambeson was worn beneath the armour; it insulated the wearer against cold and also served as padding.

Chain mail

The next layer was a slip and collar of chain-mail, made from hundreds of steel eyelets and rings linked together.

Protecting the extremities The splints protecting the arms and legs, plus the sabatons (overshoes), the gauntlets, the breastplate, and the helm - which together formed the external pieces of armour - were all made of iron. These provided the knight with full protection against enemy weapons.


The battle of Crecy on August 26, 1346, marked the beginning of the end for knightly armour, at least as an effective mode of defence on the battlefield. It also signalled a decisive shift in battle tactics. After Crecy, the pendulum swung away from mounted knights in favour of infantry, supported by detachments of longbowmen and crossbowmen.

The change was revolutionary - not least because it happened so quickly. In the Crusades, in which knights had won glory championing Christianity in the Holy Land, the mounted knights were like invincible metal leviathans, impressing friends and foes alike. An early 12th century Muslim chronicler recalled: 'They were clad from head to toe in armour made from a material that appeared to be composed of linked iron rings. They seemed to form a single iron phalanx off which our blows glanced harmlessly.'

Although the French army was superior in numbers, it met disaster at the Battle of Crecy in 1346, when confronted by Edward III's longbowmen.

Even then, there were weapons to which armour was vulnerable. Not for nothing did the Second Lateran Council forbid Christians to employ longbows and crossbows in battle against their fellows in 1139, though, as things turned out, the ban proved ineffectual.


Along with a suit of armour and an array of weapons, medieval knights needed at least three horses: a specially trained warhorse, a horse for journeying, and a packhorse to carry their gear. All this cost a fortune. At the end of the 11th century a chain-mail vest could cost between 20 and 100 oxen, a general purpose horse five to ten oxen, while a warhorse might cost 25 times that. Both on the battlefield and at tournaments, an opponent's horse and armour were highly prized items of booty.

As the penetrating power of weapons increased, armour became more extensive and costly. In the mid-13th century, with the more widespread use of crossbows, forged helmets and chain-mail vests were supplemented by pieces of armour made of sheet iron. Over time, this extra protection was itself augmented by breastplates and pauldrons (shoulder pieces), splints covering the arms and legs, and helmets with visors that could be opened when required. Full body armour for battle could weigh between 25 and 35 kilograms. A helmet alone weighed 3 kilograms. Jousting armour, worn for short periods, could weigh double this, so that the wearer had to be hauled onto his horse by a rope and pulleys, or manhandled into the saddle by a squire. Battle was physically demanding: when fighting in hot weather, knights wearing helmets might faint from lack of oxygen.


The first tournaments were devised in the early 11th century to allow noblemen to engage in trials of strength with one another. Though the Church tried to ban jousting, just as knights were starting to become obsolete as a fighting force, tournaments were establishing themselves as an indispensable feature of courtly life.

The suits of armour created for tournaments were masterpieces of precision craftsmanship, of the kind centred on Milan, Augsburg, Nuremberg and Innsbruck from the 13th century onwards. They reflected the fashions of the time as well as trying to meet and beat developments in offensive weaponry.


The widespread adoption of firearms in the mid-17th century-saw most troops abandon iron armour, since it was so unwieldy to wear and of little practical use against the new weapons. Just as the knightly epoch was drawing to a close, however, armour for sheer display experienced a revival, with magnificent pieces of armour and accoutrements produced specifically for festivals and tournaments. What had once been practical protective clothing was now worn for prestige, as at the meeting of Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. Tilts, jousts and other chivalric entertainments were the order of the day, and temporary fountains were plumbed to flow with red wine for the duration of the discussions.

On occasions like these, armour still had a value. What it no longer had to prove was its worth on any battlefield.



cure for


When quinine was first brought to Europe in the 17th century its efficacy against malaria was hailed as nothing short of miraculous.

At the beginning of the 17th century malaria was widespread through much of Europe as well as the tropics. It was a much feared disease with no known cure. People did not know that the disease was caused by a protozoan parasite transmitted in the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. But they had noticed that it was associated with marshes and stagnant water, and so called it 'marsh fever'. The illness began with flu-like symptoms and general malaise, progressing to bouts of nausea and high fever, often resulting in death. With no effective medicines at their disposal, all that physicians could do was

'There is a tree growing in the vicinity of Loxa that the natives call the ''Fever Tree"


try to alleviate the raging temperature. Then in 1631 news arrived in Europe of a miracle cure from the high Andes of South America. Doha Leonor, the wife of the Count of Cinchon, Viceroy of Peru, had been terribly ill for several days, her body consumed first by a raging fever and then an icy chill. The Viceroy's personal physician told him that only a miracle could save his wife. But then a Jesuit priest arrived and administered a bitter-tasting white powder to Dona Leonor. One month later the Countess of Cinchon had made a full recovery. The powder came from the bark of a tree found only in the Andes. In 1638 an Augustinian monk wrote: 'Its cinnamon-coloured bark, if ground to a fine powder with a weight equal to that of two silver coins and administered in a drink, can cure fevers, and has already achieved some marvellous results in Lima.' The Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, famous for his system for classifying plants and animals, later gave this genus of tree the name Cinchona in honour of the Countess.


Of course, Dona Leonor's recovery was no miracle. The ground-up bark contained quinine, which killed the protozoan pathogens. But how did that Jesuit priest arrive at the idea of giving quinine to the sick countess? One legend recounts how a man with malaria went to quench his raging thirst by drinking from a small pool. Two Cinchona trees had fallen into the pool, and so the man ingested the medicine as he drank. According to another theory, the people of the Andes had long used the bark as a remedy for fevers and it would have been an obvious choice to alleviate the symptoms of malaria. Whatever way it was discovered, it was the Jesuit missionaries who brought Cinchona's anti-malarial properties to the attention of the Europeans.


