Enjoy Cabo de Gata

Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata - Níjar

One of pirates and smugglers.

Una de piratas y contrabandistas.

ANDRÉS CABRERA LÓPEZ (1998): One of pirates… and smugglers.
Rev. Natural Paradise. Nº 3. Pages. 11-13. Almeria.

September 1556. Dawn in the Cape. In the calm waters of the cove of Pozo Chavalí, the figure of an anchored galley can be seen. With the last lights of sunset, and taking advantage of the overwhelming curtain of clouds and rain from the previous afternoon, anchor without being seen from the nearby towers. The same storm that was about to sink it allowed it to land without being seen. It is time to wait at the Well and travel a few leagues to collect food, firewood, and slaves to sell in Algiers.

According to Andújar Castillo and others (1994), citing Fernando Braudel, "piracy in the Mediterranean is an industry as old as history." Such a statement acquires full meaning in the 16th century for the coasts of the Iberian Peninsula. Indeed, with the Castilian conquest of the Nazan Kingdom of Granada, the last bastion of Muslim power in Spain, the last land frontier between the two cultures, between the two religions, Christian and Islamic, disappeared (…) The Mediterranean coast becomes a extensive border area with North Africa from where Turks and Berbers take over from their blood brothers in the historic confrontation -although now for different motives between the Islamic and Christian communities. The Corsican, as an expression of a legalized form of warfare, transfers to the Mediterranean, the struggle that had been going on for centuries inland.

In Almería, the Corsican, Berber and Turkish, punished its coasts during the 16th century with high effectiveness thanks to a deep knowledge of the terrain provided by those Moors who managed to emigrate to North Africa and, later, by the Moors expelled after the rebellion. Throughout the century numerous privateer attacks were recorded. Many were left in mere attempts. Others, however, were successful and consequently ended captivity for captured Christians.

Among the most important looting are those of Lucainena in April 1555 and September 1566, of Níjar in April of 1562, of Tabernas in September of 1566, and of Cuevas del Almanzora in November of 1573. The subsequent episode used to be the sale of human loot from North African ports. Friars, almost always from Trinitarians or Mercedarians, would go there, in charge of negotiating and paying the ransoms »(1).

Una de piratas y contrabandistas.
Berber Pirates Cabo de Gata Armory

However, piracy on the Almeria coast is older and was not only suffered by the natives but also practiced by them in previous centuries. «The Pechina Maritime Federation was the embryo of what later became one of the taifa kingdoms, with a markedly slavery character, and the most prosperous of the 11th-12th centuries. Its prosperity was basically due to the activities of its sailors, who continually harassed the commercial maritime traffic in the Alboran Sea, which undoubtedly contributed to the fact that in 1147, the most important Christian kingdoms of the time undertook the company of cutting off activities corsairs of the "almerienses". Castellanos, Catalans, the Vatican fleet and the Genoese participate in the joint attack, which led to Christian occupation for ten years and marks the beginning of the region's decline. The fact that the Genoese will dock in the cove that today bears their name, in the vicinity of San José, tells us how poorly organized the defenses or the warning system of the coastline were, which was to be developed later, with the Nasrid kingdom ».

The difficult relations of «this kingdom (the Nasrid) with North Africa (beginning of the 13th century) favor the establishment of a warning system by means of watchtowers on the coast, which will be a constant in the area until well into the s. XVIII. From this time they would be the first towers with a quadrangular plan in the Los Lobos (Rodalquilar), Vela Blanca, and La Testa hills. The fortified towns of Guebro (Huebro), Ainos (Inox) and Tarbal should also be dated from that time ». (two)

As we have already anticipated, a fact closely related to the rise of piracy on the coasts of Almeria is the emigration / expulsion of Moors to Africa. This provokes resentment at having to voluntarily or forcibly abandon the lands, the possessions that they, their parents, their grandparents had cultivated, pampered, treasured. Some give the pirates clues as to where to loot, others return with them.

«With the sacking of the Moors in 1570 the land was not completely depopulated. The old Christians, who survived the war, were concentrated in the coastal cities of Adra, Almería and Vera and in the main towns of the most important manors: those of the Marquis de los Vélez and Villena.

