Isla de Muerta (ungrammatical Spanish for "Island of the Dead") was a mysterious phantom isle located in the Caribbean. Marked on no map, this island of death could not be found, except for those who knew where it was. According to legends and lore, Isla de Muerta was the location of the treasure of Hernán Cortés, a prize among many treasures that buccaneers and adventurers, even Captain Jack Sparrow, was interested in finding.
Using the bearings he had tricked out of Jack Sparrow, Hector Barbossa sailed the Black Pearl to this island. It was in the island's echoing caves that Barbossa and his crew found the stone chest filled with 882 pieces of Aztec Gold. After being cursed by the treasure, the crew of the Black Pearl embarked on a ten-year quest to return all the scattered gold pieces they gave away, one by one. Throughout their desperate search, the cursed crew preyed on ships and settlements, plundering loot which they hoarded within the island's caverns. Sometime after the crew's curse was lifted, Isla de Muerta would be swallowed into the sea, vanishing from the face of the earth.
- 1 History
- 2 Locations
- 3 Behind the scenes
- 4 Appearances
- 5 Sources
- 6 Notes and references
According to pirate lore, Isla de Muerta was an island of death that was marked on no map, and could only be found by those who already knew where it was. The island itself was surrounded by a thick fog and a graveyard of wrecked ships, an area that was shark-infested. Isla de Muerta remained largely unexplored, save for the caverns most notably used by Captain Hector Barbossa and his crew to store their plundered loot. Around that time, stories told of Isla de Muerta spoke of hidden treasure beyond anyone's imagination.
Treasure of Cortés
- "Within a day of leaving port for Spain, the treasure ship carrying the gold...something went wrong. The ship run aground, every man aboard dead, save one. He survived long enough to hide the gold ashore. Over time, the dark magic of the curse seeped into the place, making it a cursed island. An island of death. Isla de Muerta."
- ―Hector Barbossa to Elizabeth Swann
The Isla de Muerta was most associated with the legend of the cursed treasure of Cortés. The Aztec Empire delivered a stone chest with 882 pieces of Aztec gold to Cortés in an attempt to stop the slaughter of their people, but in his greed, Cortés refused to halt his conquest. In response, the heathen gods placed a curse upon the gold, so that any mortal who removed a single coin from the chest would be punished for eternity. Ultimately, the treasure of Cortés would end up in the caves of Isla de Muerta. According to legend, after a ship carrying the treasure ran aground on the island, killing all but one of its crew, the lone survivor hid the treasure ashore before dying himself. Over time, the dark magic of the treasure cursed the island itself over time.
Blood of the Aztec Curse
After recruiting a crew at Tortuga, Captain Jack Sparrow had the Black Pearl sail in the quest to find the treasure of the Isla de Muerta, with the use of his compass as a guide to the island. Three days out into the voyage, Jack's first mate, Hector Barbossa, coerced Jack into giving up the exact location of the island, saying that if the crew was going to have a share of the treasure, they should know where they're going. And so, Jack gave Barbossa the bearings to Isla de Muerta, making Barbossa somebody who could find the island because he already knew where it was. In response, Barbossa gathered the crew and led a mutiny against Jack, marooning him on a deserted island and leaving him for dead. Barbossa then led Jack's former crew as the new captain of the Pearl.
First journey to the island
- "I hardly believe in ghost stories anymore, Captain Barbossa."
"Aye. That's exactly what I thought when we were first told the tale. Buried on an island of dead what cannot be found, except for those who know where it is. Find it, we did. There be the chest. Inside be the gold. And we took 'em all."
- ―Elizabeth Swann and Hector Barbossa
Using the bearings acquired from Jack, Barbossa and his crew were able to find Isla de Muerta. There, through the echoing caves, they found the stone chest and summarily stole all 882 pieces of the Aztec gold, an act which the crew would later regret. Captain Barbossa and his crew would then spent it all on drink, food, and pleasurable company. Soon afterwards, the crew realized that they fell under the Aztec curse, in which they can't feel, die, and when they step into the moonlight, they become living, rotting skeletons. After figuring out that it was the Aztec gold pieces that placed the curse upon them, Barbossa's crew returned to Isla de Muerta to find a way to lift the curse and end their punishment. There, they found out that the curse could be reversed only when every last piece of the Aztec gold was returned to the chest.
