Sunday, 17 November 2013

Christopher Columbus and The Canary Islands


Who was Christopher Columbus?

Christopher Columbus [Cristobal Colon in Spanish], explorer and navigator, was born in 1451 in Genoa, Italy and by the age of 25 made his first voyage into the Atlantic when his fleet was attacked by the French, his vessel set alight, and he had to swim to the nearby Portuguese shore to save his life.

Here he settled, married and had a son. But following the death of his wife, he moved to Spain and took part in several other expeditions to Africa and learned about the currents around the Canary Islands.

His plan was to sail west across the Atlantic in order to reach the counties that lie in the east. However, his plans [and the finance] were turned down by Genoa and Venice. However, he eventually presented his plans to the Spanish monarchy of Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon in 1486 and it was not until 1492 that they agreed to finance his expedition. 

In August 1492, Columbus left Spain in the Santa Maria, with the Pinta and Nina alongside saying "Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World". His last port of call in Spain [and Europe] being La Gomera in the Canary Islands.

The following is about the various islands in the Canaries and how they were involved with Columbus before his epic voyage of 1492.


Mount Teide - Tenerife
Tenerife was the most populated of the Canary Islands, still in the hands of the Guanches [the native inhabitants of the Canaries] when in 1492 Christopher Columbus passed the island of Tenerife before stopping at neighbouring Gran Canaria and La Gomera on his way to the New World. It was at this time that Columbus witnessed the eruption of Mount Teide and recorded that his crew believed this to be sign that they should turn back.

In Playa de las Americas [Puerto Colon] you will find a modern monument of Columbus standing on top of a globe pointing out to the Americas.


Gran Canaria

Vagueta - Gran Canaria
If you are in the capital of Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, head to the city's historic Vagueta Quarter and to the beautiful Casa de Colon. It is highly unlikely that Columbus actually lived here, but more than likely visited here for a few days in 1492.

Today, the house is an interesting museum which recreates the Age of Discovery complete with navigational aids, maps, models and a portrait of Columbus himself. You will be delighted to find a reconstructed full-size fragment of La Nina [one of Columbus' ships] demonstrating the living conditions the sailors endured on their voyage. In fact, the whole of the ground floor is dedicated to Christopher Columbus.

La Gomera

When Columbus anchored in the port of San Sebastian in La Gomera before his voyage to discover the Americas, this was known to be the most westerly post in the world.

Walk along Calle Real [sometimes known as Calle del Medio] in San Sebastian and you will see the 17th centurty Casa del Pozo that used to be the customs house. The name Casa del Pozo actually means House of the Well and it is from here that the water supply for Columbus' ships was drawn from the Pozo de la Aguada [the well inside the house]. You will see inscribed on the well the words "With this Water, America was Baptized".

A little further along is the Iglesia Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, a little church where it is said that Columbus said his last prayer before setting out on his great voyage.

You will also see here Casa de Colon [Columbus House] where it is reported that he spent his last night on Spanish soil. Today, the house has been converted to a museum all about Columbus' life and is, in fact, the focal point of a festival held here every September.

Torre del Conde - La Gomera
Finally, in the small harbour-side park is the well known Torre del Conde [Count's Tower] that dates back to 1447. It was no accident that Columbus chose La Gomera as his final sailing point from Spain. He heard that a lady with whom he had a previous "romantic liaison" in Granada[Beatriz de Bobadilla], lived in Torre del Conde. She was once mistress to King Ferdinand of Spain before Queen Isabella, as a result of finding out about the mistress and feeling threatened by her, married her off to the despised governor of La Gomera, Hernan Peraza, who was subsequently killed during an uprising, and Beatriz barricaded herself in to the tower.

It is believed that Columbus met with Beatriz, and as a result, his first voyage to the Americas was delayed by nearly a month. He then made La Gomera one of his favourite stops on his subsequent voyages in 1493, 1498. However it is believed that he wisely avoided La Gomera on his final voyage as Beatriz, following the death of her first husband, married Alonso Fernandez who was one of the most powerful men in the Canaries.

Today, Torre del Conde is a National Historic Monument and is the oldest surviving military building in the Canary Islands housing a museum celebrating the links of the Canary Islands to the Americas.

La Palma

If you are Santa Cruz de La Palma head down to the Naval Centre and just past this you will find a replica, in concrete, of Christopher Columbus' ship - the Santa Maria. He never visited the island of La Palma but this replica is used as a maritime museum, locally known as the Barco de la Virgen.

El Hierro

The last island the fleet passed was El Hierro [once said to be the end of the world]. Surprisingly, they did not drop off the edge as expected, but continued their voyage across the Atlantic. If you are on the island of El Hierro, visit the old lighthouse in Orchilla [the island's most westerly point] you will see the first zero meridian.

So when you next visit the Canary Islands and see references to Christopher Columbus [Cristobal Colon] you will know a little more about the historical connection between them.

If you would like to visit one of the Canary Island to discover more about Columbus, we would suggest the island of La Gomera as a good starting point. Just give us a call on FREEPHONE 0800 5 677688 or on 01582 421117 from a mobile as we will be delighted to find a hotel, apartment complex or rural house for you.

Author : Gail Hewitt - Corona Holidays

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