During the 17th century the Jesuits favoured distributing the remedy widely. The theologian and later Cardinal Juan de Lugo was charged by Pope Innocent X with the task of gathering information about the bark of the Cinchona tree. He had a sample examined by the Pope's personal physician, Gabriele Fonseca, who was impressed by the curative properties of the powder. Thereafter, Lugo became a powerful advocate for the use of quinine. His influence, and the Jesuits' monopoly of the drug, gave quinine its nicknames: 'Cardinal's powder' and 'Jesuit bark'. But a medicine that was so strongly promoted by the Catholic Church soon aroused suspicions. A rumour was circulated in England that a dastardly Popish plot might be behind the bitter powder. When Oliver Cromwell came down with a high fever in 1658, he vehemently refused to take the 'Jesuit medicine' and died from the effects of malaria. But Charles II of England and the French king Louis XIV, were both cured by quinine.


In Europe demand soared and anyone who traded in quinine was assured of a healthy profit. Governments also became interested. The drug was crucial to European efforts to colonise malaria-infested regions. With all of the precious bark coming from South

The largest factory in Africa for the manufacture of quinine is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because exposure to large doses of the drug over a protracted period can lead to quinine poisoning, the workers at the plant have to wear protective masks when handling the fine powder.

America, Europeans began to ask why they shouldn't simply cultivate the valuable trees in their own colonies.

In the mid-19th century Dutch, French and English expeditions set off to the Andes on a mission to gather saplings and seeds from the Cinchona tree and smuggle them out of the country. If caught the smuggers faced certain death, since Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia were desperate to retain their monopoly of the trade. Even so, many botanists took part and did manage to acquire some of the coveted saplings. But it was not easy to establish a profitable plantation on a commercial scale. The Dutch were the first to do so, on the Indonesian island of Java, and by the 1930s were responsible for supplying almost all the world's quinine.


Other miracle medicines

Vaccination against smallpox 

In 1796, English physician Edward Jenner performed the first successful vaccination against smallpox.


In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic. The drug was effective in combating all manner of infectious diseases such as septicaemia, pneumonia and puerperal fever.


In 1988, Ray Fuller and the team at Eli Lilly launched Prozac (fluoxetine hydrochloide), a drug that would revolutionise the treatment of depression.

Quinine was much sought after during the Second World War. In 1940, Hitler's armies overran the Netherlands and requisitioned the country's large quinine stocks. When the Japanese conquered Java and the Dutch East Indies two years later, they cut off the supply of quinine to the Americans and British. Thousands of Allied soldiers stationed in Africa, Burma and the South Pacific began dying of malaria. In response the US government sent tropical botanist Raymond Fosberg to the Andes to find bark. The Cinchona bark he managed to acquire was transported to America by plane and the Allies secured around 6000 tonnes of bark in the last years of the war.

After the war, the importance of Cinchona seemed to be on the wane, as various synthetic drugs for combating malaria came onto the market. But malaria-inducing pathogens have a tendency to quickly develop resistance to synthetic drugs, so doctors today still have frequent recourse to the proven natural medicine quinine.


A  WONDER  DRUG  conquers

the  WORLD

While  trying  to  develop  a  remedy  for  his  father's  rheumatism,  the  chemist  Felix  Hoffman  created  aspirin.  The  painkilling  drug  was  an  overnight  success  and  remains  one  of  the  world's  most  widely  used  medicines.

As early as 400 B.C. the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates recommended willow extract as a way of reducing fevers (an antipyretic) tand relieving pain (an analgesic). But there was just one problem with the healing willow extract: it was extremely bitter and those who did manage to swallow it suffered intense nausea and an inflamed stomach lining.  

The demand for aspirin went through the roof. By 1938 production lines churned out thousands of packets of aspirin a day.


In 1859, while working at Marburg University in Germany, the chemist Hermann Kolbe discovered the chemical structure of salicylic acid, willow bark's active ingredient. He developed a process by which it could be synthesised and mass production of the drug began in 1874. But although the laboratory-made salicylic acid was considerably cheaper than the equivalent natural product, it retained the unpleasant side effects and bitter taste of the original.

One recipient of the synthetic salicylic acid was father of Felix Hoffmann, a young German chemist. Afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, Hoffmann senior relied on the drug, but had grown thoroughly fed up with its side effects. It was his constant nagging for an improved formulation that led Felix Hoffmann to make one of the most important pharmaceutical discoveries of the 19th  century.


Born in 1868, Felix Hoffmann began his career working in various chemists' shops before going on to study pharmacy and chemistry at the University of Munich. In 1894, armed with a letter of recommendation from Nobel Prize winner Adolf von Baeyer, Hoffmann secured a position at the pharmaceutical laboratory of Friedrich Bayer & Co in Elberfeld.

/A\     V

'America is the country where you can buy a lifetime supply of aspirin for one dollar and use it up in two weeks.'


He quickly set about satisfying his father's request. They used the technique of 'acetylation,' or causing a substance to react with acetic acid. In this process, an acetyl group bonds to the original molecule, thereby altering the chemical structure of the substance. The research team at Bayer had already used this method to create or improve a number of different medicines. Hoffmann suggested that they try making salicylic acid react with acetic acid. French chemist Charles-Frederic Gerhardt had already succeeded in bonding salicylic acid with an acetyl group in 1853. But he had not managed to produce pure acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) and had given up on the idea. After studying Gerhardt's experiments, Hoffmann persevered and on August 10, 1897, managed to produce ASA in a pure form.

In pharmaceutical terms, the process was a huge success. Even so, the Bayer pharmacologist responsible for testing new drugs was sceptical at first. The head of the laboratory is reputed to have been the first person to swallow the new powder to find out how palatable it was. He then conducted a series of experiments on animals and then on patients at a nearby hospital to investigate its efficacy and possible side effects. The results were unequivocally positive: the substance had analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory properties, while the side effects were noticeably less severe than those of salicylic acid. Felix Hoffmann's father was a happy man indeed.