It wasn't until Bootstrap Bill Turner was sent to the depths did the crew learned that all who stole from the chest had to pay the heathen gods in blood, which now seemed impossible with Bootstrap lost to them. But a chance of hope lied on Turner's child, who had both his coin and Turner blood in his veins. Thus, Barbossa's crew set about, attempting to return all 882 pieces of the treasure, using Isla de Muerta as a base.
The cursed pirates didn't bring just the Aztec gold to Isla de Muerta, they heaped up all their plunder into the cave. Until the curse was lifted, wealth was worthless to them, for nothing they could buy brought them pleasure. However, not everything in the cave was valuable, as Pintel and Ragetti mistakenly brought a trunk of women's clothing. The treasure on Isla de Muerta included huge quantities of gold and silver bars and coins, which came from raids on Spanish ships heading back to Seville from the country's colonies in Mexico and Peru. But some of the most valuable pieces were jewelries stolen from wealthy passengers on ships the Black Pearl attacked.
Second journey to the island
Years later, following an attack on Port Royal, Barbossa's crew obtained the final Aztec gold medallion from Elizabeth Swann, whom they believed to be a descendant of Bootstrap Bill Turner. Having retrieved the last medallion and believing Elizabeth had Turner blood, Barbossa's crew was now intent on ending their curse. And so the Black Pearl set a course for Isla de Muerta. Jack Sparrow soon followed aboard the Interceptor, with the assistance of Elizabeth's childhood friend Will Turner, a young blacksmith who wanted to save her. With the use of his compass, Jack was able to set a course in finding the island.
While the Interceptor was drawing closer to Isla de Muerta, the Black Pearl had already arrived. She lay anchor in one of the many rocky harbors that lined the island as the pirates set to the longboats and rowed toward a dark cave entrance. Barbossa's crew brought a bound Elizabeth to the island to return the last coin that she wore around her neck, and entered the large cavern that was crammed with treasure, including the cursed treasure of Cortés. The pirates also aimed to cut her with a flint knife. Jack Sparrow and Will Turner followed the crew of the Black Pearl to the island, entering the dark caves via longboat. From their hiding place, they helplessly watched as Barbossa prepared to sacrifice Elizabeth. Jack and Will witnessed Barbossa's crew reminiscing of their search for the 882 pieces of the Aztec gold. As Barbossa performed the blood ritual to lift the curse, Will knocked Jack out with an oar, believing that he would betray him, and tried to find a way to sneak around Barbossa's men to save Elizabeth. Upon realizing that Elizabeth was not the child of Bootstrap Bill, an enraged Barbossa knocked her unconscious as the crew began to argue amongst themselves on their unsuccessful attempt to lift the curse.
As Barbossa's crew continued to argue, to a point where the captain himelf was blamed for their predicament, Will was able to sneak Elizabeth out of the caves. The crew realized shortly afterwards that Elizabeth escaped with the medallion. While searching for the oars to their longboats, which were taken by Will and Elizabeth in their escape, Barbossa's crew was reunited with their old captain of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow. Invoking the right of parley, Jack would be brought before Barbossa, shocked by Jack's survival, who ordered him killed. However, as Jack had knowledge on whose blood the crew needed, Barbossa had no choice but to bring his former captain along with his crew aboard the Black Pearl to find the medallion.
Battle of the Isla de Muerta
Return to the island
- "With haste we returned to Isla de Muerta; our goal to rescue the ungrateful Will Turner from the villainous pirate Barbossa and his wretched crew."
- ―Jack Sparrow
After a battle with the HMS Interceptor, which ended with Barbossa's crew taking back the medallion and destroying the Interceptor, the Black Pearl's crew returned to Isla de Muerta, with Will Turner, the true descendant of Bootstrap Bill Turner, as their prisoner. Entering the caves, the pirates once again aimed to lift their curse, this time with the intention of killing Will and using his blood in the ritual.
