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Ulster Museum

The ‘Girona’ salamander – a jewel from an Armada shipwreck

Ulster Museum, Armada gallery

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The salamander is a tiny creature which throughout history is believed to have power over fire.

Sailors feared being burned alive, so this probably explains why it was found among the treasures from the Girona – a Spanish Armada shipwreck.

Designed to hang from a chain worn around the neck, the body of the salamander is made of gold. Along its back are red rubies. The rubies came from Burma and the gold from south America. At this time Spain ruled over large parts of the world.

The Girona, part of the Spanish Armada, sank off the coast of Northern Ireland, near the Giants Causeway, in 1588.

There were 1300 men on board including many wealthy officers from other ships. Perhaps one of them went to their watery grave clutching this stunning piece of jewellery.

Look how the salamander is carefully finished. Even the scales on the skin are copied in detail. There is a mirror placed underneath the salamander. This allows you to look at the animal’s stomach and feet.