Enlightenment tour

The first reference to Ferrol as a town dates back to the year 1089 when it was named as a parish dedicated to Saint Julian. The town of Ferrol grew both in size and importance over the centuries. Its inhabitants were predominantly fisherman catching mostly sardines and also whales which led to the development of salt fish factories. Trade began to play a role of vital importance, especially transactions with France, Flanders and England. In the 14th century, Ferrol became a seigniory of the Andrade, a distinction it would retain until the 18th century when the Count of Lemos sold the city to the Spanish Crown. During the middle ages, Ferrol would undergo several significant incidents that transformed the city: troubles with the Lord of the Andrade, war and conscription, and the plague. The populated nucleus of Ferrol occupied the entire waterfront in the west of the territory and had an interesting urban layout. However, a raging fire destroyed the town and most of the buildings in 1568. Of the 400 existing buildings, 370 were burned to the ground. At that time, the port in Ferrol was beginning to gain importance as it was used by the Spanish Armada as a harobour for its ships. Some historians describe it as one of the safest and most sheltered in the world. For this reason, towards the end of the 16th century, Felipe II decided that the Ferrol estuary should be used as a base for the Royal Armada. This fact produced a dramatic transformation in the town´s economy as the Armada needed supplies, wood to build ships, sails, accommodation and food for soldiers.

Consequently, the King met the demands of the local population and gave the town permission to hold a market and to set up a bakery. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Spanish coast was divided into three official sections. Ferrol was named administrative capital of the north maritime section. Felipe V gave orders for the royal arsenal and the shipyard in the small village of La Graña to be built. La Graña is located near to the estuary mouth on the right bank, and here construction of the first ships began. Years later, Fernando VI would order the expansion of these facilities with the siting of a large shipyard dedicated exclusively to the construction of ships for the Armada. He chose Esteiro hill as the most appropriate location as it is further inside the estuary in the town of Ferrol. First the “apostolate” was built: twelve slipways from which what is considered the first series of ships, “the twelve apostles” were quickly launched. In this way, the Ideal Port of the Enlightenment was born, and it is with this name that Ferrol aspires to be recognised as a World Heritage Site. In the mid 18th century the city´s population underwent a major transformation. In 1752, according to the official census, Ferrol had a population of approximately 2,000 inhabitants. This figure had risen to 25,000 by the 1797 census. The scale of the Ferrol shipyard resulted in the need for a sizeable workforce which could not be met solely by the local population. Consequently, the government offered attractive economic conditions to citizens who decided to work on royal constructions, and at the same time the authorities forced many people, through conscription of prisoners, vagabonds and criminals, to do the hardest jobs. However, not only manual workers arrived in the emerging city. Authorities, navy officers, civil servants, craftsmen and tradesmen arrived too and quickly saturated the city´s accommodation capacity. In order to solve the population problem, during the reign of Carlos III a project for the construction of a large residential area which would serve as a link between the old town and Esteiro emerged. This would be the Magdalena neighbourhood. To this end, the expropriation and purchase of lands from the owners was initiated, namely the Mondoñedo council, José Mª Bermúdez Pardiñas-Villardefrancos and the Count of Lemos. The layout, design and construction was then begun following a harmonious partitioned structure. The town plan is made up of blocks of identical size marked out by six longitudinal parallel streets and another eight parallel transversal streets which are perpendicular to the first group. Two large symmetrically positioned squares emphasize the order and balance of the ensemble. In 1769, the fortification of the city was begun with the construction of a thick defensive wall which surrounded the entire city. On the land-facing side, the wall was reinforced with several bastions. In order to improve sea defences, the renovation and expansion of the San Felipe fortified castle on the right bank of the estuary and La Palma castle on the left bank was ordered. Several batteries of powerful cannons were added to both sides.


Historians define the Enlightenment as a philosophical movement which emerged in Europe from the end of the 17th century until the mid 19th century. It sought to establish reason as the basis for all human activity.

The Enlightenment´s influence also reached Spain and Galicia, and in the case of Ferrol, which was in the process of being built at the time, it had a decisive effect on the balanced urban layout of the Esteiro and Magdalena neighbourhoods, and also on the monumental character of the most important military constructions and fortifications. In the 18th century, Carlos III approved the rationalist plan for the Magdalena neighbourhood, or new Ferrol. This new neighbourhood would serve as a link between the old populated nucleus where the Ferrol population and its elite had lived for centuries, and the more recently constructed area – Esteiro – where most of the new inhabitants who had arrived to build the arsenals had settled. In this way, one of the most interesting urban projects in Europe in that period was carried out in Ferrol. Construction was undertaken by the very same military engineers and architects who built the arsenal and the royal shipyard in Esteiro. The outline of the streets in the Magdalena neighbourhood is a perfect rectangle in the shape of a bar of chocolate, with two large squares at either end. The Magdalena neighbourhood has been a historic-artistic ensemble since 1984 and a part of its assets figure in the candidacy of Ferrol as a World Heritage Site.