First, the most fertile lands and far from the coast were populated, then the poorest and most dangerous because they were left at the mercy of the muddy Moors and Berber pirates. The stage that goes from 1571 to 1620 was the most difficult. Gangs of hungry Moors roamed the land, assaulting and murdering. They were helped by the fled to the African front, who returned to intimidate the new settlers and drive them away from the lands, which were theirs. (…)

«For more than a century people lived dangerously in the Almeria lands near the coast of Cabo de Gata, in the Cabrera and Almagrera mountains, whose coves, difficult to monitor, served as rest, water and penetration for the Algerian and Berber pirates . Lepanto's victory did not remove them from our shores even temporarily. Some sub-regions -Sierra de Filabres and Almanzora Medio- were impossible to repopulate for five or six years, 1573-1578, due to having suffered the scourge of pirates. Repopulators and settlers clamored for safer lands ”.

Seeking this security, the coast was fortified, following the line started during the Nasrid reign and later by the Catholic Monarchs.

«The fortress of San Pedro de Las Negras was built at the end of the 16th century or the beginning of the 17th century, building a rectangular redoubt with a 26-meter battery from an old Nasrid tower. Berrio and Machuca planned this construction in 1575, to prevent the Berber pirates from making the aguada in the Chavalí well. The garrison consisted of twelve soldiers, in 1656 there were only seven. It had two pieces of bronze of one and two pounds of caliber, and eight muskets; bullets were needed for cannons and muskets, gunpowder and rope. Tower and redoubt needed repairs (according to the visitor of that year). On January 12, 1658, it was knocked down by an earthquake. '

The towers and fortresses were clearly insufficient, so a continuous surveillance system was used through galleys that Father Tapia describes, citing the Simancas archive:

«The guarding of the coast was incomplete and it was very vulnerable to the onslaught of Turks and Berbers, if the alarm and defense device mounted on land was not completed on the sea with the round of the galleys from spring to winter. The visitor Ramiro Núñez de Guzmán noticed this in 1526. The RRCC already had it in mind. In addition to the garrisons and coast guards, it was necessary for eight galleys to patrol the coasts and some armed whips to sail preserved from the galleys. ”(…)“ This organization was consolidated from 1522, when the threat of Turks, Algerians and Barbary became overwhelming. This year, by agreement of the king with D. Bernardino de Mendoza, this navy consisted of a frigate and fourteen galleys, ten of the king and four of D. Bernardino, who carried the fifth royal of the prey he made ».

The capture of stranded or lost pirates on the coast and inland began to be rewarded by the kings. «In one of the files kept in the archives of the Alhambra you can follow the adventures of a ship and that of each one of those who came in it to steal.» (…) On February 4, 1551, the galleys of D. Bernardino ran into some Turkish galeotas in the waters of Cartagena, among which was a famous one for his blows, called the Black Galeota. When the galleys came to attack them, they left the latter alone and fled. The galleys forced La Negra to run aground, her crew jumped ashore and four were seized by the guards of the Cala del Plomo. Others managed to hide and pass for Moors.

"In January 1567 Don García de Villarroel sent twenty-eight pirates to Granada that he captured in the Cerros de los Frailes, a galley that ran aground in the vicinity of these."

As the pressure becomes unbearable for the Moors, they often take advantage of the arrival of pirates to the coast to flee with them to Africa.

«In 1559 three Moors left Huebro. Some of their neighbors declare that the pirates took them by force, others say that they went voluntarily with them.

On April 16, 1562, some Algerian or Berber pirates entered Nijar and twenty-eight families from Níjar, twenty-seven from Huebro and some newlyweds from Turrillas left with them. Some of the more affluent families leave, such as García de Santamaría and Los Mercadillos (ALHAMBRA).