Inside the treasure cavern, Barbossa and his crew prepared to perform the blood ritual once again. But before they could spill Will's blood, the pirates were in shock upon seeing Captain Jack Sparrow himself entering the cavern. Though Barbossa initially wanted to resume in lifting the curse by killing Will, Jack warned Barbossa that the HMS Dauntless, captained by Commodore James Norrington, was offshore waiting for his crew. Upon this revelation, Barbossa listened to Jack's proposal for a partnership. "Wait to lift the curse until the opportune moment," Jack said to Barbossa, saving Will's life. Agreeing to his deal with Jack, Barbossa sent his crewmen for attack, save for three of his men. But to Jack's dismay, having planned on Barbossa's men using the longboats to fight Norrington's men aboard the Dauntless, Barbossa ordered the crew to go walk underwater, and ambush the Dauntless from below.
Fight in the caves
While the majority of the crew commenced their attack on the Dauntless, Barbossa, Will and Jack waited in the caves for the slaughter to end. Jack was examining the various treasure as Will was being held hostage by Jacoby, Monk, and Weatherby. Barbossa and Jack briefly talked about Jack's honesty until Jack stole one of Monk's swords and tossed it to Will. With the tides turned, Will freed himself and fought Barbossa's men, while Jack pulled out his own sword and dueled with Barbossa.
Jack and Barbossa fought a fierce battle around the treasure cave until Jack stabbed Barbossa, who then pulled the sword out and stabbed Jack with it. However, once Jack stepped into the moonlight, he turned into a skeleton, revealing that he was cursed; having secretly stolen a piece of the Aztec gold. Though they were both immortal, Jack and Barbossa continued their fight through the caves.
Will skillfully defended himself from the cursed pirates, until he lost his sword and was about to be killed by Jacoby. But Elizabeth appeared, having rowed in from one of the longboats of the Dauntless, and saved Will by smacking Jacoby with a long golden rod she found within the treasure cave. Will and Elizabeth then teamed up to kill the pirates using one of Jacoby's grenades that were planted inside of him before he reverted to his human form.
Witnessing this, Jack then cut his hand, thereby putting his blood on his piece of the gold and threw it to Will. Barbossa pulled out his pistol and aimed it at Elizabeth, but was unable to kill her as he was immediately shot by Jack. Believing he was invincible, Barbossa gloated at Jack, saying that he wasted his shot. However, Will corrected him as he dropped the last two pieces of gold, with his blood on his piece, onto the chest, thereby lifting the Aztec curse. Barbossa, seeing that his chest was bleeding, looked at Jack and stated that he felt cold before falling to the cave floor, dead.
After the battle
Back on the Dauntless, Barbossa's crew reverted to normal and surrendered to Norrington's men, who survived the battle in victory. Jack once again examined the treasure in the cave as Will and Elizabeth decided to return aboard the Dauntless. Jack shared a ride with Will and Elizabeth with the intention to go aboard the Black Pearl. However, as they exited the island, Jack realized that his crew had taken the Pearl. Though he was deceived, Jack was glad that his crew kept to the Pirate's Code.
Meanwhile, Barbossa's body would remain at Isla de Muerta for a certain time, until he would be taken to shack of Tia Dalma, where he would be resurrected. At some point during this time, Barbossa's pet monkey Jack would appear in the cave, where he would take a piece of the Aztec gold and became cursed once again.
Although the surviving members of Barbossa's crew were captured by the British Royal Navy, some would later escape and returned to Isla de Muerta, where they became cursed once more, vowing revenge against Jack Sparrow.
Some time later, the entire island was swallowed into the sea, taking all the treasure along with it, effectively vanishing from the face of the earth. At some point after becoming captain of the Black Pearl once again, Jack Sparrow's crew visited the island to see if they could still get the treasure. However, as the island was taken by the sea, there was no such luck. Only Barbossa's monkey Jack survived this strange ordeal and found himself aboard the Pearl.
