Amazing Places

The World's Only Known Pirate Cemetery Is in Madagascar

Famous tales of swashbuckling pirates traditionally take place far out on the open seas. We hear of nomadic villains like Blackbeard and Calico Jack sailing wooden ships with ominous flags, and living their best lives full of crime and debauchery. Legend has it, however, that the most savory of pirate tales are actually those based not on water but on land.

Related Video: 10 Bizarre Pirate Traditions You May Not Know About

Isle of Pirates

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Île Sainte-Marie, a small island about 5 miles (8 kilometers) off the coast of Madagascar, was home to an estimated 1,000 pirates. For around 100 years, anyone who was anyone in the pirate world is said to have lived there when they weren't sailing the high seas. Île Sainte-Marie's rocky, secluded bays offered the perfect hiding place, while its convenient location along the East Indies trade route allowed pirates to stealthily intercept treasure-filled ships. Plus, it goes without saying that a tropical island isn't such a bad choice of residence for anyone, criminal or no. While some men went so far as to raise families on the island, the free-wheeling bachelors of the bunch were drawn by the island's beautiful local women. What more could they ask for?

A Place to Rest (Forever)

We all know pirates weren't the most venerated of characters — far from it. But, that doesn't mean their fellow scoundrels didn't give 'em a proper burial when their time came. Today, Île Sainte-Marie is home to the world's only known pirate cemetery. When pirates died on the island, they were buried atop a hill overlooking the water. Notorious marauders like Thomas Tew are known to reside in the cemetery, lying six feet under crumbling tombstones adorned with symbolic skulls and crossbones. Although it's open to the public, the graveyard is now overgrown by tall grass and only has 30 headstones still intact. But that doesn't stop adventurous travelers from paying a visit.

Also among the pirate-crazy visitors to the island are archeologists. These explorers are less interested in the cemetery and more intrigued by what lies beneath the waters. Today, several shipwrecks are thought to lurk off the coast of Île Sainte-Marie, including the infamous William Kidd's Adventure Galley. The story goes that upon returning to the island after his conquests, Kidd decided it was time to retire his current vessel and start fresh. He loaded his treasure onto a new ship and sunk the Adventure Galley — along with some of his booty, according to lore. Head to the island for a dive and you might just go home with buried treasure of your own.

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The author of Robinson Crusoe was also behind a lesser-known but equally gripping work of fiction about the pirates of Madagascar. Daniel Defoe's "The King of Pirates: Being an Account of the Famous Enterprises of Captain Avery, the Mock King of Madagascar; With His Rambles and Piracies" is a fictional "firsthand account" from a pirate named Captain Avery. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Gabriel December 20, 2018

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