Given the changes that are imminent to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at both U.S. Disney resorts, I thought I'd travel to some of the sources used by the original Disney Imagineers in planning the attraction. (In fact, after my trip to the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, in February 2006, while travelling through the alps to Switzerland, as my attempts to get pictures of the Matterhorn were obscured by clouds and generally bad/snowy weather, I thought a more temperate climate might be better for picture taking on this trip).
Before I get to the pictures, some history regarding locations used in the attraction, beginning with New Orleans. Of course, Pirates (the attraction) is located in New Orleans Square, and is styled to match that area of the park. However, for the most part New Orleans missed the Golden Age of Piracy and doesn't figure into much pirate history. Founded in 1717 by France, it was for the most part a non-profiable port and France ceded New Orleans to Spain in 1762. A few years later, the American colonists had a rebellion and formed a new nation. For many reasons, the local inhabitants didn't like these foreigners and often placed embargoes on their shipments. This did little to make New Orleans a profitable port for Spain and so Spain avoided its use, eventually giving it back to France in 1800.
What about Laffite's Landing, the beginning of the ride? Jean Laffite, a New Orleans native, was a real person, and carried a Letter of Marque, really, a verification of diplomatic immunity, from the government of Colombia and considered himself a Privateer. He and his brother Pierre owned a black smith shop, which was actually a front for their illicit smuggling business. Besides slaves, Laffite also moved stolen goods from the numerous pirates who operated the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. On accoasion Laffite would also go on the account and pillage a Spanish ship now and then but for the most part it was safer and more profitable receiving the stolen goods.
Most of the historical piracy took place throughout the Caribbean, including the Bahamas, the Grand Cayman Islands, and Puerto Rico. The movies were filmed, according to the IMDB, in Bequia, St Vincent, the Grenadines, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas.
The caves. The attraction goes through mysterious cave grottos, which are common to the geology of many of the Caribbean islands. Many caves are water caves, and, as you can see from my pictures below, are mysterious and dimly lit.
And the green grotto of the cave entrance:
The fort and city scenes. The attraction goes through the middle of a battle between a pirated Spanish Galleon at sea, and a land fort. Many thanks to micechatter Yendorb, who advised of the following:
Here's the gate, and some street scenes from San Juan.Originally Posted by Yendorb
The governor's mansion -- but he's currently in the well...
You'll see, and recognize, the fort from El Morro, used as the Imagineer's research for the actual attraction. The cannons are historical and original.
In 1565, the king of Spain ordered the governor of Puerto Rico to provide men and materials to strengthen the existing fort (Puerto Rico having been founded as a Spanish colony in 1493). By this time, the English (and to a lesser extent, the French) were seriously harassing Spanish shipping in the Caribbean. Queen Elizabeth I's most effective weapon against Spanish expansion in the Caribbean wasn't the Royal Navy; rather, it was pirates such as John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake. Their victories included the destruction of St. Augustine in Florida, Cartagena in Colombia, and Santo Domingo in what is now the Dominican Republic, and the general harassment and pillaging of many Spanish ships and treasure convoys sailing from the New World to Europe with gold and silver from the Aztec and Inca empires. The Royal Navy did play an important role, however, for its 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada marked the rise of the English as a major maritime power. The Spanish then began to aggressively fortify such islands as Puerto Rico from pirate attacks.
To make things even more confusing, just as in the film, the British navy hunted down pirate ships, except for those pirates who were authorized by the British monarchs. It seems that some pirates were encouraged, even commissioned by the British government to do their nasty pirate acts, but the official position was that the British Navy condemned the attacks, but looked the other way, so long as they did it only to the Spanish, Britain's rival on the high seas and in the New World.
Even towards the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, due to its geographic location, Puerto Rico was a very important military strategic area for navigating from the New World to the Old World. It served as a base for protection against the enemy and a place to stock-up on food, and water.
The Ramp. Note that near in the end of the attraction, prisoners share small curved cells behind bars, which match the cells used in actual military prisons.
Beyond that, at the very end of the ride, pirates are seen pushing gold and other treasures, as well as barrels and boxes of goods, up a long ramp.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, ships full of gold and jewels regularly sailed the Caribbean. Since Spanish law did not permit commerce with many of the other islands in the area, smuggling and contraband were an everyday economical activity. Fighting, robbing, warring and piracy on the high seas seemed to be the order of those days.
The ramp was used to lower and lift supplies, artillery, cannons, and food and water, to defending troops. It's hard to get a scale from the photos, but the ramp is huge, and definitely brings recognition to anyone that's been on the ride at Disneyland.
Puerto Rico's most famous pirate was a man named Roberto Cofresí Ramirez de Arellano. Even to this day, at the extreme end of El Morro Castle separated by the harbor, in El Poblado de la Trinidad de Palo Seco "La Guarida del Pirata Restaurant" is established in memory of Roberto Cofresí and all the other pirates who used this area as a refuge. He was executed at El Morro, after being held prisoner, and his body was hoisted up for display after his death (much like skeletons hung from masts in the movie).