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G - 189 : Bankers are good - Galleys are better

There are two reasons behind the meteoric rise of Genoa as first global financial centre. We talked about the first in the last blog: Spain needed skilled bankers to handle the massive inflow of gold and silver from Latin America. Spain did not have bankers anymore after it expulsed the Jewish community in 1492.

View of Genoa 17th Century - the magnificent Renaissance Palaces are not built yet


The second reason, less often mentioned, was the dismal state of Spain's naval forces. After Castille and Aragon merged in 1469, the conquest of Muslim Granada in the south of the Iberian peninsula became the united Spanish kingdom's new priority. Aragon's fleet in the Mediterranean ports withered away. Soon, the Spanish Navy counted less than a dozen seaworthy galleys.

Before its Union with Castile in 1469, the Crown of Aragon had a sizeable Navy to defend its Mediterranean possessions. Most of its galleys were stationed in Barcelona and Palermo


The bill for this negligence was soon presented by Heyreddin Barbarossa, the Ottoman corsair and later Admiral. In 1492 he had helped many Jewish and Muslims to escape from Spain and acquired valuable intelligence on Spain's Mediterranean posessions and its coastal defences. Very soon he would be back, raiding villages, towns and islands, enslaving people and selling them in the slave markets of Algiers and Tunis. From 1492 to 1528 alone I counted over 60 piracy attacks on the coasts of Malaga, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Liguria, Corsica, Elba, Sardinia, Sicily and Calabria. There was almost no place untouched.

Heyreddin Barbarossa, the very talented but also very

ruthless Corsair and later Ottoman Admiral (1466 - 1546)


It took a while for the Spanish Crown to take action but in 1528 it became clear to Charles V. that Spain had to change course. A powerful navy was urgently needed to defend his possessions. A small Genovese fleet of 8 galleys, then allied with France, had just defeated the Spanish fleet at Capo d'Orso on the Amalfi coast. As a consequence, the French siege of Naples almost succeeded. Spain's crown jewel in Italy could not be supplied anymore. Luckily internal strive in the French Camps broke out. Charles V. won Andrea Doria over to the Spanish side, made him his Admiral in the Mediterranean and promised the Genovese trade privileges they could not refuse. In one stroke, Genoa with its 60 galleys - only Venice had the same number - gave Spain a sizeable navy and a capable commander.

Andrea Doria (1466 - 1560), Genovese Statesman and

Spanish Admiral in the Mediterranean who forged the

Alliance with the Spanish King Charles V.

Even better, the silver that arrived in Seville could finally be shipped and did not have to be carried on land to Europe. With Heyreddin Barbarossa almost permanently in Spanish waters the shipping of large amounts of silver from Spain to Genoa and then further to Italy would have been unthinkable without proper protection.

The Republic of Genoa had about 60 galleys which were owned by the Genovese Families not the Republic - another Reason they Owners only committed to Fights they could win


Putting the treasures on fast galleys made them un-attackable. The galleys were agile and avoid combat. The delivery of their goods was more important than picking a fight I do not know of any galley transporting silver in the Mediterranean which was captured by Muslim corsairs.

Many Tourists have seen the Spanish Castle in Ibiza. I guess it is a safe bet that only few know why it has been built. :-)


As we will see this summer, the ports along our sailing routes are well fortified. Capturing galleys at night was as difficult as during the day. The fortifications in Malaga, Cartagena, Valencia, Ibiza, Mallorca, Minorca and Rosas are still standing today and attract every summer large crowds of tourists - most probably unaware of the once strategic nature of these fortresses.

Admiral Doria's Renaissance Palace in Genoa - his Switch to Spain paid off - also for him


Looking at the dual role of the Genovese Fleet under Andrea Doria makes us understand why they only fought when absolutely needed. The galleys were Spain's informal Treasury Fleet in the Mediterranean and were needed to keep the financing of Spain's large military commitments going. The high profit margins of 20 - 40% also become understandable. The Spanish paid for the save arrival of their funds in a sea riddled with muslim pirates who perfectly knew that silver was transferred from Seville to Genoa and preyed on it.

Squeezed between Genoa's Railway Station and the Highway along the port, Andrea Doria's Palace is an Island of Tranquility today. Difficult to find, its Interior is magnificent

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