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Peñafiel Castle, both Arab and Spanish fortification

A presidio (English: jail, fortification)[1] was a fortified base established by the Spanish Empire around between 16th and 18th centuries in areas in condition of their control or influence. The presidios of Spanish Philippines in particular, were centers where the martial art of Arnis de Mano was developed from Spanish cut-and-thrust fencing style.[2] The term is derived from the Latin word praesidium meaning protection or defense.

In the Mediterranean and the Philippines, the presidios were outposts of Christian defense against Islamic raids. In the Americas, the fortresses were built to protect against raid of pirates, rival colonists, as well as Native Americans.

Later in western North America, with independence, the Mexicans garrisoned the Spanish presidios on the northern frontier and followed the same pattern in unsettled frontier regions such as the Presidio de Sonoma, at Sonoma, California, and the Presidio de Calabasas, in Arizona.

In western North America, a rancho del rey or king's ranch would be established a short distance outside a presidio. This was a tract of land assigned to the presidio to furnish pasturage to the horses and other beasts of burden of the garrison. Mexico called this facility "rancho nacional".[3] Presidios were only accessible to Spanish military and soldiers.

North Africa[edit]

After the Granada War and the completion of the Spanish Reconquista, the Catholic Monarchs took their fight across the Strait of Gibraltar, as the Portuguese had done several generations earlier with the conquest of Ceuta in 1415. The establishment of Spanish military outposts on the North African coast echoed earlier endeavors by the Kingdom of Sicily in the 12th century (and again in Djerba under Frederick III of Sicily) and the Kingdom of France in the 13th century (Eighth Crusade of 1270). During the period of Iberian Union between 1580 and 1640, the Spanish Crown gained Ceuta and the Portuguese outposts on the Atlantic Coast, such as Tangier, Mazagão/El Jadida and Casablanca; but of these, it only retained Ceuta by the Treaty of Lisbon (1668).

The Spanish North African presidios are listed here in geographical sequence, from West to East, and including neither Spain's Atlantic settlements in the Moroccan far South (e.g. Santa Cruz de la Mar Pequeña) nor outposts gained after 1830 (e.g. the Chafarinas Islands).


Several fortresses formerly held by the Republic of Siena were acquired by Spain following the latter's demise, by treaty between Philip II of Spain and Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany on 3 July 1557, to form what became known as the Estado de los Presidios. They were held by Spain until the War of the Spanish Succession, when they came under Austrian ownership, and were administered from Naples.


Map of the Presidios built in the Philippines during the 1600s, in Fortress of Empire by Rene Javellana, S. J. (1997)





Former Presidio San Gregorio de Cerralvo reconverted into the town hall
Former Hermosillo, Sonora town hall, that was the Presidio del Pitic

Few presidios were established in the present-day desert frontier regions in northern Mexico to control and confine the existing rebellious indigenous tribes.[4] Captured indigenous warriors were confined and enslaved at the presidio.[5]

Baja California Sur[edit]

Nuevo León[edit]





United States[edit]

South Carolina[6][edit]



  • The Presidio San Augustin, founded in 1565, which developed into the city of St. Augustine, ceded to Great Britain in 1763, regained 20 years later, and transferred to the United States in 1821
  • The Presidio San Mateo, founded in 1565 on the ruins of Fort Caroline, captured and destroyed by the French in 1568
  • The Presidio Ais, founded in 1565 on the Indian River Lagoon, abandoned after one month
  • The Presidio Santa Lucia, founded in 1565 near Cape Canaveral, abandoned four months later
  • The Presidio San Antonio de Padua, founded in 1566 at Calos, capital of the Calusa, abandoned in 1569
  • The Presidio Tocobaga, founded in 1567 on Tampa Bay, destroyed by the Tocobagas within ten months
  • The Presidio Tequesta, founded in 1567 on the site of what is now Miami, abandoned in 1568
  • The Presidio Santa Maria de Galve, founded in 1696, near Fort Barrancas at present-day Naval Air Station Pensacola; captured by French in 1719, Spanish relocated to Presidio Bahía San José de Nueva Asturias (see below)
  • The Presidio Bahía San José de Valladares, founded in 1701 on St. Joseph Bay, captured by French in 1718
  • The Presidio San Marcos de Apalachee, founded in 1718 at the existing port of San Marcos, which developed into the town of St. Marks, ceded to Great Britain in 1763, regained 20 years later, and transferred to the United States in 1821
  • The Presidio Bahía San José de Nueva Asturias, founded in 1719 on St. Joseph Point, abandoned when Spanish regained Pensacola Bay area from French in 1722, Spanish relocated to Presidio Isla Santa Rosa Punta de Siguenza (see below)
  • The Presidio Isla Santa Rosa Punta de Siguenza, founded in 1722 on Santa Rosa Island, destroyed by a hurricane in 1755, Spanish relocated to Presidio San Miguel de Panzacola (see below)
  • The Presidio San Miguel de Panzacola, founded in 1755, which developed into the city of Pensacola, ceded to Great Britain in 1763, regained 20 years later, and transferred to the United States in 1821



New Mexico[edit]


Interior of the reconstructed chapel of the Santa Barbara Presidio





  1. ^ "presidio — Diccionario de la lengua española, Edición del Tricentenario". RAE (in Spanish). Retrieved October 28, 2017.
  2. ^ "Real Fighting". 2008-02-21. Archived from the original on February 21, 2008. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  3. ^ "Ranchos of California: Extracts from: Grants of land in California made by Spanish or Mexican authorities, by Cris Perez Boundary Determination Office State Lands Commission Boundary Investigation Unit August 23, 1982. Berkeley Library website". Archived from the original on February 2, 2009. Retrieved April 17, 2011.
  4. ^ "Spanish policymakers also decided to set up a line of presidios stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This presidial line was very close to today’s international border between Mexico and the United States." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 198). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  5. ^ "As the eighteenth century unfolded, military garrisons and soldiers superseded the missions as the lynchpins of Spain’s efforts to stabilize the frontier. With the new approach came new forms of coercion. The word “presidio” captures the dual purpose of garrison and prison." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 205). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  6. ^ a b c Childers, Ronald Wayne (2004). "The Presidio System in Spanish Florida 1565–1763". Historical Archaeology. 38 (3): 24–32. doi:10.1007/BF03376651. JSTOR 25617178. S2CID 160809833.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Gerald, Rex E. (1968). Spanish Presidios of the Late Eighteenth Century in Northern New Spain. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe.
  • Moorhead, Max L. The Presidio: Bastion of the Spanish Borderlands. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1975.
  • Rene Javellana, S. J. Fortress of Empire. Ateneo de Manila University Press 1997.