Published on :   07/07/2015

Diving into History at Palos de la Frontera

Imagine sailing across tumultuous seas in a small rickety ship, with a crew of about 90 men and a crazy dream to find a new route to India.

This describes one segment of Christopher Columbus’ turbulent life, and today, I got to put myself directly in his shoes… or in his boat, rather, at the Harbour of the Caravels (Muelle de las Carabelos) in Palos de la Frontera.

Let me tell you this: the Harbour of the Caravels is far from a regular museum. While there are displays inside the Interpretive Center featuring maps and other relics related to Columbus’ voyage, its real charm is in its interactivity. Located outside is a beautiful recreation of the port where Columbus departed for his first journey to the Americas, alongside replicas of his three ships, the Pinta, the Niña and the Santa Maria. While these replicas have been seen all over the world at various expos, today, their home is in Palos de la Frontera, where visitors are invited to climb on board and imagine what life would have been like for Columbus and his crew over 500 years ago.

I was really taken aback by how small the boats were. As our guide explained, life on board back then was not easy. Faced with cramped conditions, unsanitary environments and limited food supplies (of mostly hard biscuits, salted meat and bread), life at sea was far from luxurious. The interior of the boats we visited were decorated with mannequins, props and even sound effects to give us a sense of what it was like... let's just say, I'm very happy to be on board CroisiEurope's river cruises, and not on one of Columbus' ships.

Outside in the harbour, apart from the ships, you will also find a reconstructed Medieval neighborhood with different market stalls, carts and a tavern selling refreshments. The overall design of the complex is really well done, and it was a neat experience to walk through the grounds and pretend like I was transported back in time. 

After this little foray into the past, we made our way to the Rábida Monastery, another attraction with strong ties to Christopher Columbus. During 1491-1492, while awaiting the financial backing of Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella for his first voyage, it was this monastery that he called home. Declared a Spanish National Monument in 1856, the space today serves as a museum of sorts to Columbus’ life and the discovery of America. Though small, it was a satisfying visit that allowed us to admire different artifacts, paintings, frescos, and even the chapel where Columbus prayed before departing for his first voyage!

No doubt – today was a huge treat for the history lover in me. The truth is: you can read a million books, but standing in the place where these stories took place, touching the walls that contained these conversations, and breathing the same air that all these figures once breathed – now that is where history comes alive.

So with my fill of history done for the day, I’ll be off tomorrow on an excursion to the Medieval Spanish city of Córdoba.

Update you all soon!

- Christina