St. Simón Island in Galicia, Spain, has inspired everyone from the famous novelist Jules Verne to legendary pirates such as Sir Francis Drake, and it has served many roles throughout the centuries. Today, you can visit the island and soak up the history.
St. Simón Island is joined by its neighbour St. Anton Island by a short bridge. The islands are small, beautiful, and they have been inhabited since the 5th century. You can find them in the Bay of Vigo, and this makes them perfect for a day out.
St. Simón Island is an archipelago comprising of four islands, the most interesting of which is the island of the same name, St. Simón.
The History of St. Simón Island
St. Simón Island history is fascinating and has become the stuff of legend. It the 12th century the Knights Templar established a monastery here, and the islands were used by those that desired solitude and escape.
All of this came to an abrupt end when Sir Francis Drake’s pirating activities began. Some as a privateer with a royal charter and some for his own gain started in the 16th century. Primarily, Drake was after the gold-laden Spanish galleons, but onshore raids were also to his taste.
The St. Simón Island and archipelago were easy pickings for Drake. The closeness to the Atlantic and to England, allowed Drake to raid the islands and escape quickly. This led to many of the Spanish people to leave the island for the safety of mainland Spain. In one raid, the monastery was burnt down.
In the 1700s, the Battle of Vigo took place as part of the War of Spanish Succession. The monastery that was burnt down by Drake had been rebuilt by this time. Sadly, it would be destroyed once more in the battle. As well as the monastery being a casualty of war, several Spanish galleons were sunk, some laden with gold. This treasure has never been recovered.
It wouldn’t be until a century later when the islands would once again regain purpose. Given its separation from the mainland, St. Anton was the perfect place to quarantine people suspected of carrying leprosy. Primarily, people from the Americas would be quarantined here.
This leper colony made Vigo an important Spanish port on the Atlantic coast, and the city developed.
Jules Verne was inspired by St. Simón Island and wrote ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ in 1870.
During the Spanish civil war, St. Simón Island made for the perfect prison and soon it started to fill up with Republican POWs. Later in 1948, St. Simón became a summer retreat for Franco’s personal guard. It would be abandoned once more, however, when two years later, the boat that carried them sank resulting in 43 deaths.
Up until 1963, it would be used as a shelter for orphaned children, whose parents were lost at sea.
Realising the archipelago’s potential and to offer visitors and locals a fascinating glimpse into the history, the islands underwent a refurbishment. This included cultural events, conference centres and exhibitions.
St. Simón Island is a wonderful place to visit on any visit to Galicia. Many combine their stay in the great city of Vigo with a visit to the islands. Other attractions such as the Cíes Islands can also be reached from Vigo.