Want to keep up with news and events in Tenerife?

For now, posts here will be on an ocassional basis - for big events such as Tenerife Carnaval - so in order to keep up with all the other news and events, weather and such like - either direct or translated / curated from hand-picked articles and other sources - please "Like" and follow the Secret Tenerife Facebook Page or follow us on Twitter.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pirates Attack Tenerife

For yesterday's International Talk Like a Pirate Day, a Brit in Tenerife would have done well to keep as quiet as possible, lest it be thought that they were a descendant of any of the many English pirates to have visited or attacked these shores.

During the 14th Century, the pirates avoided Tenerife, since they had heard hair-raising tales of the savagery of the inhabitants of the larger island, but almost as soon as the Spanish conquest was over, the island became a magnet for the many, mainly British, French and Dutch, pirates.

Antique Canary Islands Map
The Canary Islands, due to their geographical position, became a compulsory stopover for the Spanish fleets on their way to and from the New World. And because of their strategic location along these trade routes, Tenerife and its fellow Canary Islands, therefore, became sitting ducks for pirate attacks and skirmishes with foreign invasions.

Galleons, which came back loaded with treasures from the American Continent, were often attacked by pirates protected by English and French crowns.

Sir Francis Drake attacked Tenerife in 1586 and Gran Canaria in 1595. In 1656/7 Robert Blake, the English pirate, tried to conquer Tenerife and annex it to the English kingdom. On April 20 that year, Blake totally destroyed a Spanish silver fleet of 16 ships at Santa Cruz Bay, Tenerife. In 1706, Rear Admiral Sir John Jennings, with a fleet of 13 ships, tried to occupy Santa Cruz harbour, without success. And in the most famous failed attempt of them all, England's Lord Horatio Nelson, the famed admiral of the mighty Royal Navy, not only lost his 1797 invasion attempt but also his arm.

Of course, it depends which side you're on whether you call these pirates and privateers, or historical icons and national heros, but it's a testament to how tough the local people are that none of them succeeded here.

But the constant cross-ocean naval movements between Spain and its American colonies meant ships laden with treasures and spices. Pirate flotillas began patrolling the stretch of ocean between the Azores and Canary Islands in the 16th century, and would continue to do so into the 17th, 18th and even 19th centuries. In their down time, these pirates would head for the islands - particularly Tenerife and Gran Canaria - where they robbed, burned down villages and killed islanders in search of wine and riches. This constant threat led to a militarization of the island.

Castillo de San Juan Bautista, popularly known as the Castillo Negro, in Santa Cruz.
Watch towers and castles were constructed in hopes of fending off bad-intentioned seafarers, villages were built out of sight from the coastline and, today you can still explore castles, forts and towers in Tenerife. Among those best preserved are the Castillo de San Juan Bautista (or Castillo Negro) in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Castillo de San Felipe, Puerto de la Cruz

Meanwhile, the Castillo de San Felipe, in Puerto de la Cruz, was also built to protect that town from attacks of pirates and corsairs. Built in 1634, it continued in its original use until 1878. Restored and in an excellent state of conservation, it is used for recitals and cultural events.

Castillo de San Miguel, Garachico

The Castillo de San Miguel in Garachico - which was the island's main port from the conquest, until the eruption of 1706 - was built between 1575 and 1577. This Renaissance style fort, now property of the local council, is occasionally used for art exhibitions and contains a mini-museum of history of the area.

The village of Adeje, prey to frequent Arab attacks, was also sacked by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, so fortification has played an important part in the development of the town. The sturdily fortified hacienda, Casa Fuerte stands as testimony to the village's remarkable defensive structure.

Research also shows that many Crypto-Jews [Jews who secretly practiced their religion after being forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition] prospered when they cooperated with the local pirates who turned the archipelago into their main base.

Cristóbal de Ponte
Cristóbal de Ponte, founder of Garachico, financier of the conquest of Tenerife and father of Pedro de Ponte.
In 1555, Pedro de Ponte - son of Cristóbal de Ponte the Jewish merchant and banker from Genoa, who founded the town of Garachico in 1496 - obtained permission from Spain to build the Casa Fuerte; a mixture of country house and fort, part of which still remains in the south Tenerife town of Adeje, to protect his sugar-cane business from the incursions of British and French pirates on the coasts.