Bayer & Co felt sure they were on to a winner. But when the company tried to patent the drug in Germany, the application was refused on the grounds that ASA was not a new invention but merely a spin-off of Gerhardt's original work. The decision left Bayer with only one option: to register the painkiller as a trademark at the Imperial Patent Office in Berlin. In 1899, the drug was registered as 'Aspirin'. 'A' stands for acetyl; 'spir' comes from the former scientific name Spiraea for the meadowsweet flower; while 'in' is a commonly used ending in chemical names.

The painkiller was originally available only in powder form, and was sold in glass bottles. But as early as 1900 the first aspirin tablets appeared on the market. People all over the world began to take aspirin as an effective remedy for fever and headaches, inflammatory ailments and rheumatism. By 1909, the sales of aspirin accounted for a third of Bayer's total turnover.


Aspirin: a great success story

The record-breaking pill In 1950, aspirin earned an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the best-selling drug in the world. Bayer produced its ten-billionth aspirin tablet on September 15, 2000, at a facility in Bitterfeld, Germany. Today, patients worldwide take more than 40,000 tonnes of acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) annually.

Aspirin on the Moon 

When.the Americans made their Moon landing in 1969, mission commander Neil Armstrong's small first-aid kit aboard Apollo 11 contained aspirin.

On top of the world 

Aspirin played its part In a successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1992, when it was used to alleviate headaches brought on by altitude sickness.

Aspirin was clearly an effective drug, yet for a long while no one had any idea how the drug actually worked. It was only at the beginning of the 1970s that the British pharmacologist John Robert Vane from the Royal College of Surgeons in London described aspirin's precise effect on the human physiology. For this research, Vane was awarded both the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1982 and a knighthood. Vane discovered that ASA suppresses the body's production of prostaglandins. These chemicals have various functions within the body. They are involved in the development of fever, pain and inflammation in the body, regulate the expansion and contraction of blood vessels and influence the movement of platelets in the blood. Since Vane's discovery, ASA has also been prescribed in small doses for the prevention of heart attacks and strokes. If all the aspirin produced in one year was processed in the form of 500mg tablets, these would make a chain that stretched from the Earth to the Moon and back again.

……….o develop a remedy for his father's rheumatism, the chemist Felix Hoffmann created asThe painkilling drug was an overnight success and remains one of the world's most widely used medicines.

For millennia, herbalists the world over
have known about an effective cure for
The bloody reign of the Catholic monarchs

Because of the power of Ferdinand and Isabella's joint kingdoms, their daughters, including Joanna of Castile and Catherine of Aragon, married with several European dynasties, setting the bases for the great heritage of their grandson Charles V.

Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile conquered Granada, Spain's last Muslim stronghold, expelled the Jews, and financed the explorations of Columbus. Was their motive religious, or was religion just a convenient cover for their secular ambitions?

Under a clear winter sky, Isabella, sole surviving child of John II of Castile, rode in state through the streets of the city of Segovia, wearing a white brocade dress trimmed with ermine. Two servants held the reins of her grey mare, resplendent in a golden bridle. Ahead rode the Marquis of Moya, his sword held aloft, symbol of the monarch's absolute power of life and death.

In the centre of the market square a rostrum had been hastily erected. Around it, representatives of the nobility gathered. There on the morning of December 13, 1474, Isabella swore to uphold the laws of the Catholic Church, preserve the freedoms and privileges of the nobility, serve the common good of the realm, and to ensure that justice was administered fairly. Thereupon, she was proclaimed 'Queen and Protector' of Castile.

It was the second major political move that Isabella had made in her short life. Like its predecessor - her marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon - it was carefully conceived and skilfully executed. Even Ferdinand was taken by surprise by the speed with which she acted. He had been visiting his father's court when he learned of his brother-in-law's death and did not return to Castile in time for the coronation. When he finally did arrive, he discovered to his annoyance that he had been referred to as his wife's 'rightful consort', and had not been given any real power in the governing of the realm. Even though Isabella eventually agreed to give Ferdinand the title of 'king consort', she made it clear that this was an honorific concession and she remained the sole incumbent of the Castilian throne. After all, as she pointed out, she had fought tooth and nail to get there.


Isabella was only three years old when her father died. Her mother, Isabella of Portugal, brought her up in relative seclusion until Henry IV, her half-brother, brought her to court at the age of 13, along with Alfonso, her full brother. Henry claimed that he wanted to supervise the closing stages of Isabella's education, but in reality his aim was to prevent the two royal children becoming rallying points for Castile's turbulent and discontented nobility. Henry's machinations were unsuccessful. The nobles rose in an attempt to secure the crown for Alfonso. Defeat at the Battle of Olmedo in 1468 and Alfonso's death shortly afterwards - it was popularly believed that he had been poisoned - did not end their intrigues. Deprived of their first leader, they turned to Isabella as their new candidate for the throne. Although Isabella

When Isabella of Castile died in 1504, she had established Spain as a major European power, and through her sponsorship of Columbus paved the way for the expansion of Spanish influence throughout the Americas.

rejected their offer of the crown, Henry eventually gave into their pressure. In September 1468, he recognised Isabella as his sole heir and excluded Joan, his own daughter, from the line of succession. In any event, Joan was widely held to be illegitimate and, so her opponents argued, was unfit to be queen.

Then came the added complication of Isabella's marriage plans. Back in 1460, Henry had offered his half-sister's hand to Don Carlos, the eldest son of John II of Aragon and also heir to the kingdom of Navarre. John opposed the match, favouring instead her marriage to his younger son, Ferdinand. The fruitless negotiations dragged on, ending only on Don Carlos's death in 1465. Henry immediately turned to Alfonso V of Portugal as a suitable replacement. Other possible candidates were Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brother of Edward IV of England, and the Duke of Guienne, brother of Louis XI of France. Again he ran up against an insuperable obstacle. This time, it was Isabella herself.

