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Presidio facts for kids

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Frente de la Marina, Melilla la Vieja
Fortifications of Melilla
Presidio La Bahía
Presidio of Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía, in Texas

A presidio (from the Spanish, presidio, meaning "jail" or "fortification") is a fortified base established by the Spanish in areas under their control or influence. 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 pirates and rival colonists, as well as against resistance from Native Americans.

The presidios of Spanish-Philippines in particular, were centers where the martial art of Arnis de Mano was developed, combining Filipino, Latin-American and Spanish fighting techniques. 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". Presidios were only accessible to Spanish military and soldiers.

North Africa

Ceuta Spain
Royal Walls of Ceuta

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).

  • Mehdya, Morocco (La Mamora or San Miguel de Ultramar), 1614-1681
  • Larache, 1610-1689
  • Ceuta, acquired from Portugal in 1668
  • Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, 1508-1522 and since 1564
  • Alhucemas Islands, since 1559
  • Cazaza, 1505-1533
  • Melilla, since 1497
  • Honaine, briefly in 1534
  • Mers El Kébir (Mazalquivir), 1505-1708 and 1732-1792
  • Oran, 1509-1708 and 1732-1792
  • Algiers (Argel), 1510-1516; Peñón islet until 1529
  • Béjaïa (Bugia), 1510-1555
  • Annaba (Bona), 1535-1540
  • Bizerte (Bizerta), 1535-1574
  • La Goulette (La Goleta), 1535-1574
  • Tunis (Túnez), 1573-1574 (protectorate from 1535 to 1569)
  • Sousse (Susa), 1537-1574
  • Monastir, 1550-1554
  • Mahdia (Mahdía), 1550-1553
  • Djerba (Yerba), 1521-1523 and 1551-1560
  • Tripoli (Trípoli), 1510-1530 then granted to the Knights Hospitaller who held it until 1551


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.


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


  • The Presidio de Santiago, founded in 1593 in Intramuros, Manila
  • The Presidio de San Felipe (Cavite), founded in 1609 in San Roque, Cavite


  • Presidio de Lawis in Madridejos, Cebu the current structure is the oldest in the country laid down around 1628-1630
  • The Presidio (Fort) de San Pedro (Iloilo), founded in 1616 in Iloilo City
  • The Presidio de San Pedro (Cebu), founded in 1630 in Cebu


  • The Presidio de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza, founded in 1635 in Zamboanga


Vigia y cañon
Mexican fort of Campeche

Presidios were established in frontier regions in northern Mexico to control and confine rebellious indigenous tribes. Captured indigenous warriors were confined and enslaved at the presidio.


  • The Presidio de San Felipe y Santiago de Janos, founded in 1685 in Janos, Sonora
  • The Presidio del Pitic, founded in 1726 in Hermosillo, Sonora
  • The Presidio Santa Gertrudis del Altar, founded in 1755 in Altar, Sonora
  • The Presidio de Santa Rosa de Corodéguachi, founded in 1692, near the Sonora/Arizona border and later moved to Fronteras, Sonora
  • The Presidio de San Bernardino, founded in 1776 near the present-day Douglas (Gerald 1968)


  • The Presidio de Santa Catalina de Tepehuanes (1620 - 1690s?), in Santa Catarina de Tepehuanes.
  • The Presidio del Pasaje (1685), on Rio Nazas northwest of Cuencamé.
  • The Presidio de San Pedro del Gallo (1690s), in San Pedro del Gallo.
  • The Presidio de Santiago de Mapimí (1715), in Mapimí.
  • The Presidio de San Miguel de Cerrogordo (1648-1767) in Villa Hidalgo.


  • The Presidio de El Paso del Río Grande del Norte (1683 - 1773), at Ciudad Juárez, across the river from El Paso, Texas. Later relocated south in 1773 to Carrizal.
  • The Presidio de San Felipe y Santiago de Janos (1691-?), in Janos.
  • The Presidio de Casas Grandes (1686), was relocated to Janos in 1691.
  • The Presidio de San Francisco de Conchos, founded in 1685 at San Francisco de Conchos.
  • The Presidio de San Bartolomé (? - 1710), located 20 km east of Parral. Replaced by flying squadron operating from the Post of Valle de San Bartolomé (1710 - ?).
  • The Presidio de Nuestra Señora de las Caldas de Guajoquilla, founded in 1752 in Jiménez
  • The Presidio de San Fernando de Carrizal (1758 - ?)


  • The Presidio del Santísimo Sacramento del Valle de Santa Rosa, founded in 1780 in Melcho Muzquiz, Coahuila
  • The Presidio San Juan Bautista del Río Grande, founded around 1703 in San Juan Bautista, now the present-day Guerrero, Coahuila
  • The Presidio San Antonio Bucareli de la Babia, founded in 1774 in present-day La Babia, Coahuila
  • The Presidio San Gregorio de Cerralvo, founded in 1626 in Nuevo Leon, Mexico

United States

South Carolina



  • 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

Presidio Santa Cruz de la Cañada, New Mexico
  • The Presidio Santa Cruz de la Cañada, in Santa Cruz


Presido chapel1
Interior of the reconstructed chapel of the Santa Barbara Presidio


Presidio of San Diego 1820 map



  • 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.

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