Atocha Shipwreck Facts: Spanish treasure galleon’s history and significance

Atocha Shipwreck: The Spanish Navy owned the treasure galleon known as Nuestra Señora de Atocha. It was essential to the transportation of supplies and valuables from the New World to Spain, which helped the latter become the most powerful country in Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries.

The ship Atocha was not just any ship; it was the Spanish Treasure Fleet’s almiranta, or rear guard ship, from 1622. It followed other fleet vessels in order to avert a rear-attack. That’s why Atocha had a lot of weapons.

On September 6, 1622, the fleet departed Havana bearing treasures and encountered a hurricane. Out of the 28 ships in the fleet, eight were lost and eventually sunk on the reef that lay between the Dry Tortugas and the Key West.

Said to hold one of the richest treasures, the Atocha Shipwreck was discovered in 1985 and produced priceless discoveries.

Discover ten fascinating facts about the Atocha Shipwreck by reading on.

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1. The Spanish Crown ordered the construction of Atocha

Atocha, a 550-ton vessel with a length of 112 feet, a beam of 34 feet, and a draft of 14 feet, was constructed in 1620 for the Spanish Crown. She had a lateen-rigged mizzenmast and a square-rigged fore and mainmast.

The ship resembled a typical Spanish Navy galleon from the 17th century, with its low waist, high forecastle, and high sterncastle, though definitive records are lacking.

2. The Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Atocha is named after a church

One of the six basilica churches in Madrid is the Royal Basilica of Our Lady of Atocha, commonly known as Real Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Atocha.

It has a lengthy history and was reconstructed in the Neo-Byzantine style in the 1890s. It suffered once more in the Spanish Civil War and was rebuilt in 1951.

3. Atocha Sank following a hurricane

Atocha Sank following a hurricane

delayed in Veracruz before she could travel to Havana to meet the Tierra Firme or Mainland Fleet vessels. The ship intended to return to Spain with this enormous riches.

The Treasure arrived in Panama City atop mules. Before the valuable objects could be placed onto the Atocha, a thorough recording of them took two months.

Nevertheless, the fleet encountered difficulties in Havana, and the 28-ship convoy could finally set sail for Spain on September 4, 1622—six weeks later than planned. There were crew members, passengers, soldiers, supplies, and valuables from South American territories on board every vessel in the convoy.

Just the Atocha transported goods valued between $250 and $500 million. It contained silver from Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico; gold and emeralds from Colombia; pearls from Venezuela; jewelry; bronze cannons; tobacco, etc.

In the Florida Straits, the convoy encountered a strong hurricane on the second day of its journey. Eight ships had sunk by the morning of September 6, and what was left of them was dispersed from Marques Key to Dry Tortugas.

Except two slaves and three sailors, all 265 passengers and crew members of the Atocha perished. The ship and all of its treasure vanished beneath the surface while it was around 140 kilometers away from Havana.

4. The captain of the García de Nodal expedition

King Philip III of Spain organized this expedition in 1619 to investigate the route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by circumnavigating Cape Horn to the south of Tierra del Fuego, a region that Dutch explorers later discovered.

With no casualties, the trip was a success and met its objectives. Since there was a way from the Atlantic to the Pacific that avoided the Strait of Magellan, it was a significant voyage for Spain.

It changed how Spain administered its southernmost American provinces, which were already being unsettled by Drake’s appearance in the Pacific in 1578.

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The brothers Bartolomé and Gonzalo García de Nodal conducted this mission. They left Lisbon, Portugal, in 1618 and travelled west over the Strait of Magellan before crossing the Atlantic and arriving back in safety in July 1619 in Spain.

5. Salvage operations started with Indian slaves and lasted for a long time

Atocha Shipwreck

The navy ships that withstood the hurricane returned the terrible news to Havana. The authorities sent out five more ships to recover the Atocha and Santa Margarita. The former was submerged in around 17 meters of water, making it challenging for divers to retrieve the guns or cargo.

On October 5 of that same year, there was another hurricane, which made salvage much riskier and more difficult because the strong winds and waves further dispersed the ship’s debris.

But the Spaniards were unwavering in their resolve, and over a lengthy time, they carried out salvage operations with the help of Indian slaves, recovering about half of the Santa Margarita’s registered cargo.

They made use of a massive glass-windowed brass diving bell. Once a slave discovered something, men on the decks would drag him to the surface from the bottom.

A great deal of enslaved individuals died using this risky strategy. The captains of the salvage vessels listed the deceased slaves as a business expense.

6. Spain suffered a huge financial loss

Spain felt the effects of the hurricane that claimed the 1622 fleet. It made the Spanish Crown’s participation in the Thirty Years War financially dependent.

Even so, Spain had to sell a lot of galleons to raise money. Over ten years, the Spanish made great efforts to retrieve as much treasure as they could from the Santa Margarita. But despite 60 years of searching, they were never able to locate the Atocha.

7. On July 20, 1985, the Atocha Shipwreck was discovered

Atocha Shipwreck

From 1969 on, treasure hunters Mel Fisher, Finley Richard, and their group—funded by their investors and others in a joint company known as Treasure Salvors, Inc.—set out to find the Atocha.

Fisher discovered pieces of the sinking cargo ship Santa Margarita in 1970 after nearly 17 years of searching for Atocha.

Professionals in the field weren’t convinced because, absent finding the Atocha, they would only be paid minimum wage for this hazardous diving work.

In 1973, a significant portion of the Atocha’s cargo, including gold, emeralds, and silver, was discovered. A radio message from Fisher’s son Kane reached Treasure Salvors headquarters off Florida’s coast.

The discovered coins, both silver and gold, were struck between 1598 and 1621. Some experts have, however, proposed earlier dates for the same.

Experts deduced that the rare Muzo emeralds and the sterncastle, the portion of Atocha that contained the majority of its riches, were still gone from the shipwreck. These and other valuables were most likely stored for safekeeping in the captain’s cabin.

8. A Court Case

The State of Florida requested that the wealth Salvors give the state 25% of the recovered wealth after it was discovered. The Treasure Salvors battled the State and ascended to claim the treasures as their own.

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After eight years, the United States Supreme Court decided in favor of the Treasure Salvors, granting them ownership rights to the loot discovered inside the ship. In 1998, Fisher passed away.

9. The 2 most costly things

2011 saw the recovery by Treasure Salvors divers of a stunning emerald ring allegedly from the Atocha Shipwreck. This ring was a unique and valuable discovery from the Atocha Shipwreck; its estimated value was $500,000.

Found 35 miles out from Key West was the ring. Along with other artifacts, two silver spoons were found.

The money chain is another uncommon object discovered in the Atocha Shipwreck. It was a waist-length chain made of the purest gold. When Mel Fisher made an appearance on Johny Carson’s “The Tonight Show,” he wore it.

It is estimated that the gold chain is worth at least $100,000. The majority of the Atocha treasure can really be seen at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida, as the collection was not sold after Fisher’s passing.

10. Named the world’s most valuable shipwreck in 2014

It was thought that Atocha’s cargo was worth approximately $400 million. It contained 1200 pounds of silverware, 125 gold bars, coins, ingots, and 24 tons of silver bullion.

Other historically significant objects were also discovered, including 20 bronze cannons, artifacts from Native Americans, and antique navigational tools.

Because Nuestra Senora de Atocha was carrying about 40 tons of gold and silver and 32 kg of emeralds, the majority of which is still missing, it was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2014 as the most valuable shipwreck ever discovered.

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