The island within walking distance
Presiding the San Simon opening in the Vigo estuary, there is an island of the same name. Connected to its neighbour San Anton by a bridge, the two islands together measure 250 metres wide and 84 long and, according to tradition, when the tide is very low, a brave man can walk without the water reaching his neck to this piece of the history of Galicia.
A Cultural Asset since 1999, San Simon’s character made the island a place not much recommended for a lot of recent history. Although until the 19th century several monastic orders inhabited the island, which was the scene of battles between the Portuguese and the Spanish, it was from 1838 when San Simon entered contemporary history with the opening of a sea leprosarium on both islands.
While San Antón housed those patients whose recovery was considered impossible, San Simon housed those who physicians believed still had hope. This infrastructure helped the nearby port of Vigo in its international expansion, as the routes coming from America needed a place nearby to quarantine passengers who arrived with contagious infections. Closed in 1927 due to medical developments, the site added its grain of sand to the dramatic populational growth and industrial development of the region of Vigo.
Following the closure of the leprosarium, what was to be done with San Simon and San Anton? Several projects such as a maritime airport and an orphanage were cut short by the Civil War, when the Franco's side turned it into a prison until 1948. After the war, it became the temporary residence of Francisco Franco's guard when he passed through the area. Between 1955 and 1963 it became a home for sailors’ orphans, the year in which it was closed to be declared of Cultural Interest in 1999.
Then the restoration of the island and its buildings began, which can be visited with authorization from the Government of Galicia, the manager of the Illa do Pensamento project, which seeks to reflect on all the good and bad things that happened on San Simon through its 10 centuries of history. As a curious contribution it must be said that the Nautilus, the magnificent submarine belonging to Captain Nemo and the pen of Jules Verne, docked in San Simon when it went to the Vigo estuary in search of the treasure sunken in the Battle of Rande.
Photos: XurXo Lobato
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