«Between 1522 and 1556 there are fifty-four attacks by Berber and Algerian pirates on the Almeria coasts, twenty of them failed and lost their lives in the set, they triumphed in thirty-four and left with the loot. The most audacious of all was the theft of Tabernas in September 1556. " (And that of Lucainena on April 7, 1555). "In September 1573, the former monfí El Joraique, now a pirate, landed in a cove near Carboneras to penetrate to Tahal, in the heart of Filabres, where he managed to take ten new settlers as captives"

But in more modern times there are also new-minded pirates and the network of old towers and castles is completed with Civil Guard barracks for the new needs of coastal surveillance. The coast as a border, the smuggling of tobacco (and lately Maghreb hashish) were the objective to be covered by these new barracks. (Los Escullos, Loma Pelada…).

Carmen de Burgos, in "The Last Smuggler" portrays the rural chief and smuggler boss, the world of smuggling that, at the beginning of the century, influenced lives and farms in the territory between the Cape and Aguamarga.

“They had managed to go like shadows through silos, mines and byways, to meet in places where the police could not reach. The smuggling boats sheltered under the protection of Peñas Roas or Punta Polacra, that rock detached from the hill, which gave the impression in the distance of a sailing ship anchored next to the shore and that when approaching at night it intimidated with its statue's profile with a gigantic head, wrapped in a hood, whose countenance outlined a mocking look. Many times they had had to leave the bundles in the open air in some cut of the beaches, defended with the same audacity that they abandoned them, while the carabinieri passed by their side, searching the suspicious places.

Una de piratas y contrabandistas.
Pirates Cabo de Gata Almería

All the galleries and warehouses were already full of genre, it was a wealth whose loss would cause the ruin of many, and all were tacitly resolved to risk their lives before allowing themselves to be snatched away. The underground path that crossed the Cerro del Cinto, worked every night, but it was insufficient to decongest the silos, since they had to pass bundle by bundle, through the narrow galleries and the gender was beginning to be damaged by the humidity.

Even the core of the Cerro de los Lobos was full of contraband.

Even that mysterious beach, where the cutter could not reach (a light ship to pursue contraband) and whose entrance hid the high tide, was full of contraband. That superiority that gave them their courage and knowledge of the terrain, made them laugh and console themselves for the concerns that the obstinacy of the police officers caused them. They would end up getting tired. They were very close, as one man endowed with many bodies, and they worked in unison with admirable discipline.

The orders were spread from one to another with sobriety, as if they were carried by the wind and there was no need to fear an indiscretion, which his code punished with the penalty of life, and against his sentence there was no pardon. What that miracle of discipline had achieved was the influence of Don Antonio, the gentleman, the master, who was for them something full of superior, semi-divine prestige. None of them, enriched by luck, would have had that prestige. They submitted to him like a natural lord, whose simplicity they appreciated as a grace.

And it is that, in a society, dependent on agriculture with minimal water and very subject to seasonal inclemency, it is necessary to look for supplements to daily subsistence.

“The smuggling business could not be neglected. The drought years came one upon the other. The crops were poor, scarce; the entire farms were horriagaga and rolled, without curdling a single ear.

The animals were starving in the barren field, and the laborers could not find an esparto or a bud worth picking. Hunger was general throughout the province. People emigrated or went out through the mountains in search of roots to eat. Even in some regions, parties of bandits had been organized who went out to the road to strip passersby or assaulted the farms of well-off farmers.

Only that coastal strip from the Cape to the Mesa, where the influence of Don Antonio reigned, was free from misery. There they all had abundant money to buy flour, seeds, oil and potatoes and to provide for their needs ».

More in depth at:

- (1) Andújar Castillo, F. Díaz López, J. López Andrés, JM «Modern Almería. 16th-18th centuries. IEA. 1994. Pg. 94

- From Burgos, Carmen. "The flower of the beach and other short novels". Ed. Castalia. 1989.

- Gil Albarracín, A. «The battery of San Felipe de los Escullos». GBG. Almeria, 1994.

- (2) Provenzal, D. Molina, P. «Cortijeros y areneros. IEA. 1990.

- Tapia, JA General history of Almería and its province. (Volume IX: Moorish Almería). Ed. Savings Bank of Almería. 1990.