The small Island of Ile Sainte-Marie has a storied history filled with pirates and buried treasures. In fact some believe that it is the inspiration for the one of the greatest pirate stories of all time: Robert Louise Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Today it is home to nothing more than graves and shipwrecks. Lying just four miles off the coast of Madagascar this island was once filled with hundreds of pirates who were the scourge of the seas during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was known as the Island of the Pirates and today that history continues to come alive to anyone that walks among the numerous graves on the island.
Ile Sainte-Marie is a beautiful tropical island and it drew many travelers. In the early 17th century the French tried to settle the island but quickly died off from fever. After that it became the perfect place for pirates to spend the off-season. It had numerous secluded bays that allowed pirates to hide their ships and it was located right on the trade routes which meant the island was always fully stocked and there were some opportunities for plunder as well. Ships coming back from the East Indies would pass the island burdened with wealth and there were plenty of eager pirates willing to lighten the load. The local women provided companionship and the tropical fruit provided enough nourishment for even the poorest pirate crew to stay slated throughout their stay.
During its height as a pirate hideaway huts would dot the island, each one bearing a flag that denoted whose crew the sailor belonged to. Pirates came from all over the world to spend their days in the safety of the island and it even became a permanent home to many of them. Some pirates stuck around to raise a family and others just stayed in the off season and retired elsewhere. If a pirate were to die on the island, he would be buried there. A special cemetery, only for pirates, was created upon a scenic hilltop.
Shaded by large palms and overlooking the water, this cemetery remains to this day as the only legitimate pirate cemetery in the world. With over 1,000 pirates inhabiting the island it is unknown how many pirates were actually buried there. Today the stones of 30 distinct graves remain. Many of the graves have been worn away by time and storms, but the skull and crossbones symbol of the pirates still stares out from one of the jagged grey rocks. Locals claim that at one time there were more than 100 visible graves but as the area is prone to cyclones and storms, many of the graves were destroyed or worn away.
Bodies of pirates are not the only things that can be found beneath the surface of Ile Sainte-Marie. A 30-meter-long tunnel complex has also been discovered. Its purpose is still unknown. It could have been used as a trap, an escape route or a place to hide treasure. The tunnel might be just one place where mountains of treasure could be found, another place is at the bottom of the sea. The waters around Ile Sainte Marie are littered with the wreckage of more than a dozen pirate ships. This area of shipwrecks has been dubbed by some to be the “Valley of the Kings of pirate shipwrecks.”
Ile Sainte Marie has a large bay that was known as Pirate Bay. Inside this bay is an island called Pirate Island, which was where many of the pirates would stay (the cemetery is located on the shores of the bay and not on the smaller island.) It was this island that was home to one of the most famous pirates to ever frequent the area and there are numerous rumors that both he and his treasure are buried there.