Many monuments in the world should never have been built. One of them stood for centuries on the Mediterranean island of Djerba, in Tunisia. Yes, the region where the fictional city of Tatooine was recreated for the Star Wars saga, where George Lucas saw a young Luke Skywalker discover the path of the force. This mysterious place, beyond being an iconic place for fans of the saga, houses one of the most terrifying constructions in history: Burj Al-Rus, a tower made with the skulls of 5,000 Spaniards.
This is his story.
In the 16th century, also called the “Century of Discoveries”, Spain rose as a superpower of the world and he assembled an empire so large that it dominated territories around the world: Africa, many colonies in Asia, half of Italy, the Netherlands, Burgundy and most of America, from the present United States to Argentina.
As his hand extended into many regions, its control and management became a problem. The only management of MEDITERRANEAN This became a big headache for Christian countries, especially Spain because the Ottomans and Berbers made raids and captured slaves wherever they could.
It’s also during this time that an alarming number emerges: Turgut Reis, also known as Dragut, a privateer, pirate, and Ottoman admiral who has filled the pages of historical literature ever since for his brutality. Not only did its fleets raid imperial ships every day, blocking trade routes, but it even managed to plunder coastal areas and enslave its people.
At this time, Jean de La Valette, general of Malta, was preoccupied with defeating the Turks and recapturing the city of Tripoli, which was now under their power. So in 1559, he convinced Philip II to command a fleet of 28 ships and 50 galleys with 30,000 Christian soldiers. These forces were led by Juan de la Cerda y Silva, fourth Duke of Medinaceli and Viceroy of Sicily.
Hundreds of people left Syracuse, in present-day Sicily, for Tripoli. But when they arrived they saw something they did not expect. The enemy’s defenses are greater than imagined. They returned because of the decision of De la Cerda, who pointed out that this war was impossible to win without the relevant artillery equipment or, at least, cannons. More troops were sent to Malta to warn of the situation and the rest of the fleet stopped at the island of Djerba (also called Los Gelves) to wait for reinforcements.
The massacre of Djerba and the construction of the tower
There they fortified themselves as much as they could and tried to build some defensive positions against the possible arrival of the Ottomans. And boy did they arrive. In less than two months, almost 90 galleys appeared on the horizon under the command of Pialí Pajá and his commander, Turgut Reis (Dragut). She chaos and fear It arrested the troops, who were awaiting the decision of their commander. Between the choice of fighting or retreating, he chose the latter when the Muslims landed and began the massacre.
Pialí Bajá fought the Spaniards, or what was left of them, for three months. While his generals escaped, 5,000 people led by Álvaro de Sande they are isolated. Half of them were soldiers and the other half were simple sailors. Without any help, they surrendered to the Ottomans, but Dragut was merciless. He did not even take them as prisoners.
Direct ordering cut off the heads of the 5,000 survivors, clean their skulls and bones and, with the mud, build a tower on the beach built with Spanish skulls and adobe. This formidable monument visible from the sea twelve kilometers away, will serve as a warning against future attempts at conquest.
This tower is called Buj Al-Rus, which means “Tower of Skulls”. stood for almost 300 years, until 1848, when the king of Tunisia ordered its destruction and buried the remains. Later, a monolith will be built in its place as a memorial to the thousands of Spaniards who died in the violence on that island.
Turgut Reis, for his part, ended his days in the Ottoman siege of Malta, on June 23, 1565, at the age of 51, after being wounded during the siege of Fort San Telmo, when a cannon shot wounded him fatally to the neck.