Mazagón - La Rábida


Lugares Colonbinos

The first two days of our visit were taken up with the so-called Lugares Colombinos, a local tourist route with a focus on the first voyage of Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus). As a conjunto histórico artistico this route brings together Palos de la Frontera (both the old center and the La Rábida Monastery) and Moguer. The idea is that Columbus visited each of these places several times, and people associated with each played roles in his voyage. He received help and collaboration for his projected voyage from the monks of the La Rábida Monastery, the Pinzón Brothers of Palos de la Frontera, and the Niño Brothers of Moguer.

In fact, Palos de la Frontera describes itself as the "cradle of the Discovery of America". The Pinzón Brothers (Martín Alonso Pinzón, Vicente Yañez Pinzón, and Francisco Martín Pinzón), co-discoverers of America, were from Palos. The oldest, Martín Alonso, played a decisive role in the voyage. His prestige as a shipowner and expert sailor encouraged the mariners throughout the district; he also put up one third of the cost of the voyage and, rejecting the first ships provided for Columbus, obtained others that were more appropriate.

One of the provisions that Columbus received from the Catholic Monarchs was support from the towns of the Andalusian coast in assembling his three caravels.

By means of a commission directed to the town of Moguer to fulfill this provision, Columbus seized two boats that were later discarded by Martín Alonso Pinzón. The caravel Niña was built in the shipyards of Moguer's puerto de la ribera around 1488, and was the property of the Niño Brothers (Pedro Alonso, Francisco, Juan and Bartolomé), who also played an important role in recruiting and preparing local sailors for Columbus's expedition.

On several occasions, Columbus also visited the fourteenth century Monasterio de Santa Clara in Moguer, a convent of the Poor Clares. The abbess, Inés Enríquez, was the aunt of King Ferdinand II, and supported Columbus's projected voyage before the court. Columbus and his men passed the first night after returning from his first voyage of discovery in the Santa Clara Monastery, thereby fulfilling a vow they had made on the high seas when a storm was on the point of capsizing the caravel Niña.

Monasterio de La Rábida

Our first visit was to the Monasterio de La Rábida, in Palos de la Frontera. As far as I can tell rábida is a classical Arab word meaning a place that is both for prayer (a mosque or Arab monastery) and for the holy war (fortress), and which would have been occupied by the morabitos, or warrior monks. There is a nice video overview of the site.

In fact the monastery now shares a tourist area across the river from Huelva. On the same site we find the Muelle de las Carabelas (with replicas of the three caravels Pinta, Niña, and Santa María), the Monumento al Plus Ultra (a monument to the first flight of the seaplane “Plus Ultra” that flew from La Rábida to Buenos Aires in 1926), the Parque Botánico Celestino Mutis, and a stone column called the Monolito de los Descubridores.

We can see below the bridge going to Huelva (in the north) and the two rivers joining, the Rio Tinto and the Odiel (and the smaller Estero Domingo Rubio).

The first thing you see arriving on the site is the impressive 46 meter tall column called the Monolito de los Descubridores. The original column celebrated the 400th year of the discovery of America, but in 2011 it was decided to completely renovate it (cost € 1.7 million). Originally commissioned in 1892, it had already been restored in 1948 and again between 1963 and 1967 (after being hit by lightening).

This latest restoration was a new design, but equally it recovered the royal crown and orb that were on the original column. The new column uses the original stone, but is twice as wide, and houses a ladder for maintenance.

Below we can see the original column on the left, and the column seen around the year 2000 when pieces of stone fell from the top (the original orb and crown had been looted sometime between 1931 and 1936). Scaffolding went up in 2003 with the idea of performing a quick restoration, however they found substantial corrosion of the metal structure that had then cracked the stone cladding. Finally in 2008 the column was dismantled and then completely rebuilt (a € 3 million budget was mentioned). 

Now we move on the actual Monasterio de La Rábida. Below are two examples of the irregular floor plan covering 2137 m², neither of good quality. The entrance is on the left side. Visitors go through the vestibule and into the Sala de Daniel Vázquez Díaz (a painter from Huelva), before passing into the Patio de las Flores (the lower-left patio). Then they visit the church and the side chapel Capilla de Nuestra Señora de los Milagros (also known as Santa María de la Rábida and the Virgin of Miracles). From there they pass into the Patio Mudájar and the surrounding rooms.

The remaining part of the visit takes place on the upper floor and in the rooms overlooking the Patio Mudájar. These rooms house a collection dedicated to the original voyage of discovery.