Now 17, Isabella had a mind and will of her own. She knew what she wanted and was determined to get it. She defied her half-brother, telling him that she was determined to marry her cousin Ferdinand, now heir to the throne of Aragon. Furious, Henry threatened her with imprisonment in the Alacazar in Madrid, but she still stubbornly refused to fall in with his plans. But he did exact from her a promise that she would not enter into any matrimonial negotiations until his return from a campaign he was about to wage in Andalusia.


Isabella had no intention of keeping her word and was swift to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Henry's' absence. With the assistance of the Archbishop of Toledo and Don Fadrique Enriques, the High Admiral of Castile, she left the court under the pretext of visiting her mother. Eventually, she arrived in the city of Valladolid, where she waited impatiently for her husband-to-be to meet her.

Ferdinand, too, took pains to conceal his tracks. With a great show of formality, he and his father left Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon, ostensibly to put down a revolt in Catalonia. No sooner were they out of sight of the city than father and son parted company. The latter, in disguise, set off towards Castile. Six days later, the bridegroom set eyes on his wife-to-be for the first time. The marriage took place on October 19, 1469. The wedding was a low-key affair, held in the presence of just a few carefully chosen guests. There may well have been a good reason for this. Because Ferdinand and Isabella were cousins, Pope Paul II had to sanction the marriage, but the haste with which the ceremony had been arranged left no time to get his approval. The letter that purported to give his assent that the Archbishop of Toledo read out at the wedding was a forgery. Luckily for Ferdinand and Isabella, the Pope was happy to give his blessing retrospectively.

A 19th-century Spanish painting portrays the Catholic kings offering prayers of thanks at the scene of their greatest triumph - the capture of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on Spanish soil.


Even after her coronation, Isabella's hold on the Castilian throne was not secure. Before he died, the vengeful Henry had repudiated the agreement making her his heir. He reinstated Joan, by this time married to the Alfonso Isabella had spurned, as his rightful successor. The result was a five-year civil war, with Portugal supporting Joan. It ended with the defeat of the Portuguese and Joan's Castilian supporters in 1479 and her decision to retire to a convent the following year.

By this time, Ferdinand had succeeded to the throne of Aragon. The way was clear for the two monarchs to achieve their ultimate ambition: the unification of Spain under strong monarchical rule. They agreed that they would hold equal authority in their respective countries and the motto coined to describe the new arrangement: Tanto monta, monta tants - Isabel como Fernando (As much as the one is worth so much is the other - Isabella as Ferdinand), summed it up succinctly. Their rule ushered in what came to be regarded as Spain's golden age.

Ferdinand and Isabella's first priority was to curb the power of the nobility and the priests, who had taken advantage of a series of weak rulers to become almost independent of the Crown. They set up the Santa Hermandad (Sacred Brotherhood), a permanent security force that could be called upon to support them whenever the need arose, and used every means at their disposal to bring them to heel.

The Reconquista

The Reconquista was the campaign by the Christians to wrest control of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, who had invaded the region in 711. The campaign had its first major successes in the 11th century under kings Sancho III of Navarre and Ferdinand I and Alfonso VI of Castile and Leon.

Steps on the road to Reconquista 

Under Pope Alexander VI, key moves were made by the rulers of Castile in the interior, the kings of Portugal along the Atlantic coast (to 1297), and by the kingdom of Aragon along the Mediterranean coast.

A time of little progress

There was a stalemate between the sides

for most of the 14th and 15th centuries.

Final success

With the capture of the Andalusian city of Granada by Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1492,    the Reconquista was finally completed.

Neither the king nor the queen would countenance any interference. They were determined to establish the absolute authority of the crown. They needed loyal administrators to help them keep order while they embarked on the last stage of the great Reconquista, the subjugation of the Moors in southern Spain.

The task took them a decade to complete. On January 6, 1492, Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, finally fall. From a vantage point outside the city, Ferdinand and Isabella watched as the cross and the coat of arms of Castile were raised on the highest minaret of the central mosque. But the campaign had not been motivated purely by missionary zeal, even though Ferdinand and Isabella had been granted the title of 'Most Catholic' monarchs by Pope Alexander VI, himself Catalan by descent. First and foremost, it was a

In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella ordered the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Although those who had converted to Christianity were allowed to remain, they were soon subjected to renewed persecution

political stratagem to forge a strong bond between Aragon and Castile. Such a union, it was felt, would also instil in the Spanish people a feeling that they were participating in a defining moment in world history - Christianity's last great crusade.


Among the cheering crowd witnessing the event was the Genoese-born explorer Christopher Columbus. Rejected in his native Italy and in England and Portugal, he had come to Castile to solicit Ferdinand and Isabella's support for his planned expedition across the Atlantic to seek out a new route to the Indies. His plea fell on fertile ground. In the wake of the successful Reconquista, Ferdinand and Isabella were eager to spread the knowledge of Christianity to hitherto uncharted territories. The queen agreed to provide the necessary funding for Columbus' expedition. On August 3, 1492, three ships crewed by 87 men put to sea. They sighted land on the far side of the Atlantic just 36 days later - possibly the first Europeans to reach what was to become known as the New World. Before long, what had started as a daring voyage of discovery became a systematic campaign of conquest and colonisation as the Spanish began to carve out a vast empire in the newly discovered Americas. Two years after Columbus's epic voyage, Pope Alexander VI divided the whole of the unexplored world between Spain and Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas.


At home, Ferdinand and Isabella were determined to enforce strict religious conformity, which they saw as essential to achieving national unity, particularly as the country was home to two significant non-Christian communities. The first of these to be put under the spotlight were the Jews, despite the longstanding Spanish tradition of tolerance towards them. In 1492, a decree was issued ordering their expulsion. Those who had converted to Christianity - known as converses (New Christians) - were not left in peace for long. They were suspected of secretly continuing to observe the rituals and customs of their former faith.

