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Pirates and corsairs
Torre dels Perpinyà

From the 12th century until the 18th, our coasts suffered attacks from pirate and corsair ships. Throughout these times, these figures who so terrified our population left a perceptible mark in the popular memory (in the form of legends and folk tales), architecture (watchtowers) and territorial planning (the locations of the villages).

The pirates operated on their own account: nowadays we could say that they ran an illegal private enterprise that indiscriminately attacked whoever it wanted. Anyone who had a ship and a taste for committing robberies, abductions and other criminal deeds was a pirate. In contrast, the corsairs operated in the same way but with the acquiescence of the government of a country.

The list of raids perpetrated along our coasts is very long. The pirates were mainly after wealth and captives (to hold to ransom or to use as slaves), but sadly they were more notorious for the trail of death and destruction they left in their wake.

This is why many of our coastal towns are situated a few kilometres inland, to provide a refuge or give time to mount a defence (notable examples are Torroella de Montgrí, Palafrugell and Calonge). In the 16th and 17th centuries, as an element of safeguard from these raids, many watchtowers (or Torres de Moro, ‘Moor towers’) were built along our coastline. They served to detect the approach of ships on the horizon, and by means of signals and messengers, warnings of raids could be sent to the inhabitants of the villages or farms. Many farms situated close to the sea were fortified, and towers were built to shelter the occupants and their valuables during the attack.

The abduction of men, women and children for ransom was a very lucrative business for the raiders. The documents of the period are full of references to ransom operations. For this reason, the Church and the feudal lords allowed alms to be collected publicly to raise funds to release the prisoners, and so to assist poor families whose subsistence economies could not pay a ransom. If the ransom was not forthcoming, the captives would be sold as slaves in the markets of North Africa, Turkey or even Europe itself.

Nowadays these watchtowers embellish the architecture of our coastline, but in particular they stand as a reminder of the sufferings of the poor people of the area.


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