The swashbuckling world of pirates

From Hong Kong to North Carolina, check out the spots where these romanticized vagabonds left their mark

By Megan Cytron
Published July 24, 2011 7:01PM (EDT)

What is it about pirates? For a society that radically alters its behavior and policies in reaction to the relatively remote threats of stranger-danger and random attacks, we sure do romanticize the lives of these criminal pillagers, enslavers, kidnappers and terrorists of the past.

Most of what draws us to pirates is clearly the product of fiction -- their outsider status, odd stateless culture, unrepentant boozing and moral ambiguity have always been appealing to writers and poets who themselves feel marginalized. Pop culture has converted the whole phenomenon into costume-based kitsch, but there are real-world pirate hideaways, shipwrecks and sketchy legends of hidden treasures that give travelers a fun excuse to explore coastlines and remote islands and imagine a time when now-peaceful waters were violently menaced by freelance marauders (not to mention state-sponsored privateers). The Mediterranean is ringed by fortifications and lookout towers that attest to the drastic measures communities had to take to protect themselves from wave after wave of terror from the sea. Today, their remnants tend to be the sort of beautiful places where couples head on evening walks and postcard pictures are taken.

Megan Cytron

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