Over time, the persecutions spread wider. In 1502, another law required Muslims to convert to Christianity or to emigrate. A vague suspicion or an anomious tip-off was enough for investigations to be launched and files to be opened. Torture and the threat of burning at the stake were favourite methods of extracting confessions. In this way, the Spanish Inquisition became established in the Iberian Peninsula. With the infamous Tomas de Torquemada as its first Grand Inquisitor, it reached a terrible crescendo. The Inquisition gained a foothold as an instrument of royal power throughout the realm.


'Destroyers of the Mohammedan sects and extinguishers of all heretical falsehood.'


Isabella died in 1504 and Ferdinand, who survived until 1516, assumed the regency of the kingdom. Joanna, Isabella's elder daughter and heir, had gone mad following the death of her mother. His annexation of the kingdom of Navarre in 1512 fulfilled the dream he had shared with his wife. Spain now stretched from the Pyrenees to the Rock of Gibraltar.

Working successfully together, Catholic monarchs laid the seeds of future Spanish greatness. It was to be their successors - bequeathed immense lands and seemingly limitless riches - who squandered their great legacy.



when Time

began to Tick

Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens took timekeeping to new levels of accuracy with his pendulum clock. His early clocks had an error of just a minute a day, later refined to just 10 seconds a day.

The earliest civilisations had ways of measuring time but their methods were cumbersome and imprecise. When 13th-century monks developed the mechanical clock, timekeeping became more accurate, with a fundamental effect on the way people ran their lives. Clocks even inspired philosophers to come up with a completely new concept of the universe.

It is hard to imagine a world without clocks; they synchronise our lives, determine when we get up, go to bed and everything we do in between. Clocks have had a huge influence on the development of society and the world of work. Because they enabled precision of measurement, great leaps in scientific progress followed.


Ancient astronomers - in Babylon, ancient Egypt, India, China and South America - divided time into days, months and years by following the movements of the Sun and Moon. To break the day into smaller units, a stick was placed in the ground. Over the course of the day, the length and angle of the shadow cast by the stick changed. A person could use it to tell the time either by the length of the shadow or by its position on a predetermined scale. Sundials of this type were used in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece. The makers of the rudimentary instruments introduced many improvements over the course of the centuries. But sundials were useless at night and in bad weather.


'Everybody's got a watch, but nobody has any time.'


Simple water clocks were an alternative. A container was filled with water, a small hole made in its base with a scale on the inside. As the liquid trickled through the hole, the time that passed could be read off from the water level as it went down the scale. The ancient Greeks called such water clocks clepsydra, or 'water thieves'. Fire was also used to measure time. Passing time was calculated by observing tapers or joss-sticks as they burned down or the falling level of oil in a burning lamp. Or a candle with a scale marked on the side would be lit.

In the Middle Ages, two equally sized glass vessels were joined one above the other with a narrow tube and the top half was filled with fine sand. The sand would take a specific amount of time to trickle into the lower container. For several centuries, these hourglasses were used to measure the duration of jousts and duels, court hearings and sermons. Their popularity waned with the arrival of mechanical clocks, although they are used today as egg-timers.

The chronometer made by John Harrison in 1764 was designed for use on board a ship. It was constructed in such a way that the motion of the ship did not disturb the oscillation of the pendulum. Harrison's marine chronometer was a major aid to navigation, since it solved the 'longitudinal problem', enabling the crew to know exactly how far west or east they had sailed from their home port.


Monasteries were run according to a strict timetable, with prayers or 'offices' being said at certain prescribed times. Monks used sundials, water clocks and marked candles, announcing important times to the community by ringing bells. From the end of the 13th century, church records and other historical documents testify to the use of mechanical clocks in monasteries. The basic principle of the clock had been known since the 9th century. A weight attached to a coiled rope was dropped so that the momentum it generated could be used to drive a system of gearwheels. In turn, the gears could drive a hand. The only component missing was a form of brake to control the rate of fall of the weight so that the mechanism and the hand attached to it could move forward in steps and at regular intervals. The solution was two metal plates, known as pallets, set at right angles to one another and mounted on a spindle known as a foliot that swung to and fro. Known as an escapement, this mechanism was used by the monks in their early clocks at the end of the 13th century. It controlled the motion of a gearwheel, arresting it for a moment and then releasing it so that the

momentum of the weight could drive the mechanism forward a step. As it moved and the next tooth of the gearwheel hit the locking surface on the escapement, it produced a sound that still symbolises the passage of time: the ticking of the clock.


The new timepieces were displayed on the facades of cathedrals, monasteries and in grand houses. It was not long before the striking of the hour by the town hall clock signalled the start of the working day and meetings of the town council. People began to gear their lives to the hands of the clock. In the early 16th century, a German locksmith called Peter Henlein invented spring-powered clocks. Without heavy weights, clocks could be smaller and more portable, but they slowed down as the spring unwound. In 1657, Dutchman Christiaan Huygens built the first pendulum clock. It was known that a pendulum of a given length always oscillated at a regular frequency. Once this principle was applied to maintaining a steady rhythm in the motion of clockwork mechanisms, timepieces became more accurate.


The invention of the clock was so revolutionary it set philosophers' minds to work. Humans had built an 'automaton' - an instrument that could move itself -using not witchcraft but the principles of physics. Did the same physical laws that governed clockwork mechanisms also apply to the whole universe? Perhaps other unexplained phenomena had also arisen through this form of pure physics -and the universe was nothing more than a vast machine with God as the celestial clockmaker. Ideas such as this formed part of the 'mechanistic' view of the world that was popularised by philosophers such as Rene Descartes and physicists like Isaac Newton in the 17th century.

