Daily Archives: May 25, 2022

San Simon: the cursed island

The San Simón archipelago located in the Vigo estuary, i made up of the island of the same name, which is linked to the island of San Antón by a bridge, along with two small islets: Cobreiras and Pena Blanca.

It is possible to get to the island by boat from the different shipping companies that depart from Vigo, Cangas, Portonovo, Bayona, Moaña or Bueu, being able to book the trip online on their websites.

The breeze envelops the entire island, cradling the leaves of the Os Buxos promenade; thousand-year-old bushes that shade its unique and wide avenue. Condensing and stopping time under its branches in a magical environment. As if this small island were inhabited by hundreds of souls who are reluctant to leave their last and obligatory abode.

The secrets of the Benedictine monks, the mysteries of the Templars, the laments and courage of political prisoners, the tears and pain of those sick with the plague, cholera, smallpox or tuberculosis have remained on the island.

The Xohán de Cangas Troubadours, Martín Códax and Mesndinho were inspired by the island, leaving Cantigas such as the one by Trovador Mendinho as a souvenir:

 __"We met in the hermitage of San Simón. The waves surrounded us, how big they are. I was attending to my friend. I was attending to my friend…"__

In the Middle Ages there was a Benedictine monastery, later in the 10th century the Templars arrived and then the Franciscans who founded their own order on the island: the Pascualians. Finally this order and its religious were excommunicated and had to leave the island.

In 1589 San Simón was sacked by numerous English corsairs such as Francis Drake who was on the island at least twice, leaving behind the destruction and burning of the chapel that was rebuilt 20 years later. It is currently the oldest building on the island. The statue of the holy Saint Jude still remains inside, although with its hands cut off since the corsairs thought it was hiding a treasure.

In the year 1702, in the War of Spanish Succession, Spanish-French galleons that left Cuba for Cádiz, tried to find refuge in the Vigo estuary when they were pursued by the Anglo-Dutch fleet. Fighting there a hard maritime battle: the battle of Rande. In the heat of the battle they sank their ships to avoid taking over their treasures. However, it seems that most of the treasure had already managed to take it overland, loaded on mules, to the Torre del Oro in Seville.


Jules Verne narrated in his book "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" the rescue of part of that treasure, which would finance the Nautilus. A reminder of this is the figure of Captain Nemo in front of the island. Curiously, Jules Verne did not know Vigo or San Simón when he published 20,000 leagues in 1870, he visited it later in 1878, forced by a storm, and the second time in 1884, due to a breakdown in his sailboat, the Saint Michael III.


There were many explorers who were in the San Simón cove looking for its maritime treasures and although none said they had found it, it is said that, mysteriously, one of them died a millionaire.

Numerous authors have set their works here, just like Jules Verne: Manuel Vazquez Montalvan, Agustín Fernandez Paz, Manuel Rivas...

In the year 1837, the project to carry out a lazaretto on the Island of San Simón was put out to public tender, being the second lazaretto in capacity after that of San Mahon, in Menorca. Norberto Velázquez Moreno was the one who obtained the concession and the doctor Taboada Leal who promoted and proposed the islands for this purpose.

In 1838 the island was prepared as a leper colony or "leprosarium" after disputing it with the island of San Antón in A Coruña and the island of Tambora. Sailors who arrived on ships from different countries to the Galician coast quarantined there, sometimes bringing serious diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera or leprosy.

Few know that Sanjurjo Badia, the inventor who came to build a submarine for the defense of Spain, and inventor of social security for his workers at a paper factory in Vigo, also participated in the preparation of the San Simón Lazaretto, being in charge of the works that would bring drinking water to the island in 1884.

On the Island of San Simón, three zones are distinguished, of which two of the three buildings that were used to separate the three quarantine states are preserved. Only incurable or suspected cases were transferred to the island of San Antón or the dirty lazaretto.

The San Simón Lazaretto would be closed on March 23, 1927 after medical advances and cures for these diseases

In 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out, turning San Simón into a prison and a concentration and extermination camp where they were hungry, cold and many political prisoners were killed in mass executions. It was said of the Island that "He who enters San Simón does not leave alive" Coming to live in its few meters 600 prisoners and more than 6000 passed through the island.

Footsteps in tribute to political prisonersSan Simón,

In 1948 it opened as a National Hostel for Franco's guard. But the shipwreck of "A Monchita" in 1950 put an end to that end. It was the largest in the estuary, it happened when a boat was going to Redondela carrying a group of members of Franco's guard who were spending the summer there. No one knows exactly how it happened, there was talk of the boat tilting due to the weight of the passengers it was carrying. Some survivors reported that an unexplained force pushed the boat to the bottom of the sea. The strange thing about the case is that the sea was calm, it was a sunny day, and the shipwreck occurred just a few meters from Cesantes beach and only four meters deep. The divers who rescued them were found clinging to the outside, only three were inside, 43 people died and after that event the facilities were closed.

Since 1958 there is a Cruceiro on the islet of As Corveiras in his memory.

Between 1955 and 1963, it was established as Hogar de Méndez Núñez, an orphanage for children of deceased sailors or those with few resources.

Sporadically, it becomes the center of festivals such as the Sinsal Son Estrella Galicia whose main feature is that its musicians are secret from the public until the last moment.

In 1999 they were declared a Site of Cultural Interest and their name was changed to A Illa Do Pensamento.

Its facilities were rebuilt and rehabilitated under the guidelines of the architect César Portela in 2005 under the direction of the Department of Culture of the Xunta de Galicia.

From here we want to pay a small tribute to those people who, due to their political ideology or simply because they lived in the wrong place in Spain during the civil war, were made political prisoners and later shot on this island. As well as those unknown to those who, due to some illness, without a cure at that time, were confined there.

June 2022