La Rábida is known firstly as a Franciscan monastery that is still occupied, and secondly as an example of a 14th C - 15th C Gothic-Mudéjar church. Thirdly, it also houses an interesting collection of memorabilia about the discovery of America. Tradition has it that the site was first an altar dedicated to the Phoenician god Baal (later equated with Hercules), and then it became a Roman site dedicated to the goddess Proserpina. The Arabs later built there a small monastery, or ribat, for some morabitos, or warrior monks. With the Christian conquest in the 13th C it belonged to the Knights Templar, under the protection of Nuestra Señora de las Milagros. Tradition has it that the site was visited by San Francisco de Assisi himself, accompanied by twelve disciples, and the site then became a Franciscan monastery. According to the historian of the Franciscan Order, La Rábida was founded in 1261. However the earliest records date from a Papal bull dated 1412, which mention a hermitage established from 1403.

Cristóbal Colón (1451-1506) visited La Rábida for the first in 1485, where it is said that he found both scientific and spiritual comfort. The monks helped him both with his contacts with the Spanish Crown, and with the local seamen. They also put him in contact with Martín Alonso Pinzón (1441-1493), a rich local shipbuilder and navigator, who would both help fund and travel with Colón on the first trip (he is buried in the monastery).

During the Spanish War of Independence (Peninsular War 1807-14) the monastery was badly damaged, and only in 1855 was it re-built and restored. The inauguration of the monastery by the Franciscans took place in 1920. Pope John Paul II visited the monastery in 1993.

The entrance is by the small door on the far-right of the above photograph. The small Patio de las Flores providing access the the church.

The church is composed of three main parts: the main main nave, the main chapel and a side chapel dedicated to Santa María de la Rábida (or Virgen de los Milagros).

The ceiling is covered by a 19th C Mudéjar influence polychrome wood paneling by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco. On the walls there are ten paintings by the 18th C painter Juan de Dios Fernández, which represent the life of Saint Francis. Presiding over the main altar is the sculpture of Jesus Christ crucified, from the 15th C, which replaced an earlier one destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.

One of the oldest elements is an arch that accesses the small chapel dedicated to the patron saint of La Rábida, the Virgin of the Miracles, Santa María de La Rábida.

In the centre we can see the Virgen de los Milagros otherwise known as Santa María de La Rábida, a small alabaster sculpture dating to the 14th C.

The main monastery cloister is in the Mudéjar style, dating from the 15th C, and a second floor was added in the 17th C. The ground floor is still home to some original 15th C Mudéjar decoration (what we can see below are 19th C copies of the original decoration).

On one side of this cloister is a 14th C Romanesque-style refectory, with its fixed benches and side pulpit.

On the second floor there is a permanent exhibition of scale models of the three caravels: La Pinta, La Niña and the Santa María.

Before leaving La Rábida it is worth noting that the Muelle de las Carabelas is home to full size reconstructions of La Niña, La Pinta, and La Santa María. It did not look open when we visited.

However just nearby there is also the Monumento Plus Ultra, which celebrates the first flight of the seaplane “Plus Ultra” from La Rábida to Buenos Aires in 1926 (10,270 km and taking 59 hours 30 minutes). Plus Ultra (“further beyond”) is the Spanish motto.


Mazagón, and specifically the Parador of Mazagón, was the base for our visit to the Provincia de Huelva (a province sitting between those of Seville and Cádiz, and Portugal).

The above picture is of the Parador, and it captures the two most important features of the site, the beaches and the pine trees. The beaches were first occupied in the 19th C by working families from the local towns, and only later they became tourist/residential attractions. The area is dominated by the Parque Nacional y Natural de Doñana, the Parajes Naturales de las Lagunas de Palos y Las Madres, and the Paraje Natural Estero de Domingo Rubio. The parks are a haven for wildlife and local flora. In and around the Parador there are 1,000’s of pine trees, in particular the pinus ponea.

The intellectually surprising part to our visit was the constant presence of Cristóbal Colón. The rather more perplexing part was the fact that the addresses of everywhere we visited were unknown to our “wonderful” Mercedes navigation system. We saw everything by combining “trial and error” with the traditional technique of using of broken Spanish to ask directions. 

These Webpages will be home to our visits to the Monasterio de La Rábida, the Santa Clara Monastery, and the Rio Tinto mines.

The Parador itself is beautifully situated on the coast overlooking the sea.