Ultimate Geocaching: Searching for Spanish Ghost Galleons in a World Heritage Site in Seville

by | Apr 7, 2016 | Europe, Seville Geocaching at Archivo de Indias, Spain | 0 comments

Blog Week 3

I did something on the blog site this week…..not good……the whole blog disappeared……vaporized in cyberspace.

If hackers can find the Panama Papers, surely someone could find my blog. Luckily, after being AWOL for 20 hours, the blog came back, just in time to post this week’s blog! Whew!

This week’s blog is two mini-blogs in one:
Part 1 is highlights of a walking tour of Seville
Part 2 is our visit to the World Heritage Site General Archive of the Indies

If I were not focused on visiting World Heritage Sites, I likely would have skipped the visit to the Archive. I am very glad that I did not skip it. I found the information about the Archive fascinating.

Part 1

Three Things to See on a Walking Tour of Seville …. and one thing to buy

We went to Seville to see three World Heritage Sites. We stayed because we loved the city. After getting hopelessly lost on our first day, we took a walking tour to help us get our bearings. We had a wonderful tour guide who was knowledgeable, interesting and funny. He showed us things that we would not have noticed on our own. Here are 3 highlights of the tour:

1.The First Fantasy Novel

Our first stop was outside the Crown Jail to see a statue of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. The statue was placed outside the jail because Cervantes wrote Don Quixote while he was imprisoned for financial wrongdoings.

Don Quixote is the first fantasy novel and one of the Great Books of the Western World. It was written over 400 years ago. The novel follows the quests of Don Quixote as he tilts at windmills, trying to undo wrongs and bring justice to the world. We still love fantasy adventure stories.

A Game of Thrones has sold more than 60 million copies. It is fitting that Seville is home to the original fantasy novel and a setting for A Game of Thrones television series.

2. Opera Alley

Our walk continued down ‘opera alley’ where plaques mark famous scenes from famous operas.

Over 100 operas are set in Seville, including:
Bizet’s Carmen;
Beethoven’s Fidelio;
Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Marriage of Figaro;
and of course,
Rossini’s Barber of Seville.

3. The Tempo of Flamenco is fast in Seville

Our guide took us on an interesting walk through the shopping district. (Any walk through a shopping district is interesting to me!). He pointed out stores that specialize in Flamenco costumes.

In 2010, UNESCO inscribed Flamenco on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Seville is the heartland of this distinctive artform. It reflects the exotic influences of Moors, Jews, Christians and Romanis. Flamenco dancing is popular all over the world, especially in Japan and the United States.

Souvenir Shopping

A trip to Seville would not be complete without buying a jar of Seville orange marmalade. Seville oranges are famous for their distinctive bitter peel. However, Seville orange marmalade is imported! Seville orange marmalade is made in Scotland.The Scots created the recipe for marmalade, using Seville oranges.

Orange trees are everywhere in Seville. I would like to return some spring for the orange blossom festival. Orange blossoms smell just heavenly.

Part 2

Ultimate Geocaching: Searching for Spanish Ghost Galleons in a World Heritage Site

Everyone dreams of finding a long lost treasure….a priceless painting at a garage sale; a classic car in an old barn; gold coins unearthed in the back yard.

Finding a sunken Spanish ghost galleon is the Holy Grail for dedicated treasure hunters. There are hundreds of lost galleons off the coast of Florida, filled with legendary fortunes in gold, silver and precious gems. The tricky part is finding the galleons, buried by centuries of shifting sands in thousands of nautical miles of ocean. A treasure hunt for one of these underwater caches does not start with a boat, dragging a metal detector around the coast of Florida. It starts in Seville, in the old city square, in The General Archive of the Indies.

There is no gold in the Archive, just documents.

The Archive is a World Heritage Site because it houses every document that chronicles Spain’s vast colonial empire.

Would you set sail to parts unknown in a wooden ship with nothing more than this map?

The walls of the Archive are decorated with maps used by Conquistadores to sail to the Americas.

We visited the Archive after our wondrous tour of the Alcazar. We just had to walk across the square from one World Heritage Site to another.

