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Look Out :: Castillo de Santa Barbara

Friday December 14, 2007

Look Out :: Castillo de Santa Barbara

Historical Monument

The Castillo de Santa Barbara, which stands guard above Lanzarote's old capital Teguise, is widely regarded as one of the island's most important historic monuments. And is also home to Lanzarote's Pirate Museum, a fascinating permanent exhibition that charts the numerous incursions led by a range of pirates and marauders looking to plunder the island.

The Castillo de Santa Barbara is the oldest of Lanzarote's four remaining castles. And was originally built in 1586 as part of a wider Spanish strategy to fortify and militarise the Canary Islands against repeated incursions and invasions by pirates and privateers.

A watchtower had been strategically located on the same spot atop the extinct volcano of Mount Gaunapay since the 1450's. Providing an early warning system and a degree of sanctuary for the inhabitants below. Where the first official Spanish settlement in the Canaries had begun to blossom into a small town and functioning capital La Villa de Teguise.

Spain's discovery of the New World - and the resulting explosion in trade - began to focus the attention of monarchs, pirates and privateers from all over Europe and Africa on the Canaries. As these seven islands were a vital strategic staging post between the Americas and Europe.

Inca Silver and Gold

The prize was highly lucrative. As the Spanish sought to establish a trading monopoly with their new colonies in order to secure a virtually unlimited supply of Inca silver and gold. Enabling the Spanish Crown to in effect print their own money – so establishing Spain as the richest and most powerful nation state on the planet.

By the 1570's Spanish treasure fleets were regularly shuttling silver and gold back from the Americas via the Canaries. And other crown heads - such as Elizabeth I - were determined to disrupt and undermine this trade. Too weak to declare open warfare, the English, French and Dutch instead encouraged private vessels to harry and plunder the treasure fleets at every opportunity.

As a result Lanzarote came under seemingly constant attack throughout the latter half of the 16th century. As pirates and corsairs from both Europe and Africa queued up to attack the coastline and invade the island at will. Encouraged by weak defences and a small Spanish army garrison.

Amongst the most famous and prominent of these privateers was Sir Francis Drake. But his raids were preceded by some seriously savage attacks - such as the invasion of the island by the pirate Dogali - known as The Turk - who in 1571 plundered Teguise, besieged the watchtower where the inhabitants had sought refuge and finally left the island with 90 female and 25 male prisoners in tow.

As a result King Felipe II of Spain felt compelled to act and under the aegis of the island Governor, Don Agustin de Herrera, the current stone structure was created in 1586.

However, the new and improved Castillo was soon found wanting and its defensive weaknesses were cruelly exposed during a bloody siege staged by Morato Arraez in September 1586. Who attacked the castle three times, eventually forcing around 1,000 inhabitants hiding within to flee. An act that so enraged the corsair that he destroyed the new front battlements and left a trail of destruction across the island that plunged Lanzarote into poverty for decades to come.

As a result, King Felipe of Spain commissioned the Italian architect Torriani to rebuild the Castillo to its current state, a project that was finally completed in 1596.

By the latter half of the 20th century the Castillo had started to fall into disrepair despite enjoying protected status under Spanish Law since 1949. So in 1960 an association - Friends Of The Castle - was formed in order to carry out restoration work. A project that was continued by the Fine Arts Association in 1977 and finally fully completed by the Ayuntamiento of Teguise in 1989. With the Castillo re-opening in 1991 as the home of the Canarian Emigration Museum.

The Emigration Museum

The Emigration Museum told the story of - and why – many Lanzaroteños were forced to leave the island and seek out a new life in the Americas. A pattern that commenced in the 1500's and continued right through until the first half of the 20th century.

Exhibits and displays include old photographs, maps and documents - as well as models of the ships that the émigrés boarded at Arrecife harbour. The Museum was arranged across seven different rooms or chambers of the Castillo and storyboards in three languages helped to narrate the tale. Giving insight into the final destinations of the émigrés, many of whom made a new home in locations as diverse as Florida, Texas, Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina.

Most famously, Lanzaroteños founded the entire town of San Antonio in Texas - building the conurbation virtually from scratch and occupying important administrative positions such as the role of Mayor. An office first held in 1731 by Juan Leal Goraz, formerly a native of Teguise. Who had been forced to flee the island after the volcanic eruptions commenced on Lanzarote in 1730.

In 2010, the Emigration Museum was transformed into the Pirate Museum. 


Open: 10.00 - 17.00 Sunday to Monday (closed Saturday) 
Admission: Adults €3, Children €1.50
Parking: Free

How To Get There

The Castillo Santa Barbara is located just off the LZ-10, which runs from Tahiche up to and through Teguise. From Tahiche follow the road straight on through the roundabout outside Teguise and the entrance for the Castillo is around 200 metres further on your right hand side.

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