In April 1513, the Spanish monarchy contracted explorer Juan Ponce de Leon to find another island off Cuba that was reported to have great riches. De Leon failed to reach this island and instead, ended up landing in Florida. He called this land, “La Florida” after the “feast of flowers”, held during Spain’s Easter celebrations.
500 years later, the state of Florida is now celebrating its Spanish heritage with a series of events planned throughout 2013. Historian Dr. J Michael Francis said of Florida; “It was always seen it as an exotic place. That’s something that Florida tourism continues to market on some level”.
While Florida’s history dates back for more than 12,000 years with Native Americans, “Viva Florida 500”, which is a statewide campaign, will highlight the start of a new era with de Leon’s eventful voyage to the New World.
Will Seccombe, president and CEO of Visit Florida, stated that de Leon was the first visitor to the United States.
According to state official estimates, tourism is Florida’s key industry. Tourism was responsible for welcoming 87.3 million visitors in 2011. “Viva Florida” is designed to show tourists Florida’s history and all that the state has to offer, aside from its beaches and theme parks.
De Leon’s actually landing place in Florida has been debatable for years. However, Hough Family Chair of Florida Studies at the University of South Florida Francis stated, “There is no archaeological footprint. No logbook. And even if found, there’s no guarantee we would even know from that.”
The commemoration, he said, is not about the Spanish legacy, but about rediscovering “and maybe even discover for the first time Florida’s colonial history.”
The 2013 celebrations began with the European discovery of “La Gran Naranja” or the “Big orange” drop. “La Gran Naranja” is a 35-foot LED neon orange LCD descending from a side of a downtown Maimi hotel. The word naranja comes from the Valencia orange that the Spanish introduced to America. This later became Florida’s official state fruit.
Throughout the year, 150 events are set to take place across the state. The events include: Drive the Spanish Heritage Trail. Dive on historic shipwrecks. Tour a Spanish basilica and mission village. Visit orange groves and cattle ranches. Taste the flavors of Florida. Other events will include several festivals with re-enactments, as well as other things to take part in, in addition to visiting the beaches and theme parks the state is best known for.