• Spain's news in English

Spain's new king shows off silver treasure

AFP/The Local · 13 Jun 2014, 09:50

Published: 13 Jun 2014 09:50 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The country's soon-to-be king, Felipe, and future queen Letizia on Thursday launched the exhibition in central Madrid celebrating the return of the sunken treasure to Spain.

They viewed treasures and documents that tell the story of how British warships blew up the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, sending its precious cargo to the bottom of the sea.

The highlight of the show, in the basement of Madrid's recently reopened National Archaeological Museum, is a glass case containing heaps of more than 30,000 tarnished silver coins.

The cargo came to Spain in 2012 after a five-year legal battle with Odyssey, the US company that hauled it up two centuries after it sank.

"It's emotional," said James Goold, a US lawyer who fought Spain's case in the courts. "To get it back to Spain says to me: 'Mission accomplished'."

- Sea battle, treasure hunt -

On October 5, 1804, the Mercedes was nearing the coast of Spain on its way from Peru, part of the Spanish empire at the time.

Spain and France had signed a peace treaty with Britain in 1802 but that soon broke down.

British ships thought the Mercedes was carrying treasure bound for Napoleon's coffers.

They fired cannons at the Mercedes, blowing up its powder kegs and sinking it -- a moment captured in a contemporary oil painting in the exhibition.

The attack, known as the Battle of Cape Santa Maria, led Spain to declare war on Britain and re-enter the Napoleonic Wars.

In May 2007, deep-sea search specialists Odyssey Marine Exploration found the wreck at a depth of 1,700 feet (518 meters) in the Atlantic.

Spanish authorities said at the time that the trove was worth at least 350 million euros ($474 million) overall. It is thought to be the most valuable sunken treasure discovery in history.

Odyssey challenged Spain's sovereign claim to the cargo and said the wreck lay in international waters. Peru and descendants of the treasure's original owners also claimed it.

But a judge in Florida ruled in March 2012 that the trove belonged to Spain. The US Supreme Court turned down a final appeal by Odyssey in May 2012.

- Winning the battle -

The 30,000 coins on show in Madrid are just a fraction of the estimated 580,000 found in the wreck.

Most of those on show have been cleaned and are laid out in a glass case, but some are displayed just as they were found, lumped together with mud.

Some 8,000 other coins from the ship went on show last month at the Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology in the southeastern Spanish city of Cartagena.

Story continues below…

A third exhibition also opened on Thursday in Madrid's Naval Museum, telling the story of the battle and the Mercedes.

More than just a pile of treasure, the winning of the lost cargo was a point of pride for Spain.

One of the organisers of the new exhibition, Manuel Mortari, hoped it would "serve as a precedent and make people aware of the importance of heritage".

"A big battle has been won," he told AFP. "It is like winning a World Cup -- it raises the country's self-esteem."

The future king and queen shook hands with youngsters gathered to greet them at the museum, smiling and chatting with them before going down to view the treasure.

Felipe, 46, is to be sworn in as king on Thursday, replacing his father Juan Carlos, 76, who is abdicating after 38 years on the throne.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.es)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Halloween weekend: Sunny skies and nightmare traffic
Authorities expect 5.5 million cars to take to the road over the 'puente'. Archive photo: AFP

Spain is set for great weather over the long weekend. But be prepared for nightmare traffic.

Southern Spain will become a desert with global warming
Photo: Steven Stralton / Flickr

Southern Spain will become a desert if global warning continues, scientists have warned.

Eight Spanish films to truely terrify you this Halloween
Photo: Corie Howell / Flickr Creative Commons.

Looking for something to give you goosebumps this Halloween? The Local looks at eight Spanish films that are sure to have you cowering beneath the covers.

Spain's Socialists refuse to go easy on Rajoy once in power
Photo: AFP

Spain's Socialists may have reluctantly decided to let Mariano Rajoy govern again but they will not go easy on the acting conservative premier once he re-takes power, they warned on Thursday.

Spain's Podemos sees golden opportunity in Socialist woes
Pablo Iglesias is ready to step up in opposition. Photo: AFP

As Spain's conservatives prepare to re-take power after 10 months of political limbo, anti-austerity party Podemos has set its sights on replacing the divided Socialists as the main opposition force.

Wildlife ranger accused over decapitated bison in Valencia
The headless corpse of Sauro was found last month. Photo: Carlos Alamo / Reserva de Valdeserrillas

The case of the beheaded bison at a wildlife reserve in Valencia just got a whole lot weirder.

Spain jobless drops below 20% for first time in six years
The unemployed queuing up outside a Madrid job centre. Photo: AFP

Spain's unemployment fell below 20 percent for the first time in six years, official figures showed on Thursday.

'Saints not ghouls' insists Spanish church for Halloween
Suggested outfits from the Bishopric of Cadiz and Ceuta. Photo: Shower of Roses

Spanish bishops are urging good Christian children to forgo zombie, ghost and devil outfits and instead dress up as "saints, virgins and apostles".

Tough road ahead, Spain PM warns before return to power
Rajoy will try and form a government this week. Photo: AFP

Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned on Wednesday of a tough road ahead as he prepares to take power again at the head of a minority government with little support.

Russia withdraws request to refuel warships in Ceuta
The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was due to dock in Ceuta

Russia has withdrawn a request for its aircraft carrier group to be refuelled at the Spanish port of Ceuta, authorities confirmed.

Analysis & Opinion
Out of the dark: Five years on from Eta ceasefire
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Spanish 'La Mafia' restaurants banned after Italian complaint
Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Hunt launched for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Napflix: Spaniards launch very boring TV channel for siestas
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
jobs available