The San Simón and San Antonio Islands

In the inner end of the Bay of Vigo, beyond the Straight of Rande, are the islands of San Simón and San Antonio.

The leper colony had a huge impact on the economy of Vigo (a small town at the time, with just 7,000 inhabitants) being the beneficiaries of this influence all kinds of businesses, including carpenter’s workshops and forges, as well as spare parts and repair shops, inns and taverns. The old small town became the main city port on the Spanish Atlantic coast.

In 1898 an important share of the thousands of ill, wounded and disabled servicemen from the Cuban war between Spain and the US were sent to the San Simón leper hospital, which continued active until 1927 —the year the hospital was closed— as a centre for the treatment and prevention of epidemic diseases.

No ano 1898 gran parte dos milleiros de soldados enfermos, feridos e mutilados procedentes da Guerra de Cuba son internados no lazareto de San Simón. Ata a súa clausura como centro hospitalario, no ano 1927, o lazareto seguiu funcionando como centro de tratamento e prevención de enfermidades epidémicas.

Between 1939 and 1944 the San Simón Island plunged into its darkest years, as dictator Francisco Franco established there a concentration camp for war prisoners. They were accommodated in the different buildings of San Simón while the San Antonio Island housed the small military detachment guarding them. The island was overcrowded and sanitary problems quickly emerged as a result of the poor and harsh living conditions of inmates.

In 1948 the islands were transformed into a summer resort for members of Franco’s personal guard. However, after a marine casualty in 1950 which killed 43 of the guard members, the islands were once again abandoned. Between 1955 and 1963 the Méndez Núñez Shelter for the Training of Sailors’ Orphans returned to the islands and used their facilities.

In 1999 the islands were declared Historical Site, but the restoration of the buildings had begun already in 1998 with the participation or architect César Portela. The aim was to recover the islands in order to use them as a cultural centre. That was the end of the long period of neglect of one of the most important places —from a historical standpoint— of the Bay of Vigo and of Galicia.

Museo do Mar de Galicia

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