Until about 1500 the Mediterranean Sea was ruled by pirates from maritime countries like France, Italy, and from as far away as Britain. Subsequently, during Ottoman rule in Spain, pirates from Algeria and Turkey known as Berbers were the predominant predators who attacked settlements along the coast. Even inland villages were vulnerable to the threat of pirates seeking food, treasure and slaves to row their galleys or to be sold for profit.
King Phillip VII, who ruled Spain in the early 1600’s, took a radical step to reduce the threat of pirates. Believing that Moorish descendants of the Ottoman days in Spain were sympathetic and perhaps even helpful to the Berber pirates, the king ordered their expulsion from Spain. Over 500,000 ‘moriscos’ were shipped to North Africa. Many of them became slaves. Some, either out of desperation or revenge, joined with the pirates. As a result, King Phillip was forced to take defensive measures.
Army engineers were tasked with building a coastal defense against marauding pirates. This defense was a series of coastal and inland watchtowers from the French border in the north to the south coast city of Cádiz. The towers were built on coast rocks, cliff tops or elevated platforms. Most were circular in shape evoking the image of a classic rook piece on a chessboard. A removable staircase was often used to access an elevated entry door so that it could be removed in the event of an attack. Guards who spotted threats would ignite a fire atop the tower which could be seen from a neighboring tower. It is believed that a warning from Cádiz west of Gibraltar could be relayed to the French border within three hours over a distance of 1,000 miles. Some towers were armed with artillery cannons. Many had shelter spaces for farmers or fisherman from nearby to seek refuge.
Many of the towers in the Alicante Region have survived over 400 years and remain as historic landmarks open to the public. One such tower was built in the center of what is now Torrevieja, which translated means Old Tower. The original tower was destroyed by an earthquake. The only remaining tower in Torrevieja is the Torre del Moro located on the coast just north of the city center. This area was once a minor fishing village which grew with the development of a huge salt industry. Vast evaporation lagoons are still used to produce tons of salt annually for shipment around the world.
One of the signature souvenir pieces representing Torrevieja are salt ships. These models are prized gifts given to visiting dignitaries or as wedding presents. Other popular landmarks such as the Coralista Monument or one of the town’s signature cathedrals are also popular salt models. Many models are displayed in Torrevieja’s Museum of Salt located in the city center.
The salt museum near the colorful sea walk is one of the many attractions that make Torrevieja a popular vacation spot on Spain’s Costa Blanca. Even though spring has not officially arrived, spring-like weather during the winter months explains the town’s great appeal, especially among the many northern Europeans we have seen.
Many apartments still look sealed up for the winter, so I expect the beaches will soon be more crowded. In the meantime, we are enjoying the peace and quiet or our urban apartment. Given the number of friends and family dealing with this winter’s bitter cold, we feel duty bound to make the most of the many sunny days here. It seems that is the least we can do.
All photos copyrighted by Florence Lince unless otherwise indicated.