Fuerteventura Pirates

Fortress to protect the island from pirates, slave traders and raiders

An Article By Bernie Power with The Voice

Bernie Power

When sitting on the beach and looking out over the ocean, it is not hard to imagine huge sailing ships and swashbuckling pirates rampaging on our shores.

Not all pirates look like Johnny Depp of course and the term ‘pirate’ actually means sea raider in many languages. The first mention of pirates comes from the 14th century B.C. and the sea-people who raided the waters around Egypt at that time. But there are many mentions of pirates throughout the centuries. Julius Caesar was abducted by pirates in 75 B.C. and ransomed, as was St. Patrick in 600 A.D.

Sea Raiders

Piracy has been a worldwide scourge since the earliest sailors left port, bound for distant lands. The early people of Fuerteventura, known as the Mahos, were on alert for sea raiders for a thousand years, constantly watching out for raids from slavers who patrolled the islands and whose only wealth was its people, who were said to be tall and fair haired. 

Following the wars with Spain and the eviction the moors of North Africa, the Barbary pirates grouped together and began plundering Christian shipping off the coasts of Spain, Italy and the islands of the Mediterranean, in what was essentially a holy war. Ships and cargoes were taken, as well as whole towns being enslaved as far away as Ireland and Scandinavia. In the 1600’s the French encouraged the Barbary pirates to attack their enemy, Spain. And then later, Holland and Britain used also used them, but this time against the French!

Mortelmans Artist Impression of a Barbary Pirate

Caleta De Fuste 

The craft they preferred was a galley type ship, which was highly manoeuvrable with oars and sails, and was able to enter shallow bays in order to prepare to attack. These kinds of ships were called a ‘Fusta’ or ‘Fuste’ and for many years, the remains of one of these ships laid in the bay on the east coast, and is the reason that Caleta de Fuste is so called today, as its means Fuste cove or bay. The legend says that it ran a ground and sank. It had a big crew, who were rescued, but the hull of the ship remained where it sank, until recent history. 

Dangerous Waters

The whole coast of Northern Africa, from Libya to Morocco, was their domain. They had the freedom of the Mediterranean and beyond and caused havoc with trade. They also had many fortified towns to hide away in. Things got worse and the surrounding seas got more and more dangerous. During the many European wars of the 1700’s, both France and Britain allowed mercenary sailors to attack Spanish shipping and coastal ports. They were called ‘privateers’ but were just legal pirates really.

ocean fortification in Caleta de Fuste. Canary Island Fuerteventura, Spain


By the 1740’s, war was again raging with Spain and the towers in El Cotillo and Caleta were built for protection. British-backed privateers invaded Gran Tarajal in 1740 and were repelled twice and brutally slaughtered. This battle is celebrated every year with a re-enactment by the local people and is a colourful occasion now. But, the Barbary coast continued to be a threat until the new American nation was attacked after losing Britain’s security. From 1784 they constantly attacked the helpless Americans, taking thousands of civilians as slaves, demanding millions of dollars in tribute bribes and breaking treaties.

This continued for many years, until the U.S.A, with its new navy, joined other European powers and destroyed the threat completely in the two Barbary wars of 1805 and 1815. They destroyed many of the fortifications they had and finally they stopped. So from the very earliest times, the sea would bring a threat and danger to the island. And remember, Pirates don’t always say argghhhh!