Advances in timekeeping

The pendulum clock 

The most accurate pendulum clocks, produced in the 20th century, lost or gained only a few seconds over the course of a year.

The quartz clock

It was not until 1929 that pendulum clocks began to be surpassed in their accuracy by quartz clocks. These deviate from the real time by just half a second a day.

The atomic clock 

The first atomic clock Was developed in 1949. The most accurate atomic clock yet constructed is inaccurate to one second in three million years.



best Deal of all time

Baron de Stoeckl, the Russian ambassador, and Henry Seward, the US Secretary of State negotiated the price to be paid for Alaska.

Colonised by the Russians at the end of the 18th century, Alaska was a source of valuable sea otter pelts. Stocks of sea otters rapidly declined and the vast region seemed little more than an encumbrance when it was sold to the USA for a song in 1867. But the territory turned out to be a goldmine.

Vitus Bering and the discovery of Alaska

The first Kamchatka expedition 

In 1724, Tsar Peter the Great sent the Danish explorer Vitus Bering to explore the eastern fringes of Siberia. This enterprise went down in history as the 'First Kamchatka Expedition'.

The discovery of the 'Bering Strait In 1728, 

Bering proved beyond doubt that Asia was separated from America by a strait, subsequently named the, Bering Strait in his honour.

The second Kamchatka expedition From 1733, 

Bering commanded the 'Second Kamchatka Expedition'. It explored Siberia and Kamchatka and discovered the    northwest coast of America - Alaska.

On July 20, 1741, the Sviatoi Piotr (Saint Peter), sailing from Kamchatka under the Russian ensign, dropped anchor off the southern coast of Alaska near Kayak Island. Vitus Bering, the ship's Danish captain, dispatched a landing party in two boats. Their mission was to replenish fresh water supplies from streams on the island. The expedition's German doctor and naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller planned to conduct research in the new territory. His time was limited: the commander of the expedition allowed him just ten hours for a brief reconnaissance sortie - but he made a significant discovery - that of the sea otter. Bering, like many of his crew, had contracted a severe case of scurvy.

He was critically ill and keen to embark on the return journey.

The expedition led by Bering and the Russian captain Alexei Chirikov, set out from St Petersburg in February 1733. Russian rulers had instigated a number of expeditions in the 18th century to find out more about the remote regions of Siberia and the northern Pacific coastline. The tsars' curiosity had political and economic motivation. The most precious commodities from the far east of the Russian empire were the pelts of animals such as sable and silver fox. On reaching the Pacific Coast, the explorers came across an intriguing new species. Steller described the mammal: 'A living sea otter is both graceful and beautiful to look at and has a lively, playful character. All in all, it is a very engaging and affectionate animal. When you see a sea otter running, the sheen on its pelt is more luxuriant than that of the blackest velvet.' His comments were to become the sea otter's death sentence.


The onward journey of Bering and his crew from the Alaskan coast was plagued by ill fortune. It was not long before the men

Majestic Mount McKinley in Denali National Park in Alaska, is the highest peak in North America, at 6198 metres. Much of Alaska lies within the Arctic Circle, with perennially   " frozen ground, or permafrost. The region is still largely untamed wilderness, although there are concerns about the environmental impact of oil extraction on the North Slope oilfields of Prudhoe Bay.

on board the ship, who were weakened by the ravages of scurvy, had lost their bearings completely. They were forced to spend the winter on an uninhabited island, one of the Commander Islands that lie off Russia's Kamchatka peninsula. Many of the sailors succumbed to the disease, including Bering himself. A few finally managed to make it back to the far eastern seaboard of Russia in 1742, where they recounted how they had found an untapped resource of animals with superb pelts.

These observations stimulated the first 'rush' to affect the northwestern corner of America. As early as 1743, fur trappers appeared on the uninhabited island where Bering had died, by now named after him, and then proceeded east along the Aleutian Islands chain, reaching the mainland of Alaska by 1761. Their travels yielded rich spoils. Towards the end of the 18th century, well over 20,000 sea otter pelts were coming onto the market every year. The main market for the skins was found among the Chinese aristocracy.

In Russia, the tsars skimmed off their share in the lucrative fur trade by imposing excise duty on the indigenous hunters. In America the exploitation of stocks of fur-bearing animals was turned over to commercial societies that were granted a trading monopoly in return for a handsome fee. The Russians soon recognised that they would gain greater profits if they could convince skilled native hunters to work for them. They used highly questionable tactics to force Aleut hunters to bring them valuable sea otter pelts by taking women and children hostage. For the Aleuts, supplying the Russians with sea otter pelts was the only way of securing their families' safety.

The first commercial society was incorporated in 1781, and three years later the first permanent Russian settlement was established near the modern town of Kodiak. The Russian-American Company was founded in 1799, and determined Russian colonial policy in the New World up until 1867. Tsar Paul I conferred on the company the exclusive right to trade in North America north of the 55th Parallel and made it responsible for administering all settlements in Alaska, which was now given the official status of a Russian colony.


Little now remains of the period of Russian control in Alaska apart from a few churches and numerous place-names. The actual number of Russian colonists in North America never exceeded 1000. Yet when the Russian trappers first set foot on the American continent, around 62,000 indigenous people were living in the territory, primarily Inuit, Aleut and other American Indian tribes. It soon became clear that it was not just the sea otters that were going to suffer under their new masters. The native inhabitants of Alaska were enslaved and forcibly relocated, and were banned from building the canoes that they needed for hunting. Diseases introduced by the newcomers killed the indigenous population in

The Inuit, one of the aboriginal peoples of Alaska, inhabited a vast Arctic region from the Bering Strait to Greenland. The Russians exploited their hunting skills, and their numbers were depleted by violence and by the European diseases they contracted from their unwelcome visitors.

their thousands. In a period of just 80 years, the Aleut population of Alaska fell from 16,000 to 2000, not least because the wholesale destruction of the sea otters deprived them of a vital source of food. Sea otters were not the only stocks of native fauna that were depleted by the relentless hunting. The Russians also pursued the Bowhead whale. In no time, they had decimated the population of this animal as well, inflicting terrible hardship on the traditional Inuit whale hunters.

