Port of Ferrol
Review and History

The Port of Ferrol is a port in A Coruna Province in Galicia, Spain. It lies off the Atlantic Ocean on the shores of the Ferrol Inlet, just 19 kilometers northeast of the Port of A Coruna. The birthplace of General Francisco Franco, it has long been an important ship-building center and port. It was Europe’s most important arsenal in the 17th Century. Today, it is the home of Navantia, Spain’s most important state-owned ship-building firm.

The Port of Ferrol is home to northern Spain’s most important naval station. It was the base for NATO’s 2008 Maritime Exercise Loyal Mariner. The city’s most important industries include horse breeding, fish farming and fishing, mining and quarries, and timber. Its ship-building industry is complemented by the manufacture of ship engines, electrical equipment, wind mill turbines and turbines for ships, textiles, canned fish, iron works, and wooden products. In 2007, almost 78 thousand people lived in the city proper, and over 241 thousand lived in the Ferrol metropolitan area.

Port History

The Port of Ferrol was named for a lighthouse (farol) that once stood at the entrance to the harbor. Humans lived in the Port of Ferrol area for thousands of years, demonstrated by the many burial chambers, large stone monuments, and petroglyphs in the region. Historian Herodotus documented the use of the port by Phoenicians and ancient Greeks.

In the 1st Century BC, the Bay of Ferrol held a fishing port. As the Roman Empire declined, Vandals raided the area. The Suevi occupied the port in 411 and, by 584, it was part of the kingdom of the Visigoths. Though raided by Arabs in the early 8th Century, it was recaptured in 754 and by the king of Asturias and held from then on as part of Christian Spain. In the 10th Century, Norman and Viking raiders joined the Arabs in attacking Spain’s Christian communities.

Today’s fortifications on the estuary entrance were built during the reign of Philip II in the middle 16th Century. In the late 16th Century, the Spanish Armada anchored there to escape stormy Atlantic seas before sailing to England and doom. By that time, the Port of Ferrol was an important Royal Arsenal.

During the 18th Century under the Bourbons, the Port of Ferrol was a major naval center, becoming capital of Spain’s Maritime Department of the North under Ferdinand VI and Charles III. Being a base for the defense of Spain’s colonial empire in the Americas, the Spanish kings made many improvements including a line of castles and fortresses along the coast. During that century, the Royal Dockyards were built, producing ships that crossed the Atlantic many times. The Royal Academy of Naval Engineers was created there in 1772.

By the early 19th Century, the Spanish Empire was in decline, and the city’s defenses fell into disrepair. A British fleet brought troops to the beach of Doninos, assailing the Castle of San Felipe. Citizens of the Port of Ferrol helped Spanish troops defend the castle and forced the British to withdraw. Despite this success, the fortresses and arsenals were abandoned, and the French occupied the town in 1809.

The Port of Ferrol lost all political and military status under Ferdinand VII. However, the Spanish Minister for Naval Affairs, Marquis de Molina, constructed the Royal Dockyards of Ferrol there, where the first Spanish steamship was built in 1858. In the late 19th Century, after Spain lost Cuba and the Philippines, a new effort to restore the country’s navy and ship-building industry resulted in new shipyards, workshops, dry docks, and foundries in the Port of Ferrol. The facilities were operated by British technicians until 1925.

In 1925, Spanish engineers assumed management of the shipyards under the new Spanish government’s policies. As the Spanish Civil War approached, the shipyards and facilities were nationalized, eventually becoming the modern Navantia. During the Franco dictatorship, the Port of Ferrol enjoyed special status as the dictator’s birthplace, and it was named El Ferrol del Caudillo (Ferrol of the Leader) from 1938 to 1982. When democracy came to Spain in 1978, the Port of Ferrol’s naval sector went into a period of decline.

In the early 21st Century, economic expansion and prosperity have returned to the Port of Ferrol. A new outer port has been constructed, and new highway connections have been completed, improving transportation and communications between the Port of Ferrol and the rest of the world.

With natural conditions that support ocean-going traffic, the Port of Ferrol has always been a center for trade and naval activity. Historians noted naval activity from the time of Rome to the Middle Ages. During the Austria dynasty, from the 16th to 18th Centuries, the Port of Ferrol was an important support to the Navy, and when the Bourbons took the Spanish crown, it became a permanent Royal Naval Base. During the 18th Century, new modern naval facilities were constructed there, and the Port of Ferrol was an important part of the Spanish Empire of the Americas. Until the early 20th Century, the Port of Ferrol was exclusively a military port. In 1910, a new dock was constructed to facilitate commercial trade in the port. In the latter 20th Century, new efforts began to expand the port and create a modern center for ocean-going trade.

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