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Iveglia Logo con bagliore limited editio


In the late afternoon of 29 October 1579 an imposing merchant ship that was trying to round the tip of Capo di Monte (the current Promontory of Portofino) to the east to take shelter from a furious storm of Libeccio, was pushed to smash against the rough cliff in the mirror of sea in front of the Church of San Nicolò between Camogli and Punta Chiappa, about ten nautical miles east of Genoa: it was the Santo Spirito - Santa Maria di Loreto, a ship of 9500 corpses (about 1,800 tons) of capacity , probably the largest among those that crossed the western Mediterranean at that time. Its home port was Ragusa of Dalmatia (now Dubrovnik), a maritime republic of the middle Adriatic which was then experiencing a moment of particular fortune in the management of commercial traffic on behalf of a large and diversified client; it was then captained by Antonio Iveglia Ohmuchievich, belonging to one of the most illustrious families of that locality and most likely holder of the majority of the ownership shares of the ship itself.

From documents of the Historical Archive of Dubrovnik we learn that it was already under way before 1568 under the command of Giorgio Iveglia, Antonio's brother. After about ten years sailing on other routes, the Santo Spirito had docked for the first time in the port of Genoa in July 1578, coming from Ibiza, as evidenced by the records of the payment of port taxes; these data, in addition to providing us with information on her tonnage, indicate that she must have had a crew of about 130 members including sailors and officers. At that moment, the captain to whom the taxes were charged was still the aforementioned Giorgio Iveglia; unfortunately, the transfer of command between the two brothers must then have occurred due to fatal causes: in fact, probably in the autumn-winter of that year, while the ship was engaged, on charter by the Crown of Spain, in the transfer of troops embarked in the territory metropolitan Iberian to the Italian ports of Livorno and Spezia, it had been hit on the Spanish coast by disastrous accidents that had caused serious damage to the mast and hull and caused the death of eleven sailors and the captain himself.

The Holy Spirit therefore had to remain stationary for repairs over a very long period; we find it returned to Genoa from Spain only in September 1579; on the 15th of this month, in fact, it is again chartered by the Spanish ambassador residing in the Ligurian capital, Don Bernardino di Mendoza, on behalf of the Royal Court of Naples. The relative contract provides for the payment of a monthly fee of one Genoese Lira for each body (0.275 mc - 190 kg approximately) of its capacity, which was then estimated by a local technician at 9500 corpses.

At that time, a virulent plague epidemic was raging in the city that slowed down port loading and unloading operations, decimating the personnel involved in these activities and causing delays in the health checks carried out on goods and travelers; also the crew of the Santo Spirito must surely have been reduced in number due to the disease. For this reason, in mid-October, the Santo Spirito was still in the port of Genoa where it was completing its load including five large bronze cannons, accompanied by the relative ammunition, produced in the Genoese foundries for the viceroyalty of Naples, in addition to 14 tons of nails for shipbuilding, destined for the team of galleys of the Neapolitan capital. The departure had taken place in the evening of October 28 and in the morning of the following day the ship was still trudging with difficulty in the waters in front of Recco, through the stormy waves of what was by now turning into a real storm; the inhabitants of this town and those of nearby Camogli were able to follow its drift from the coast up to the ruinous impact against the cliff. Following this the water began to enter abundantly through the gashes opened in the planking of the now ungovernable boat, while the captain with the full crew managed to put a boat into the sea and somehow reach the steep shore finding a providential help from the inhabitants of Ruta and San Rocco, who quickly went down to the sea and, throwing ropes towards the unfortunates, finally managed to save them all. The brave peasants of the Monte, in addition to facing the danger of precipices and waves, by approaching the castaways had also consciously exposed themselves to the risk of contagion, which fortunately had no fatal outcome.

Before sinking definitively, the ship remained for a few more days at the mercy of the waves that dispersed the lightest part of the load made up of cotton and wool fabrics, which were beached on and off in Recco and Camogli, while the objects more heavy sinks to the bottom through the cracks in the hull.

As soon as the news of the shipwreck spread, a representative of the Spanish ambassador in Genoa arrived on the spot, who immediately went to great trouble to recover the most precious part of the cargo represented by the bronze cannons destined for the defenses of Naples, whose total weight it had to exceed 13 tons; the documents show that for this task some local specialized underwater operators, the famous margoni, were commissioned with a regular contract, being the Genoese ones among the most appreciated in this activity. The relative contract, which noted the depth at which the wreck lay on 30 palms (about 8 m), provided for the payment of a prize of 30 Scudi d'oro of 4 Genoese lire, for each piece brought back to shore: the total remuneration it would therefore have risen to Lire 600 out of a total value of the five guns estimated at about Lire 14000. Archival sources are silent on the actual completion of this operation: we know, in fact, that some thousands of cast iron bullets were recovered, but there is no news of the five large pieces of artillery.

Instead, we have detailed documentary information on the repechage of thirteen bronze guns belonging to the equipment on board the Santo Spirito, by the same company of margoni hired for the purpose by Captain Iveglia, who paid them a fee of Lire 650 (£ 50 per piece); the latter then sold the recovered artillery, weighing almost ten tons, to a Genoese merchant for the beautiful sum of Lire 9174.

The fortune that had saved Antonio Iveglia from that shipwreck, however, had to abandon him a few years later when, in command of a smaller ship, the Santa Maria di Loreto and Sant'Antonio (700 tons), he was attacked by seven Algerian convicts, managing to repel them and save cargo and crew, but find their death in the course of the fight.

If indeed the five Spanish-owned pieces remained in the sea, this may have been caused by the fact that perhaps they had lowered to greater depth, escaping from the hull when it had been removed from the reef by the undertow (in this sector the seabed drops rapidly towards the 40 meters); or because they were hidden and made inaccessible by the structures of the wreck that contained them having been loaded in the lowest part of the hold.

In 1971, in order to locate these finds, an on-sight search operation sponsored by a local historical association was started, which also involved about forty military divers; this investigation unfortunately did not lead to any results, perhaps due to the dense vegetation that characterizes that underwater area and makes sighting very difficult and probably also due to the presence of a powerful sediment that could have incorporated the traces of the shipwreck.

More recently, the Hydrographic Institute of the Italian Navy conducted a non-dedicated instrumental survey in the area, noting an anomaly that has yet to be interpreted.

In conclusion, it being plausible the possibility that the waters of the Portofino promontory still retain structural remains of the Holy Spirit and objects belonging to its load, it should be noted that the bronze mass of the cannons that may not have been recovered and above all the 14 tons of the remaining batch of nails almost certainly on the seabed, they constitute a reliable marker for the location of the wreck through instrumental investigations aimed at this purpose.

Renato Gianni Ridella

* The information in this report derives from direct archival sources identified and analyzed by the author. It is also recalled that the case of the Iveglia ship was brought to the attention of the public by an article by Giuseppe Pessagno published in an issue of the Gazzetta di Genova of 1902. Some errors contained in this article, such as the Spanish nationality of the ship, improperly defined carrack and the Germanic origin of the cannons, have been perpetuated to this day in the publications that have dealt with the subject.

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