It was in these echoing caves that Hector Barbossa's crew found the stone chest filled with 882 pieces of Aztec Gold, which the crew later started returning. But the pirates didn't just have Aztec Gold on Isla de Muerta, they heaped up all the plunder in the cave. Until the Aztec curse was lifted, wealth was worthless to them, for nothing they can buy brought them pleasure. But not everything in the cave was valuable, as Pintel and Ragetti mistakenly bring a trunk of women's clothing. Packed in chests and heaped in messy piles, treasure filled the caves: precious jewels are strewn across the ground; pearl string once hung around the neck of a princess of Bavaria; amethyst centerpiece of brooch was big as a pigeon's eye. The treasure on Isla de Muerta included huge quantities of gold and silver bars and coins, which came from raids on Spanish ships. But some of the most valuable pieces are jewelry stolen from wealthy passengers on ships the Black Pearl attacked. Anything and everything of value that might be carried by ship, was here.
Before entering the treasure-filled caves lied a grotto, where a skeleton with a sword on its back, with a crab crawling next to it, can be seen. It was this visual that gave Will Turner the idea that Jack Sparrow was going to betray him.
Off the coast of Isla de Muerta, lied Shipwreck Cay. Through thick fog, visitors could make out the shapes of half-sunken ships. Worn masts rotted in the air, the only sign of the vessels that lay below the waves. Elsewhere, upside-down hulls, could be seen, holes worn away in the wood. It was a graveyard of lost ships, in which many sailors have died upon sailing through this passage. Sharks have been known to inhabit this area, most likely to claim those poor souls who died in the Cay.
Behind the scenes
- The correct name would be "Isla de la Muerte" or "Isla de Muerte". It should be noted, however, that the former was correctly used in the Latin Spanish dub of The Curse of the Black Pearl.
- For filming The Curse of the Black Pearl, scenes on Isla de Muerta were filmed in the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, in Stage #2 on the Disney lot. It was the same space that was redesigned in 1997 to accommodate an enormous asteroid set for another Jerry Bruckheimer film, Armageddon.
- Production designer Brian Morris was given total freedom to create the perfect pirate hideout, where a lavishly adorned cavern would be built complete with winding waterways, a moat, little grottos and treacherous rocky terrain. It took 100 craftsmen five months to build the cave set, where it would be filled with 300,000 gallons of water, a process that took three to four days, and dressed over a period of three weeks.
- The island's caves were based on "Dead Man's Cove" from the original Disneyland ride. A scene with a waterfall was originally going to be in The Curse of the Black Pearl (in which Jack Sparrow and Will Turner go down a flume into the caves), but was cut due to budget. Despite this, the idea was later put into the screenplay for At World's End.
- The location is specified as "an island of death" in the film's first screenplay draft, in which its history is expanded: a ship carrying Cortés' treasure ran aground on the island, all but one of its crew dead. The survivor hid the treasure ashore before dying. Over time, the dark magic of the treasure cursed the island itself.
- The treasure cave is used as the background for the bonus features menu in the At World's End video game. It is also used as the setting for the boss battle with Barbossa in Kingdom Hearts II.
- "Isla Muerta" is one of the islands known as "The Five Deaths" ('Las Cinco Muertes') in the Jurassic Park franchise.
- La isla de la muerte is the name of the 1967 American SF/Horror movie.
- The Price of Freedom (Mentioned only)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (video game)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (First appearance)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (comic)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow
- The Accidental Pirate! (Mentioned only)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Mentioned only)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Mentioned only)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (video game) (PS2 version)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Tides of War
- Kingdom Hearts II (Non-canonical appearance)
- LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game (Non-canonical appearance)
- Kingdom Hearts III (Mentioned only)
- Pirates of the Caribbean (film series)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Complete Visual Guide
Notes and references
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (junior novelization), pg.99
- Wordplay: Pirates of the Caribbean first draft screenplay
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Complete Visual Guide, p.40-41: "Isla de Muerta"
- Revenge of the Pirates!
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
- Pirates of the Caribbean Monopoly
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (junior novelization), p. 95-96
- Why For did Michael Eisner try and shut down production of "The Curse of the Black Pearl" back in 2002? - Jim Hill Media
|Locations in Pirates of the Caribbean|