Over the course of the 19th century the decline of the sea otters is clearly reflected in fur trading statistics: while around 20,000 pelts were still coming onto the market in 1820, by 1900 this figure had dropped to just about 600. In western Alaska, the sea otter was almost wiped out over the course of a few years. The Russian-American Company was forced to look for new hunting grounds, pushing south down the Pacific coast of America as far as present-day California. Here, the Russian-American Company encroached on territory already being exploited by Americans, Spaniards and Britons and conflict appeared imminent. As a foreign-policy expedient Tsar Alexander I was forced to curtail the influence of the company, which reverted simply to governing Alaska. But the territory was no longer turning a profit, and it was not clear what the rulers of Russia should do with it. Furthermore, holding on to Alaska might conceivably make them powerful enemies in the wider world.


His successor, Tsar Alexander II had grown tired of pursuing ventures overseas. Maintaining his colony on the North American continent was proving a costly enterprise, and the income it generated had by now slowed to a trickle. The high cost of Russian defeat in the Crimean War (1853-56) had emptied the state coffers. But what was to be done with a colony of 585,000 square miles? The tsar decided to sell off the vast territory. The next question was to whom? The USA had already proved itself an eager and reliable purchaser. In 1803 it had acquired more than 772,000 square miles of land from France in theLouisiana Purchase. Half a popular us nickname for Alaska in the late 19th century century later it had bought almost 30,000 square miles from Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase. The tsar authorised the Russian Minister to the United States to enter into negotiations over the sale of Alaska.


The purchase negotiations between Russia and the USA began in 1866, during the term of office of Andrew Jackson, the 17th President of the United States. Across the table from the Russian ambassador to the USA, Baron Eduard de Stoeckl, the most senior negotiator on the American side was Secretary of State William Henry Seward. This was a lucky break for the Russians, for Seward, with his passionate commitment to the expansion of America, had a keen interest in acquiring Alaska for the USA. De Stoeckl was well aware that Seward was eager to strike a deal, and proved to be a skilful negotiator. In the course of the seemingly interminable discussions, which continued until the end of March 1867, de Stoeckl managed to drive the price up from the original offer by half as much again. Finally, on March 30, the price the two parties settled on was confirmed in Article VI of the signed treaty: $7,200,000, payable in the form of gold bullion. That worked out at five cents per hectare (two cents per acre) for the vast territory, or, at today's prices, around 3Op per hectare. This still amounted to a very good deal for the Americans. They had paid France more than seven cents per hectare when concluding the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

The deal provoked an outcry among the American public. Most citizens of the USA did not consider the purchase of Alaska to be a bargain. They regarded the region - which was out-of-the-way completely undeveloped, and lay far to the north, separated from the rest of the Union by Canadian sovereign territory - as an utter waste of money. And so they dubbed the purchase 'Seward's Folly' and called Alaska 'Johnson's Polar-bear Garden'. Most delegates in the Senate and House of Representatives were opposed to the agreement. It took all of Seward's powers of persuasion and a degree of bribery to secure a narrow majority in favour of ratifying the treaty.

On April 9, 1867, the United States Senate ratified the treaty and on October 18 the stars and stripes was hoisted for the first time over the town of Sitka, founded by the Russians in 1804 as Novo Arkhangelsk. At the time of the handover it contained 116 small log cabins housing 968 residents. The Americans chose an Aleut name, 'Alaska', for the territory. It would be almost another century before Alaska was admitted to the Union as the 49th state, on January 3, 1959.


To the great chagrin of the US government, the fears of citizens who were opposed to the purchase seemed to be borne out in the late 19th century. The new colony in the Arctic Circle generated almost no income. Some revenue came in from fishing, but the fur stocks, the 'soft gold' that had attracted the Russians to North America in the first place, were virtually exhausted.

All of a sudden the situation changed and a new sense of enthusiasm galvanised the territory. Gold was discovered under

'There are strange things

done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold.'


the permafrost-covered soil of the region's vast expanses. There had been a few isolated gold strikes previously, but no-one had paid them much heed. But when gold was found at Juneau in 1880, a new feeling of hope spread throughout the region. Prospectors went on to find gold in Nome in 1898, and at the Tanana River in 1903. Crowds of eager prospectors embarked on the long, arduous journey north, hoping to strike it rich overnight. It was only with this cGold Rush' that Americans became aware of the huge untapped potential of Alaska's mineral deposits. Secretary of State Seward died in 1872, but if he had lived to witness the development, he would surely have felt thoroughly vindicated.

The territory of Alaska, separated from Asia by a narrow strait, is also of great strategic importance. During the Cold War, it was a vital outpost of the United States in its trial of strength against the Soviet Union. During this same period other forms of mineral wealth were discovered, which nowadays generate huge revenues for major companies and the state alike: oil and natural gas. These energy resources were first found on the Kenai Peninsula, then at Cook Inlet, and, in the 1960s, along the coast bordering the Arctic Ocean. In 1969, a consortium of US oil concerns paid the state close to a billion dollars to secure the extraction rights. The state reviled as 'Seward's Icebox' had turned out to be a goldmine.



During the 19th century, precious sap tapped from Brazilian trees supplied almost all the world's growing rubber industry. In 1876 a British adventurer was persuaded to smuggle seeds of the tree, Hevea brasiliensis, out of the country. The transplanted Brazilian trees thrived in the British colonies of the Far East, eventually putting paid to the rubber boom that had made the Amazon rich.

