Friday, May 16, 2014

In Columbus' footsteps: Huelva and Palos de la Frontera

Huelva and its environs is a Mecca for those interested in Christopher Columbus, with a number of significant tourist attractions relating to the famous explorer. Cristóbal Colón (as he is known in Spain), is thought by most to have been born in Genoa, Italy around 1451. After years of seeking funding support for an expedition which was to find a sea route to Asia, Columbus finally came to an agreement with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. They would (along with a number of Italian financiers) back his expedition in return for dominion over the any new lands. Columbus would be awarded titles and, of course, a percentage of any fortune that was made. The rest, of course, is world history.

La Rábida, Palos de la Frontera and Moguer are three of the key sites in the Columbus story, which lie along the eastern bank of the Rio Tinto estuary and can be visited in a 40 km return trip from Huelva. 

Palos de la Frontera is most famous for being the place from which Columbus set sail in 1492, eventually reaching America. On August 3, 1492, the Pinta, Niña, and Santa María sailed from Palos. On board were Christopher Columbus and the Pinzón Brothers, who were natives of Palos. The three ships landed in America on October 12, 1492. The Santa María foundered in American waters, but the other two ships returned to Palos on March 15, 1493.

Palos is also the site of the Rábida Monastery where Columbus consulted with the Franciscans about his plans for organizing an expedition of discovery, and it is where Columbus stayed between 1491-92 waiting for financial backing from the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, for his voyage to the New World.

Palos would play a pivotal role in the settlement and Christianization of the New World in succeeding centuries. As La Rábida was a Franciscan monastery, that order would play a dominant role in this Christianization, and some of the first missionaries were natives of Palos, including Juan Izquierdo, Juan de Palos, Juan Cerrado, Pedro Salvador, Alonso Vélez de Guevara, Juan Quintero, Thomás de Narváez, and Francisco Camacho.

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