History of Cies Islands in Spain
The Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic men were on Cíes Islands, but there was not a settlement as such until the Bronze Age. From this period, tools have been found which can be attributed to the Mesolithic period (c. 10,000 years ago), but traces of later prehistoric periods (Neolithic and Chalcolithic) have not been found yet. From the Bronze Age, the fortified Iron Age settlement of “As Hortas”, located on the western slope of Monte Faro, stands out. There are references to structures in Alto da Campá, which are yet to be verified.
“As Hortas” is a fortified Iron Age and Roman settlement, classed as such due to the structures and remains found. This place has a series of natural shelters, the “Altar Druídico” being especially relevant, having been interpreted by many as an altar to offer sacrifices to the gods.
There is clear evidence that the Roman civilization was on Cíes Islands, or “the Islands of the Gods”, as the Romans themselves called them. Roman remains, similar to “As Hortas” settlement, have been found on the southern islands, along with ceramics and even a gold ring which dates from the 2nd century AD. These suggest that a settlement or a surveillance post for the merchant ships, yet unverified, existed on these islands, called Siccas Islands by Pliny.
The legend describing how Julius Caesar fought the Celtic tribes that sheltered in these lands is also set in this natural paradise. However, the unbeatable general was incapable of defeating the fierceness of this nation with weapons, and so he had to conquer them with siege and hunger.
In 899 AD, the King Alfonso III donated the Islands to the Church, and the monks who settled there controlled and administrated the small village built on them. The convents were transferred to the Benedictine order in 1152 and to the Franciscan order in 1377. These new religious communities stayed on the islands until the middle of the16th century.
During this period, Cíes Islands were used as fishing grounds or as shelter for foreign vessels. These new invasions by Turkish, Tunisian and British men respected the islanders to a great extent, except for the infamous pirate Francis Drake, who was cruel and merciless with Vigo Bay and destroyed Cíes.
In 1702, the Battle of Rande, between the Franco-Spanish and the Anglo-Dutch fleets, took place in this Bay. Following the victory of the latter, many legends have been told about the treasures that are still locked inside the wrecked vessels under the waters surrounding the islands.
Today, Cíes Islands are a part of the Galician Atlantic Islands Maritime-Terrestrial National Park. This is the second tourist destination with the most visits in this autonomous region, after the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Until the middle of the 20th century, Cíes Islands were inhabited by quite a few families, who gradually abandoned them due to the limited means and resources in the surroundings.
In the last few decades, the tourist visits have increased exponentially. Today, the islands are the second tourist destination in Galicia, after the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.