We propose three different routes to discover the French presence in Puerto Real during the convulsive years of the first quarter of the 19th century, but, let us put some context here.
During the 18th century Spain and France had forged a stable military alliance against a common enemy, the British Empire, for the commercial and economic control of Europe, but also to control the different colonial territories of each country. The penultimate episode of this alliance took place in 1805 in the famous Battle of Trafalgar in which the British Empire infringed a severe defeat to the fleets of both countries.
Despite this, Napoleon (Emperor since 1804), recovered in successive victories against the allies of the British in Austerlitz or Jena, so that from 1806 France imposed a commercial blockade to the British that, apart from French ports, reached other European ports, in particular the Portuguese ones.
In October 1807, France and Spain signed the Treaty of Fontainebleu, which lead to the joint French and Spanish invasion of Portugal. The Treaty, however, led to an effective invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by Napoleonic troops, and the successive abdications of Carlos IV in his son Fernando VII and his abdication in José Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother.
The French invasion and the flight of Fernando VII unleashed a fierce popular revolt that mobilized the army against the French enemy and that initiated a war that took the government to refuge first in Seville and, since 1809, in Cádiz that suffered a brutal siege.
In this context, the French troops occupied the territory of Puerto Real on February 4, 1810, while the Spanish army commanded by the Duke of Alburquerque escaped to the neighbour Island of León (San Fernando), destroying bridges, granaries, warehouses, batteries and all defensive structures in order to slow down the French advance.
Puerto Real became, then, the limit between the defense and the attack of a guerrilla war that the French would end up losing three years later and that turned Puerto Real into the main quartermaster of the French army, which established camps in La Algaida and the Pinar de Enriles, nowadays Pinar de Los Franceses.
A few years later the city would again be the scene of the war when in 1823, again, the French troops took the Trocadero Peninsula and surrendered the city of Cádiz to free Fernando VII, the same King who had betrayed the population that fought and won for Napoleon’s troops and for freedom.
ROUTE 1. THE DUKE OF ALBURQUERQUE ROUTE
The route starts at the Interpretation Center of Culture of Puerto Real where the visitor can discover the history of the city, from its first settlers to the twentieth century, its traditions and culture. On the second floor of the building, the visitor will find detailed information about the French invasion and the effects it had on the city and its inhabitants.
From the Interpretation Center, we head towards the sea following the Calle Ancha to reach the Fortified Pier, where a French battery was settled to guard both the coast and the road towards the Isla de León, and which is the work of the Cadiz born architect Torcuato Benjumeda. This battery was complemented with the use that the French troops made of the Petit Torre, which they used as observation watchtower, or the battery that was located in the area of the Gallinero.
From here, following the coast line to the east along the ring road, we head towards the entrance to the Natural Park. When we reach the last roundabout, we take the country road towards the Natural Park. At this point, we find the Casines Battery and the old Tide Mill of El Pilar. It was a naval and terrestrial guard post that protected the access road and in which a military detachment was located, in which, moreover, the troops were supplied with grain and food.
We continue the path parallel to the train track to the next milestone of our route, the Salina de La Esperanza, a fossilized salt landscape that served as a front in the guerrilla war against the French for it was not suitable for organized combat. The French carried out an extensive mapping work of the salt environment to avoid the surprise attacks of the Spanish guerrillas. Faced with the difficulties posed by the maritime environment, given that the boats of any size were sunk by the French canyons, the salinas and estuaries provided the population with food.
The route continues parallel to the train track through a landscape that follows the itinerary followed by the Duke of Alburquerque’s troops in his retreat to the Island of León.
The next milestone of our journey is the Arsenal de La Carraca, currently in the municipality of San Fernando, but part of the naval facilities of Puerto Real during the 19th century. In those days, other than serving as a refuge for a large part of the population of Puerto Real, it played a prominent role in the defense of the Island of León and the city of Cádiz as it was fortified by batteries named San Fernando, San Ramón and Santa Rosa.
La Carraca was the base of the Navy and its main arsenal, and was defended by Spanish and British troops, despite the Spanish misgivings, who distrusted British soldiers, who they suspected were devoting their time to defense, but also to intelligence tasks.
From La Carraca we head back to the path parallel to the train track and, from there, we cross some streets of the urban area of San Fernando towards the Suazo Bridge and our last stop on this route, the Real Carenero.
The scenario of the Real Carenero is of vital importance in the history of the siege of the Island of León by the French troops. In his flight, the Duke of Alburquerque destroyed steps and bridges, slowing the advance of the French troops of Marshal Victor and facing them in an area of marshes and salt pipes that offered him an advantage, so much so that the French troops tried to take the Island of León holding just their bayonets.
The defense was effective and finally, in the area of the battle, a battery was established, named El Portazgo, which was defended by about 150 armed men who resisted the stake and who, finally, were supported by British troops.
You can return to the center of Puerto Real following the same road, or if you wish, you can extend this route with the following route, the Ruta de La Frontera.