This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of The Portuguese and Spanish Empires.
Following Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Caribbean islands, the Treaty of Tordesillas confirmed Spain’s dominion over territories in the New World, which at the time Europeans called the Indies.
Spain’s conquest of the Americas was rapid and brutal. It also led to the introduction of new diseases that decimated the indigenous peoples.
In the first phase, until 1519, the Spanish established their colonies in the Greater Antilles: Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba. But seeing that these islands lacked the expected riches, Spain decided to send expeditions to the mainland.
Between 1519 and 1521, Herman Cortés conquered the Aztec Empire in today’s Mexico. After this, the Spaniards extended their territory into Central America and the northern areas of modern Colombia.
Towards the end of the 1520s, the Isthmus of Panama became Spain’s base for later conquests.
In 1533, the capture of Cuzco by Francisco Pizarro marked Spain’s victory over the second major American empire, that of the Incas, which covered the Andes from the Equator to northern Chile.
The period of major conquests in South America ended around 1550.
By then, there was only a small number of Spanish inhabitants, and most were living in newly established towns such as Cartagena founded in 1533, Lima in 1535, Buenos Aires in 1536, Bogota in 1538, Santiago in 1541 and Concepción in 1550.
To the north, Florida was discovered in 1513 and the Spanish sent several expeditions to explore the Great Plains in what is now the United States, but, apart from St Augustine, there were only a few relatively small settlements.
On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the Spanish forced the Portuguese to accept their presence in the Philippines and founded Manila in 1571.