As you enter the town of La Herradura, you will notice a large bronze sculpture along the beach. This is the Monument to Shipwrecked Sailors. The deep bay of La Herradura hides the remains of 25 ships of the Spanish Navy, and more than five thousand sailors. The La Herradura naval disaster occurred on October 19, 1562, due to a very large storm.
The monument to Shipwrecked Sailors is located along the main beach road at the corner of Andrés Segovia and Paseo Marítimo (the intersection where you exit town).
On October 18, 28 galleys, loaded with supplies, soldiers and their families set sail under command of Don Juan Hurtado de Mendoza y Carrillo, Captain General of the Galleys of Spain. Mendoza was one of the most experienced sailors of the time; serving the reign of Felipe II, who at the time deemed control of the Mediterranean as paramount in his conquest of the rising threat of the Turkish empire.
A strong easterly storm took the fleet by surprise, so Mendoza decided to take cover in the deep La Herradura Bay. This is a horseshoe-shaped bay, opening towards the south-west. But on the morning of October 19, the storm unexpectedly returned, now blowing from the south. This trapped ships and caused them to be thrown onto each other, as well as being thrust against the rocks.
25 of the 28 galleys sank and between nearly 5000 people died, the 3 ships which survived, La Soberana, Mendoza and San Juan, sought refuge at the cove of Los Berengueles. The others remained at the bottom of the sea, next to the thousands of sailors. Some 2000 people rescued themselves by swimming towards the coast. Many of them were galley slaves because they were lightly dressed and well-trained.
This was a true disaster for the Spanish Navy, which had just suffered a terrible defeat in the Battle of Djerba. Nevertheless, Oran and Mers El Kébir were successfully defended against the Ottomans.
With so many dead, this tragic event became one of the most famous shipwrecks suffered by the Spanish kingdom. So much so that it was even mentioned by Miguel de Cervantes in his novel Don Quixote – “… who was daughter of Don Alonso de Marañón, gentleman of the town of Santiago, who drowned at La Herradura…”
The present location of the shipwreck is an absolute mystery; and to locate part of it still remains many a visiting divers dream. During old history never have so many ships sunk in such a small area, but with more than four and half centuries of shifting, changing sea currents the fleet’s treasures remain hidden.
- More detail in Spanish about the shipwrecks – Naufrágio en La Herradura
- Here is an article about divers in the area of the shipwrecks.
This sculpture was created by the contemporary artist Miguel Moreno Romera. You will see more of his works along the Paseo del Altillo with the monument to Phoenicians, as well as the monument to Water, near the central bus station in Almuñécar.