One night in which the sea was unleashing its wrath, 423 years ago this November, residents of the coastal towns of Galicia and Asturias busied themselves with lighting bonfires on the cliffs to guide one of the proudest galleons to a shelter. of the Crown.
San Giacomo di Galizia
-a fearsome war machine at the service of Felipe II's fleet, his new version of the Invincible Armada- returned to land badly wounded after defeating two Dutch ships and one English with whom he had been encountered and engaged in combat.
On the 13th, already taking refuge in the Ribadeo estuary, that ship built in Naples with oaks from Mount Gargano, the spur of Italy's boot, sank, probably anchored on a sandbar when the tide rose.
It was submerged so shallow that its captain, Giacomo di Polo, told the king that he would use the pieces in the air to build another smaller ship.
But most of the 34-meter-long, 1,200-ton galleon, with its lead-protected hull and tar-waterproofed decks, was underwater and was forgotten.
Until in 2011, the filter of the suction tube of some dredging tasks in the access channel to the port of Lugo clogged with a collection of unexpected objects: an old wooden section, cannon shells made of stone and a sheet of lead .
Miguel San Claudio, from the Archeonauta company from A Coruña, carried out the archaeological control of those technical works to increase the depth of the estuary and now directs, since 2018, the excavations that each year make him return to the wreck.
Last Friday, against pandemic and tide, the third campaign concluded, in a project supported by the Xunta de Galicia, the Higher Council for Scientific Research and the Institute of Nautical Archeology of Texas, the main institution in the world dedicated to underwater archeology .
Until next season, the
Giacomo di Galizia
Santiago de Galicia
will be protected from erosion by a special mesh that fixes the sediments that surround the ship.
It is necessary to avoid at all costs that “the currents, the sun and the xylophages” continue to deteriorate this jewel from the 16th century, explains San Claudio, because it is “the best known specimen of a Spanish fighting galleon and the only one excavated”.
”, he says, “is already known as the Atapuerca of Spanish maritime archeology”.
It is not that great treasures are expected to be found in its entrails, because the crew (saved from the shipwreck) came to rescue weapons and some 91,000 ducats that it transported.
But the submerged galleon was, according to the archaeologist, a "thoroughbred" designed for naval warfare, built in the context of the conflict that confronted Spain with England (1585-1604) for control of the sea.
Its importance lies in its state of conservation, unique among the known war galleons in the world, and in the information it can provide on its engineering.
The valuable wreck is in an area of "strong currents" at times of rise and fall of the tides, so the archaeologists of the San Claudio team can only work immersed for three hours a day, and also, games: "one thirty in the morning and one thirty in the afternoon ”, explains the researcher.
In the half-month expedition that has just ended (although there are now months of analysis and study on land), it was certified that this elite vessel is split from bow to stern on the port side and that, in addition to the hull structure , a “fairly long” section of the cover corresponding to the main battery is preserved.
This part was located below the waterline and was waterproofed to avoid sinking if the galleon was hit by enemy fire.
Among the objects that have been recovered in this campaign and that in principle will end up in the Museo do Mar de Galicia (Vigo), is a naval gun carriage or wooden cart for the cannons, the first to be recovered from a wreck in national waters.
Also noteworthy are the numerous bolaños or stone projectiles that were fired at close range, a “very Mediterranean” tactic and almost a hallmark of Spanish warships at that time.
"The enemies avoided approaching the Spanish galleons at all costs because they knew that if one of these balls hit their hull they would be lost", illustrates Miguel San Claudio.
Their destructive capacity was far superior to iron bullets, but they weighed much more and would not reach their target if fired from afar.
In summer, during some supervision work by Navy divers, a 16th century jug and a great surprise also appeared in the area of the site: a Greek amphora dating from the 6th century BC that had nothing to do with the ship and that, according to its discoverers, could be the oldest object rescued from the sea in the north of the peninsula.
The Spanish galleon is two meters longer than that
of Henry VIII's
, a symbol of the power of England, sunk in 1545, which unlike the
was floated and today attracts tourists from all over the world to Portsmouth.
The Ribadeo wreck "could also be extracted if there was will and the necessary means were put in place", acknowledges the director of the excavation, "but it would be necessary to be very clear about the reason" for which it is wanted to recover.
A Ragusan shipowner and a Neapolitan shipyard
The ship was built seven years before sinking in the shipyards of Castellammare de Stabia (Naples) on behalf of a shipowner from Ragusa (Dubrovnik) who collaborated with the Spanish Crown in exchange for protection and benefits.
"The outsourcing of services is not something new;
then it already existed ”, explains the underwater archaeologist.
The shipowner was in charge not only of making a dozen boats available to the Navy, but also of equipping them with their equipment and crew.
San Giacomo di Galizia
, with all the advances of the time and all the baggage of what was learned after the disaster of the Invincible Armada of 1588, care was taken.
The hull wood, all of it oak from Gargano and Albania (only some interior parts are conifer), was 12 centimeters thick, twice the usual thickness.
In 1596, the English sacked Cádiz, and the Royal Navy of Felipe II redoubled efforts since then.
The offensive that became the last voyage of the
from the coast of A Coruña consisted of more than 130 ships and more than 12,000 men, but before it ran into the British ships a strong storm dispersed the fleet.
On returning to Spain, the galleon defeated three foreign vessels in a skirmish but was hit.
Captain Di Polo wrote a letter to the king in which he attributed the sinking to the “bad government of his commanders.” Supposedly he blamed the officers who at the time the ship “gave way” were on guard duty and made wrong decisions. The investigators believe that, when it had already found refuge and was anchored off Ribadeo, the tide rose and it dragged the anchors, which were caught on a sandbar, and as the draft increased, the chains that held them were too short. That event must have been dreamed of, but the sea and the centuries came to erase it completely from the collective memory of the Ribadenses. Miguel San Claudio says that history repeats itself in each shipwreck: “experience says that after one hundred or one hundred and for years these events are forgotten ”.