16th Century Spanish Tents

Sleeping Quarters on the Coronado Expedition

Tents were a necessary part of the Coronado expedition, providing shelter to the explorers throughout the journey. When the explorers assembled in Compostela, the dwellings they found were referred to as rudimentary in shape and structure. Not to mention that there were not nearly enough dwellings for all those assembled—nor could they take them when they left. Explorers were required to pack and carry transportable dwellings to protect them from inclement weather and provide them a place to seek cover at night, even while awaiting orders in Compostela. Tents also provided areas of respite during downtime. A larger version of a tent, known as a pavilion, provided premium quarters for elite travelers and meeting spots for strategizing next steps.

Finding images of Spanish tents is rather difficult. Five centuries is a long time for anything to withstand the rigors of time and cotton is not exactly a hearty material. Additionally, artists were not lining up to paint, sketch or sculpt a common item like a tent. However, from the artifacts that have been preserved, as well as paintings that depict tents in the background or as part of the scenery, we can create a picture of what a 16th century Spanish tent might have looked like.

Image Source: British Library
Image Source: Bibliotheque National de France, Paris

The structure of one of the most common tents — a spoke and wheel roof with a central pole, canvas roof and walls and cables — allowed it to be set up quickly, taken down easily, and transported in convenient pieces. Other tent shapes included one we might all recognize, the simple triangle. Some unfortunate souls did not even have that luxury, sleeping instead under the stars … or the rain.