But Elcano may have also suffered from the divisive politics of Spain. Politicians in Getaria complained when the Juan Sebastián Elcano, a four-masted training ship of the Spanish Navy, visited the port in July at the invitation of a local association.
The sailing event drew a large crowd, but the mayor stayed away and some residents held a protest during the celebration.
“Elcano was Basque, and this commemoration should serve to highlight the singularity of our lands,” said Haritz Alberdi Arrillaga, Getaria’s mayor, who represents E.H. Bildu, a Basque separatist party.
Xabier Alberdi, a Basque historian who is the director of the naval museum in San Sebastián, about 15 miles east of Getaria, said that “political nonsense” had undermined the memory of Elcano since the 19th century, when Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, a historian who also became leader of the Spanish government, described Elcano as little more than “an adventurer.”
The fear of Basque nationalism during a period of civil wars within Spain meant that “Spaniards felt more comfortable putting Magellan instead of Elcano near the top of their list of great explorers, just behind Columbus,” Mr. Alberdi said.
There are very few documents about Elcano’s life, but Mr. Alberdi said that Getaria should at least renovate the washed-out plaque that marks the spot of his family home. Nobody is planning an Elcano museum in the town, which is reeling from a fraud scandal involving the Balenciaga museum. In June, a former mayor received a prison sentence for falsifying documents and misusing public funds to build the museum, which cost 30 million euros, about $33 million — six times its initial budget.
“We decided to give Balenciaga rather than Elcano a museum, to discover that we are now left with this big problem,” said Mr. Urresti, the president of the fishermen’s association.