17 Spanish Galleon Facts: An Ultimate Multi-Decked Sailing Ship!

It's interesting to learn about Spanish galleon facts.

The Spanish galleons were multi-decked and very large ships.

Originally consigned for trade, the Spanish galleon was an integral part of naval warfare as well. It was heavily armed and had multiple decks.

The Spanish galleons were large ships that could accommodate as many as 150 people, sometimes more. They were filled with heavy guns and proved to be of great value in warfare. Primarily built for trade, they protected those ships that carried huge loads of riches and wealth. There was always a threat of being attacked by the pirates and the enemy ships.

A successor of the carracks, the galleons were much larger and could carry many guns of varied sizes as well. Accommodations at the galleons were not pleasant for everybody, since most of the crew members had to share their living space with others, which wasn't very hygienic. They gave important officials and ranked officers a private chamber for their own use, but the rest of the crew had to make do with sharing their sleeping quarters.

There was also a frequent invasion of rats and cockroaches in the galleons that would destroy their food rations. The construction of the Spanish galleons was also a tedious effort. Hundreds of men would work day and night to build a single ship. However, they were much cheaper to build compared to the carracks.

The History Of Spanish Galleons

During the middle of the 16th century, there was a surge in using galleons. During that time, many innovations and designs were already underway for designing ships for various uses. The earliest Spanish galleons were much smaller in size and had far less capacity than the later models. Over the years, larger galleons were developed and could accommodate more people onboard. Primarily used as trade ships to carry cargo from the New World, they were also used as warships when the need arose. The estimated length of the Spanish galleon was 150 ft (45.72 m).

Although many other countries came up with many other innovations to design their galleons, the Spanish galleon was built in such a way that it could accommodate cargo and guns, and soldiers. The galleon design varied from country to country. They built these great ships from various trees like pine, oak, cedar, and mahogany.

The Spanish galleon also had many decks: upper deck, lower deck, main deck, poop deck, quarterdeck, and forecastle. The main deck witnessed the daily activities of the galleon and the crew members were mostly located at the main deck. They often had to share their living space with cows and other livestock on the galleon, which caused hygiene issues and a cramped space.

The people on board included soldiers, carpenters, sailors, passengers, and many others. People of high rank were usually given their own private cabins, while the rest had to share with other crew members. Traveling in galleons was not very pleasant because there were often rats, cockroaches, and many other such pests that used to frequent the ships.

Nonetheless, the ships were sturdy and were built in such a way to withstand the extremities of long ocean voyages. These ships had a very important role to play in the Spanish Armada. However by the 18th century, these galleons had seen their best days and they were slowly but surely replaced by newer ships.

An interesting fact about the Spanish galleon is that they found a Spanish galleon named San Jose which was claimed to have been carrying an estimated US $17 billion worth of gold, silver, and emeralds.

The Key Functions And Features Of A Spanish Galleon

The galleons served two main purposes. One was to protect the Spanish ships carrying rich treasure from the New World from enemy ships and pirates. The second was military service, since the ship could accommodate many guns of various gun sizes. One of the most common guns that could be found in these ships was the demi-culverin. The estimated price to build a Spanish galleon was around $5 million.

The structure of the Spanish galleon was also very unique. Usually, three or four masts, two of which were square-rigged, were used by most galleons. Among the three masts, the mizzen mast was lateen-rigged. With an average capacity of 500 tons (453.59 met ton), as many as 60 cannons could be filled in the various gun decks of the galleon. Galleon construction required a large number of resources.

The funds for building the ship came from the Spanish crown or rich business owners and hundreds of tradespeople were involved in the making of just a single vessel of the Spanish fleet. Galleons were the successors of the carracks. They were much more sturdy and faster and proved to be the greatest vessel used during that time. They were much longer and narrower and, unlike the round tuck primarily used, they had a square tuck stern.

The royal foundries supplied the ships with their guns and ammunition. When there was a shortage of guns during the 16th century, they also imported many guns from abroad. Galleons continued to be used as warfare and trade trips until the end of the 18th century. By that time, men of war and clippers have already dominated the market.

The Spanish galleons, in particular, were the most talked-about ships, since they were the largest ever ships to be built by the Spanish and the Portuguese. The size of the galleon differed from region to region. While some were shorter and fragile, others were larger and sturdy. Among them, the Spanish ships were the largest of all. The guns used on these warships were also much longer than those used on English ships. The Spanish ship could accommodate as many as 150 people, and sometimes even more.