Remains of the Casa Fuerte in Adeje
Worthwhile for an idea of how the Casa Fuerte must have looked whole is this 1839 drawing, Vista de la villa de Adeje con su Casa Fuerte.

On several occasions, English corsair, John Hawkins, lived here. Hawkins, cousin of Sir Francis Drake and backed by Elizabeth I, was the partner of Pedro de Ponte in the slave trade with America.

John Hawkins was one of the most flamboyant figures of the Elizabethan Age, having left his mark as a slave trader, privateer, rear admiral, double agent and noted shipbuilder. Hawkins made plans with his friends in the Canaries to break into the slave trade in Guinea. Pedro de Ponte would help provide the fleet with water and supplies, make necessary arrangements with merchants in the Indies, and find a skilled pilot to handle navigation. Hawkins would provide the ships and the capital.

The last member of the Ponte family to live in the Casa Fuerte was Marqués Don Domingo José de Herrera y Ayala, who died in 1766 and, although the Casa Fuerte is not open to the public, in May of this year, Adeje council announced that it's in process of rescuing and digitizing its historic archives, documenting the history of the area between 1445 and 1931.

The old cannon that guards the Casa Fuerte.
The 86 meters worth of documents from the Casa Fuerte: more than 17,000 files and more than a million folio pages, must surely shed some fascinating new light on the history of, not only Adeje, but also of the island of Tenerife, as well as those of the islands of La Gomera and El Hierro during the 15th to 20th Centuries.

Plaza de Santo Domingo and Chuch of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in La Laguna
On the other hand, quite why an ancient tombstone in the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in San Cristóbal de La Laguna should bear the unmistakable trademark of piracy: an engraved a skull and crossbones, shall, for the moment, remain a mystery.

The Canaries' wealth invited frequent attacks by pirates and privateers.

The most significant attack took place in 1599, when the Dutch Van der Does attacked the capital Real de Las Palmas with 74 ships, 12,000 men (the city had 3,500 of the island of Gran Canaria's 8,545 inhabitants) and 150 landing craft. They attacked the Castillo de la Luz, which gave itself up when the city was evacuated.

The town of Santa Cruz de La Palma too has a rich seafaring history. It was founded by Alonso Fernández de Lugo on 3rd May 1493 and from that time onwards, became home to Spanish, Flemish, English and Portuguese merchants and a target for pirates including those led by Françoise Le Clerc (known as Peg Leg) who, in 1553, pillaged and destroyed the town.

Protected by too small a garrison, Lanzarote's inhabitants were decimated, for centuries, by the relentless attacks of pirates who were slave-hunters. In the 17th century, pirates raided the island and took 1,000 inhabitants to slavery in Cueva de los Verdes.

The island of Fuerteventura was once a favorite haunt for pirates and their legacy for divers are some great wreaks to explore.

Bring me one noggin of rum, now, won't you, matey

These days, the mostly legless, rather than armless, English invaders of Tenerife can enjoy Pirates Attack Tenerife, which is a Pirates Show with live singers, dancers, acrobats, comedy and lots of live entertainment. Or they can take a 3 hour cruise on the Jolly Roger pirate ship from Los Cristianos.


Visitors can go on a guided tour of the Route of the Castles in Tenerife with a little help from the History Museum. Reservations in advance are necessary. Information from 922 825 949/43.

Other sources:
History of Lanzarote
Introduction to Adeje, Spain
Canary Islands From Wikipedia
History of Tenerife: Spanish Conquest
In Deep - Santa Cruz de La Palma
Holidayinfo - Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife - Historic City and Capital of the Spanish Province
Adeje - Cabildo Insular de Tenerife
A time line for the history of Tenerife
Historia: Navegación: Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595)
Sir Francis Drake The Queen's Pirate
Historia: Sir Francis Drake (1543-1596)
Tenerife Island: Some information
History of the 18th y 19th century
15th, 16th and 17th centuries
Ataque de Robert Blake a Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Ataque de John Genings a Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife travel guide - Wikitravel
The Jews of the Canary Islands

¡Hola! From Tenerife

If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, subscribe to our free newsletter and get regular rays of Tenerife sunshine in your inbox. Just enter your email address below.

Delivered by FeedBurner