State celebrates 500th anniversary of the first European exploration of Florida

Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 04:04 PM.

 Spain controlled Florida for most of first 300 years of exploration and settlement — Florida became part of the United States in 1821 — and that Spanish influence has lasted long after the Spaniards withdrew.

At the top of the list would be the state's name.

de Leon first stepped foot in Florida, near modern-day Melbourne Beach or, maybe, it was near St. Augustine, in April when plenty of wildflowers were blooming. He dubbed the land Pascua Florida — Spanish for flowery Easter — later shortened to La Florida.

The name stuck.

Following years of expeditions by a succession of explorers, the Spanish finally put down roots in 1564 with the founding of St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States — preceding English settlements in New England by decades.

Since then, a lot has happened in Florida that can be traced to its Spanish heritage.

The Spanish brought cattle, which set up what later became a major Florida industry.

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