For thousands of years, the Amerindian peoples of South America have haboured a secret - how to transform the sticky white sap exuded by the Hevea tree into an elastic material that could be used to make a variety of different objects. The sap, known as latex, was slowly coagulated on a pole turned over a smoky fire. The acid in the smoke caused the latex to harden. The crude rubber was formed into large balls, which were floated downstream to market. In the 19th century, Brazilian rubber 'barons' persuaded the Amazonian peoples to collect the latex, and through the indigenous people's expertise, the rubber tycoons were able to amass substantial fortunes.


The rubber barons were shrewd businessmen, maintain their world monopoly of the product, the material, stimulated by the growing industrialisation of the west, sparked an unprecedented boom in Amazonia. In 1830, the production of natural rubber worldwide was just 130 tonnes. As demand increased towards the end of the 19th century, a pound of rubber cost nearly $3 on the world's commodity markets. Between 1890 and 1915 with increasing demand from burgeoning industries in the United States and Europe, enormous sums of money flooded into Amazonia and into the pockets of the businessmen.

Some of the money was invested in transforming Manaus, a settlement in the heart of the Amazon close to the source of the rubber, into a magnificently opulent city. Now the capital of the Brazilian federal state of Amazonas, Manaus lies on the Rio Negro, 11 miles from its confluence with the Amazon. Since the start of the boom, the town had an electric

The manufacture of rubber

Tree sap

Natural rubber derives from the milky sap (latex) of a genus of tropical plants that contains some dozen different species including Hevea brasiliensus.

Tapping the latex 

A cut is made in the bark of the tree. Roughly every three days, the latex can be tapped for a total of two to five hours

Early uses of rubber 

For centuries, the Amerindians of the Amazon used natural rubber to waterproof clothes and to make flexible water flasks.


Natural rubber became' an enormously important raw material in 1839 when Charles Goodyear invented vulcanisation, a-chemical process which turns uncured natural rubber into a smooth, malleable and versatile product.'

The Teatro Amazon's exterior is a mixture of European architectural styles, surmounted by a prominent dome. Every fixture and fitting in the opera house, opened in 1896, is of the highest quality: crystal chandeliers from Venice, silk wall hangings from France, and precious hardwoods from the surrounding Brazilian tropical rainforests.

power supply and boasted a tram network. Splendid public and private buildings were erected on streets laid out in a grid pattern. By the 1890s, Manaus had also acquired a racecourse, a bullring, 24 bars, 36 doctors, 11 fancy restaurants, and seven bookshops. Many Europeans contributed to the splendid architecture. The cast-iron framework for Manaus's covered market halls was commissioned from Gustave Eiffel, creator of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, while Waldemar Scholz, a German entrepreneur, built the showy Palacio Rio Negro, which today houses the Amazonas state assembly.

The rubber barons were able to indulge in the most outrageous luxuries. Waldemar Scholz was said to have a pet lion, a yacht, motorboat and elaborately liveried servants. Another tycoon, having commissioned a palace simply to house his race horses was so taken with it that he decided to move into part of the house himself. Others burned money to light their cigars and sent their laundry out to Europe.

The Teatro Amazon is the city's crowning glory. Fitted out in a luxurious and eclectic style, the opera house is a testament to the dream of an eccentric adventurer. The story of the genesis

'Manaus had actually become El Dorado. Gold flowed like water through its streets.'

of the Teatro inspired the film, Fitzcarraldo. In the film, an opera lover becomes

obsessed with the idea of building an opera house in the jungle - a dream that ultimately turns to madness and despair. In real life, Manaus bears witness to the fact that his dream was realised, though only briefly, in the city's heyday at the end of the 19th century.


Yet the rubber barons were soon to see their fortunes dissipate. British entrepreneurs were showing an increasing interest in the lucrative rubber trade. For decades Britain's Asian colonies had attempted to produce latex, spurred on by growing demand from an expanding manufacturing industry. But Asian latex did not match the quality of the Brazilian material; the Amazonian Hevea tree simply produced a better quality raw material. In 1876 Henry Wickham, a British adventurer who had spent time in Amazonia, wrote to Kew Gardens, giving a glowing account of the properties of a plant native to the Amazon Basin - Hevea brasiliensis, or the rubber tree. His brief report excited Sir Joseph Hooker, the director of Kew; he wondered if Wickham's account held the key to solving a pressing economic and strategic problem. Hooker commissioned Wickham to collect 70,000 Hevea seeds from the Amazon Basin, smuggle them out of the country and ship them to Britain. It was a highly risky enterprise, since Brazil was prepared to execute anyone who tried to take even a single seed across her borders.


That same year, Wickham embarked upon his daring quest. With the help of Amerindian guides, he gathered the seeds, packed them carefully between banana leaves and shipped the precious cargo to the botanists at Kew. The excitement among the plant experts was enormous. Could the seeds be the key to wresting the rubber monopoly from Brazil? Only around 4 per cent - 2800 - of the seeds eventually germinated. They were raised in the tropical greenhouse at Kew and shipped first to the island of Ceylon. From there seedlings were taken to Singapore. Recently developed bud grafting techniques enabled large numbers of identical trees to be produced. From 1898 onwards, Hevea trees formed the nucleus of large plantations, mostly in Malaya.

In 1888, Dunlop's invention of the pneumatic tyre had contributed to a seemingly insatiable worldwide appetite for rubber. As early as 1914, British horticulturalists developed ways of obtaining higher yields from the Hevea tree. British production soon surpassed that of Brazil, eventually supplied more

At times, rubber was worth more  than  sliver

rubber than all of South America. Malaya quickly became the main source of rubber for world industry, and as the raw material became more plentiful, the price fell dramatically. The Amazon's rubber boom was fatally damaged. In 1920, the price of rubber on the world's markets slumped almost overnight from $3 a pound to less than 20 cents. In 1920, Henry Wickham was knighted and given an ex gratia payment of several thousand pounds for his services. He was known to his close friends as the 'Father of the Rubber Industry' but to his enemies as the 'Executioner of Amazonia'.