History / Michael Wood

The Spanish conquest of the Americas in the sixteenth century was one of the most important and cataclysmic events in history. Spanish expeditions endured incredible hardships in order to open up the lands of the ‘New World’, and few stories in history can match these for drama and endurance.

In Conquistadors, Michael Wood follows in the footsteps of some of the greatest of the Spanish adventurers travelling from the forests of Amazonia to Lake Titicaca, the deserts of North Mexico, the snowpeaks of the Andes and the heights of Machu Picchu. He experiences the epic journeys of Cortes, Pizarro, Orellana and Cabeza de Vaca, and explores the turbulent and terrifying events surrounding the Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires.

Wood brings these stories to vivid life, highlighting both the heroic accomplishments and the complex moral legacy of the European invasion. Conquistadors is Michael Wood at his best – thoughtful, provocative and gripping history.


First broadcast Nov 2000 on BBC2 and May 2001 on PBS

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Ep 1 The Fall of the Aztecs

The story of the conquest in 1519-21 of the Aztec empire in Mexico by Hernan Cortes and five hundred intrepid Spanish conquistadors. In this film Michael Wood follows the womaniser and gambler Cortes from his home in Spain to the Mayan pyramids on the shores of the Yucatan, and on through the tropical forests of Tabasco to the snow capped volcanoes of Mexico.

Ep 2 The Conquest of the Incas

The amazing story of the overthrow of the Inca empire by Francisco Pizarro and his brothers. Following the route taken by the Spaniards, Wood climbs ancient Inca roads to Cajamarca where the Inca leader tried to ransom himself for a roomful of gold and undertakes an epic jungle trek to the lost city of the Incas.

Ep 3 The Search for El Dorado.

Michael Wood tells the story of the ill-dated Spanish expedition of 1541, to find mythical lands of gold. After crossing the Andes, Wood and his team build a raft and sail down the river Napo before following the route of the Conquistadors to the head waters of the river Amazon. Tracing one of the great voyages of exploration Wood tells how the Spaniards were the first outsiders to see Amazonia and the first to discover and travel the length of the river, an achievement which was ‘less of a journey and more of a miracle’.

Ep 4 All the World is Human

Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked off the coast of Texas in 1528 and lived with Indians for 8 years. Upon his return to Spain he wrote a book based on his experiences. His tale is one of empathy and respect for the Indians. Michael Wood traces his journey.


4 X 60 mins for BBC 2/PBS. Director: David Wallace,  Producer: Rebecca Dobbs. Camera: Peter Harvey