Currently The Pirate Museum is closed while the castle undergoes refurbishment. We’ll update here as soon as it re-opens. August 2020.
The Pirate Museum or Museo de la Piratería is situated within the Santa Bárbara castle perched on the top of mount Guanapay in Teguise, the old capital of Lanzarote.
The position of the Canary Islands made them a popular stop over for ships passing to and from the Americas, who would replenish their fresh food supplies and drinking water at one of the seven islands, this in turn made them an attractive hunting ground for pirates during the 15th, 16th and 17th century.
La Villa de Teguise is one of the oldest villages in the Canary Islands, founded by Maciot de Bethencourt in 1418. The village was named in honour of Teguise who was the daughter of the aboriginal king who had married Maciot. Beneath the village remains have been found from La Gran Aldea, the settlement of the first inhabitants of Lanzarote. Teguise was often targeted by visiting pirates, there is a street that can be found today called Callejón de la Sangre at the back of the church Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe which was named in reference to the blood that flowed down the cobbled street following a particularly violent pirate invasion. The pirate museum tells the stories of the attacks and the pirates.
The first pirate attack was originated by the Portuguese in the 15th century, a fleet under the command of Enrique of Portugal in 1450, which was followed by Diogo da Silva at Rubicón in 1466.
Lanzarote was the subject of many pirate attacks during the second half of 16th century. The French pirate “Le Clerc” plundered the capital of Teguise in 1551 under the command of “Cachidiablo” who was the son of a French buccaneer. Eighteen years later in 1569 Teguise was again the target of the North African pirate Calafat who arrived in Arrecife with ten ships and 600 crew, they ransacked the island over the course of a month and left with 200 Lanzaroteños taken for slavery. Another North African pirate Dogali “El Turquillo” landed in Arrecife during 1571, they too made it up to Teguise where they ransacked the town and set fire to the parish church. It was the turn of the French in 1581 when Le Testu and La Motte brought a fleet to ransack the island. Morato Arráez from Algeria targeted Teguise in 1586, fierce battles broke out between the locals and the pirates. English pirate William Harper attacked a Portuguese ship harbouring in Arrecife in 1593 before landing in the port of Las Coloradas in the South of the island where he destroyed the church of San Marcial del Rubicón. Another British privateer George Clifford who was the Duke of Cumberland anchored in Arrecife whilst passing through on an expedition to the West Indies, they attacked the castle of Santa Bárbara in Teguise to steal the cannons as well as the bells from the parish church.
Walter Raleigh arrived in Lanzarote in 1617, looting the island and taking drinking water. The largest attack during the 17th century was in 1618 by Tabac Arráez and Soliman who brought a fleet of 36 ships and 4,000 men. They stole the virgin from the church Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Teguise as well as 900 hostages which was one of the most important kidnappings during the pirate attacks in the Canary Island archipelago. The port of Las Coloradas was the target for two Algerian ships in 1749, the pirates claimed the tower Torre de San Marcial, burnt down the church and ransacked the town of Femés.
The castle of Santa Bárbara is fascinating, the views are incredible and it’s easy to see why the position was chosen, primarily as a look out tower before an extension was added to give safe shelter to the locals during an attack. It’s not expensive to visit the pirate museum, adults cost €3.00 and children €1.80 there is a wealth of information available throughout the castle’s rooms with video, information screens and posters explaining the history of the pirates within the Canary Islands.
The pirate museum is open 7 days a week so a visit here can be combined with a trip to the Sunday market in Teguise or whilst exploring the island of Lanzarote. Take the turning off the main road from Teguise to Haría where signposted to follow the small winding road up to the top of Guanapay.
More reading: Ten things to do with kids in Lanzarote.