PENSACOLA, FL--(Marketwired - January 10, 2017) - Prized for its sugar-white sands and calm, emerald-green waters -- Pensacola has long been a tourist mecca on Florida's Gulf Coast. What most people don't know, however, is that the first tourists to set foot on its shores weren't really tourists at all. They were conquerors.
In 1559, a hardened group of settlers landed in present-day Pensacola. Led by Spanish conquistador Don Tristan De Luna, the group included 1500 soldiers, colonists, enslaved Africans and Aztec Indians who traveled in 11 ships from Veracruz, Mexico, to Pensacola to begin the Spanish colonization of the northern Gulf Coast.
The town they founded would become the first multi-year European settlement in North America. It would have been the first permanent settlement had a hurricane not scuttled six ships and destroyed the settlers' supplies a mere five weeks later, dooming the expedition to failure.
The Luna settlement in Pensacola lasted from 1559 to 1561, which predates the Spanish settlement in St. Augustine by six years and the English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, by 48 years.
In October of 2016, the University of West Florida archaeology program -- which consists of a select group of 13 full-time professional archaeologists, nine support staff and numerous graduate students -- announced the discovery of a third shipwreck from the Spanish expedition that brought Luna to Pensacola in 1559.
Buried in sand in just 7 feet of water in Pensacola Bay, the Emanuel Point III was discovered by UWF summer field school students while scuba diving.
"We chose a shallow spot with a sandy bottom to dive to give the students a break after we'd been in another part of the bay where it was deeper and darker," said Greg Cook, assistant professor of anthropology at UWF.
"We thought there probably wasn't anything there, but had found an anomaly when we surveyed and decided to let the students have fun investigating it. Within two minutes, the divers came up and said they felt stones with their probes. Later that afternoon the first artifacts were found. I said that day, 'You know, it shouldn't be this easy.'"
The UWF team has discovered ballast stones, iron concretions and the articulated hull of the Emanuel Point III galleon, including frames and hull planking, as well as remnants of ceramics once carried on it.
The Emanuel III discovery comes less than one year after UWF archaeologists identified the terrestrial site of Luna's colony in a developed neighborhood on the bay, marking the earliest European settlement in the U.S.
The discoveries made at the site of the Luna settlement signify that the three shipwrecks discovered in Pensacola Bay were wrecked at the anchorage site for the entire Luna fleet.
Emanuel Point I was discovered in 1992 by the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research. Emanuel Point II was found by UWF in 2007.
Three shipwrecks still remain undiscovered in the bay, but the Emanuel Point III is the newest piece to the puzzle as the UWF team searches for answers to a nearly 500-year-old mystery.
A Florida historical marker for the Emanuel Point shipwrecks, located at the Pensacola Visitors Information Center on Gregory Street overlooking Pensacola Bay, commemorates their discovery. The marker includes text in English and Spanish and includes the history of the wrecks and the Luna settlement.
Though the three shipwrecks are still being actively researched and are not open to visitors, there are still plenty of other places to experience Pensacola's Spanish heritage. Here is a list of some of the best ways to get up close and personal with Pensacola's rich history.
- See artifacts from Luna's settlement and shipwrecks - including a massive anchor from the Emanuel Point I, and learn about Pensacola's nearly 500-year history at the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. State Museum.
- Visit a real Spanish fort -The 1698 Spanish settlement known as Presidio Santa Maria de Galve was located on the grounds of present-day Pensacola Naval Air Station. Today, visitors can see a reconstructed northwest bastion of the wooden Fort San Carlos de Austria, with two of the original cannons mounted on the walls above the fighting deck. Historical markers tell the story of the fort, village and cemeteries. Many of the original artifacts can also be seen at the Pensacola Lighthouse Museum, located on the grounds of the naval base.
- Watch history come to life at Pensacola Historic Village - This massive, living-history museum located in the heart of downtown Pensacola depicts life in the city during the early 19th century, when it was still a Spanish colony. Visitors can interact with interpretive staff in colonial era costumes and engage in activities including open-hearth cooking, butter churning, gardening and candle making. The village also offers guided walking tours throughout the year.
- Get your hands dirty with the Florida Public Archaeology Network - Roll up your sleeves and become an archeologist for a day. Rough-sort artifacts recovered from local archaeological sites by sifting through boxes of soil and debris in the network's air-conditioned lab in downtown Pensacola. Get a rare, hands-on view of what it takes to make history.
To learn more about Pensacola's history, or to start planning your vacation today, go to VisitPensacola.com.
About Visit Pensacola
Visit Pensacola leads the effort of economic development through tourism in Escambia County. Comprised of over 200-member businesses, Visit Pensacola's mission is to position the Pensacola Bay Area as a premier year-round travel destination through tourism marketing, communications, meetings and conventions, reunions and group tour initiatives. For more information about Visit Pensacola, call 1-800-874-1234 (toll-free) or go to VisitPensacola.com.
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