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The treasure of the frigate 'Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes'

  • Objects from the frigate, 'Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes', in the ARQUA Museum in Cartagena © Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Ciencia

    Objects from the frigate, 'Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes', in the ARQUA Museum in Cartagena © Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Ciencia

  • Coins in 'The Final Voyage of the Frigate Mercedes' exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum © Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Ciencia

    Coins in 'The Final Voyage of the Frigate Mercedes' exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum © Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Ciencia

  • Model of the 34-gun frigate 'Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes' (1788-1804), 2012-2014. Scale 1:48 © Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Ciencia

    Model of the 34-gun frigate 'Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes' (1788-1804), 2012-2014. Scale 1:48 © Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Ciencia

  • Coins from the treasure of La Mercedes © Ministerio de Cultura

    Coins from the treasure of La Mercedes © Ministerio de Cultura

  • Coins from the treasure of La Mercedes © Ministerio de Cultura

    Coins from the treasure of La Mercedes © Ministerio de Cultura

  
  


"The recovery of a cultural treasure like 'La Mercedes', which sunk in the 19th century, is the result of years of research in which documents in historic archives have proved to be a most valuable resource. ..."

The recovery of a cultural treasure like 'La Mercedes', which sunk in the 19th century, is the result of years of research in which documents in historic archives have proved to be a most valuable resource. The exhibition 'The final voyage of the Frigate Mercedes: A recovered cultural treasure', which will arrive at Alicante Archaeological Museum in May, shows this process and the pieces recovered, highlighting the importance of protecting the underwater archaeological heritage.

The record of the assets recovered from the ship 'Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes' includes 595,000 coins, of which 212 are gold and the rest silver. The National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Cartagena (ARQUA) is carrying out the work to catalogue, conserve and restore the pieces, and its permanent collection includes a specific section exhibiting the most outstanding pieces recovered from the frigate.

The final voyage of the Mercedes: the exhibition

In order to reach this point, first it was necessary to litigate with Odyssey, the company that discovered the sunken ship. Throughout this process, the documentary material conserved in Spain's historical archives played a key role. 'The final voyage of the Frigate Mercedes' exhibition, on display in Alicante Archaeological Museum (MARQ) from 9 March to 21 September 2015, as well as displaying the coins and other archaeological pieces from the frigate, tells the story of how it went down and the retrieval of its cargo. On display will be period items, original documents, audiovisual presentations and models.

The history of 'La Mercedes'
It all began on 5 October 1804, when the ship 'Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes' was sunk by the English off the coast of the Algarve in Portugal. This event was even narrated by Benito Pérez Galdós in the first of his famous 'Episodios Nacionales', the novella 'Trafalgar' published in 1873.

The frigate and its cargo remained submerged beneath the sea, until in 2007 the American company Odyssey announced its discovery. This announcement marked the start of a long legal process whereby the Spanish government claimed to be the rightful owner of the wreck. The key which would finally resolve the case was found among the immense body of documentation which was painstakingly studied by experts from the archive of the Naval Museum in Madrid, the General Archive of the Navy, the General Archive of the Indies, and the Royal Academy of History, among other institutions.

As a result of this search, documents were found which made it possible to reconstruct the history of 'La Mercedes' and to refute Odyssey's thesis. This was a ship on a mission of state, and not a commercial ship as the company maintained. There is no doubt that this success highlights the value of Spain's historic and cultural heritage.

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