The captain resided in the best cabin, while most of the crew stayed in the gun decks. These warships moved fast as well, irrespective of their large size. Located in Genoa, Italy, a replica of the 17th century-old Spanish galleon, called the Neptune, is a major tourist attraction spot. If you ever wish to visit this place, make sure to check out the famous Spanish galleon as well.

It took almost 100 men to build a single galleon.

The Construction Of A Spanish Galleon

The construction of a single ship of the Spanish navy required a lot of time and effort, and not to mention a lot of expense. Hundreds of skilled tradespeople were used and it took months to build a single ship.

The wood of oak and pine were mainly used for the construction and the expenses were funded by rich business people who pooled resources for the new ship. The ships were constructed initially only in the regions of Basque and southern Andalusia. With the growing power and expansion of Spain, more galleons were constructed in various other places like Italy and the Caribbean as well.

The Spanish galleon entirely depended on the wind for its movement. Various types of skilled tradespeople and carpenters, blacksmiths, and coopers were used for the construction of the ship. The word 'galleon' is supposed to originate from the Spanish word galeón, meaning armed merchant ship.

Unlike the carracks which were lightly armed and mainly used for transportation by all other European countries, galleons were much larger and heavily armed as well. Most galleons weighed 500 tons (453.59 met ton), while the largest weighed 1,200 tons (1088.62 met ton). The construction of the galleon was designed in such a way that it could hold many heavy guns as well.

The guns found in a galleon are recorded to have a caliber of 3.54 in (90 mm), along with many other smaller guns as well. Initially used for trade and exploration, the galleons were later also turned into warships. Unlike the barracks, which were used between the 14th century and 17th century and required a significant amount of expense, the galleon was much cheaper to build in comparison. The ships also had several decks, like the main deck and quarter-deck to name a few.

The main deck was the heart of the vessel as this is where most of the work was done. However, living was not as comfortable, since the crew often had to share their living space with horses and other livestock present and cargos present on the ship. They restricted access to the prime areas to only officers of rank and people of importance, who had the advantage of having a private cabin. The quarter deck witnessed all the navigation tasks and responsibilities. It was the place where all the commands and calculations to keep the ship afloat were given.

Using Spanish Galleons For Quests

During its tenure in the 16th century, the galleon played quite significant wartime and peacetime roles. Galleons were used on quests to protect the ships that sailed home, carrying loads of riches and treasures from the pirates. The galleons were also used distinctively during the war because of the large number of guns and soldiers they could carry.

Powered by the wind, they moved quite fast compared to their enormous size and weight. The Manila galleons could carry up to 2000 tons (1814.37 met ton) at a time, such was its strength. The galleon continued to rule the water until the late 18th century. The merchant ships that traveled between Spain and the New World were often attacked by pirates.

Introducing the galleon into the flota system changed the whole narrative as they would guard the ships carrying all the rich treasures and wealth. Life onboard was, however, not pleasant for all over the crew members, since most of them often had to live together in an enclosed space with no private chambers.

The construction of the vessel was also a tedious task. It mainly took place in the regions of Basque and southern Andalusia. Over the years, with the expansion of the Spanish dominance, more numbers of galleons were created in the regions of Italy and the Caribbean as well.

Hundreds of men of different backgrounds worked day and night for the construction. It took months and a huge amount of expense that was often provided by the wealthy business owners. However, it all proved worthwhile given the important role that galleons played. Filled with guns and soldiers they were used vigorously in wars and proved to be of great value.

Spanish galleons played a major role in the dominance of Spain as a leading power in the world, aiding Spain in a variety of quests. The Manila galleon, in particular, used to transport huge loads of silks, spices and other exotic goods from various parts of the world, especially China and Mexico.

The race-built galleons were built in England from 1570 to 1590. As long as 160 ft (18.29 m) in length, they had many decks, like the upper deck, lower deck, poop deck, and main deck. The main deck was where the main day-to-day activities were carried out. They could also accommodate more than 150 soldiers at a time, sometimes reaching up to 400 as well. Maneuvering such a big ship also required a lot of men and expertise as well.

However, unfortunately, all of this lasted only till the 18th century when the galleons got replaced by the ship of line and fleet called galizabra, and they were no longer used either in warfare or in trade. Frigate, barque and brigantine were the new ships.


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