Treasure hunters scour original documents in the Archive for clues to the location of Spanish shipwrecks. This is not an easy task. There are 8 kilometers of shelving, with millions of almost illegible pages of handwritten scrawl, in old Spanish.

We pulled some of the boxes off the shelves to have a look. They were empty! You need to make a request to see the real thing.

As you can see from the picture, the Archive was empty. There were no treasure hunters to be seen on the day that we visited.

Searching for Spanish Ghost Galleons

The most famous treasure hunt was for the Spanish Ghost Galleon, Atocha, shipwrecked off the Florida Keys in 1622. Its treasure of gold, silver and Columbian emeralds was so immense that it took two months to load the ship. Two days after it set sail, the Atocha was caught in a monstrous hurricane. It sank instantly, pulled into the abyss by the weight of it precious cargo. Salvage attempts began immediately but a second hurricane obliterated all traces of the Atocha.

Spain spent 10 years searching for the Atocha before abandoning its attempts to find the elusive fortune.

Every surviving scrap of evidence about the Atocha is in the Archive.

The Atocha Motherlode….

40 tons of gold and silver,

worth $450 million!

Jacque Cousteau’s invention of Scuba gear created a new breed of real-life Sea Hunt scuba divers. They realized that this new technology opened vast new opportunities to search for Spanish shipwrecks.

American chicken-farmer-turned-treasure-hunter, Mel Fisher, spent 16 years hunting for the Atocha. He travelled to Seville and hired a translator and a doctoral student to navigate the miles of documents in the Archives with nothing more than a faint hope that they could unearth valuable clues missed by other treasure hunters. Painstaking inspection of documents and maps offered a few tantalizing ideas on new search areas. Competing treasure hunters were also pouring over thousands of documents in the Archive, racing to create a treasure map that would pinpoint the location of the famous Ghost Galleon.

Fisher’s team got there first. In 1985, he found “The Atocha Motherlode”…. 40 tons of gold and silver, worth $450 million! This is only half of the treasure on the Atocha. The most valuable part, stored in the stern castle, is still missing. We loved our visit to the Archive.

Sadly, we did not see any bounty from Ghost Galleons. These pictures of the treasure recovered from the Atocha can be found at http://www.melfisher.com/default.html

Finders Keepers

If you quit your day job to hunt for Spanish ghost galleons, there are new legal hurdles to overcome before you can claim “Finders Keepers.” Fisher fought an 8-year legal battle with the State of Florida over rights to the booty from the Atocha. He ultimately prevailed.

The outcome might be different today. Spain has renewed its interest in claiming ownership of sunken treasures. Spain successfully sued an American team that discovered and recovered a treasure worth $500 million from a Spanish frigate that sank off Portugal. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the treasure to be returned to Spain.

In a new legal battle, Spain has served notice that it claims ownership of 700 tons of treasure discovered by an American team on a Spanish galleon that sank off the coast of Panama. Countries are becoming more sensitive to the destruction of heritage when private companies are granted permits to plunder sunken treasures for private gain.

In 2001, UNESCO moved to protect shipwrecks under a new convention for the protection of underwater heritage. Canada and the United States are not signatories to this convention. In our visit to the World Heritage General Archive of the Indies, we discovered a fascinating tale of modern-day pirates who are fighting to keep a treasure trove of gold and silver. The only certain outcome is that all the lawyers will get rich.

Farewell to Seville

The great thing about in-the-moment travel is that you can stay in a place if you like it. Our impromptu decision to stay in Seville was wonderful. The problem became hotel space. The city was booked! Luckily, each hotel where we stayed found us a place to move on to. We stayed in three very different hotels. We stayed in a small, quaint room; a two-level, two bedroom/bathroom suite; and a  large 2 bedroom condo with a washer and dryer!!!!; This taster’s menu of hotels was fun. We saw different areas of the city and we discovered that a two-bedroom suite is really lovely!

Each neighbourhood has its  own distinctive feeling. All were fun. For many, the day begins at sunset with endless choices of bars and restaurants. I took this farewell shot of Seville on my phone at night. It is not a great photo but it is a great souvenir.



Please come back next Friday where we ham it up in Madrid for our final destination in  Spain

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at BoomerVoice.ca
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray