Roman Onuba, a city in the southwest of Spain, whose province lies on the corder with Portugal, is situated on a triangle of sand at the meeting point of the Rivers Tinto and Odiel.
The remains found at Los Cabezos, the small hills that cross the province from north to south giving it a highly distinctive form, bear evidence of the first settlers who arrived in Huelva. Especially important was the development of the Tartessic culture in the area although Romans, Visigoths and Muslims also settled there. All of them have left significant remains which are to be found in the important Cabezo de San Pedro site.
Particularly attractive for the impressive natural scenery which surrounds it, Huelva is undoubtedly the Andalusian city with the strongest links with the Discovery of America as its was in the nearby Monastery of La Rábida that Columbu´s voyage was forged. Furthermore, the Caravels of the Discoevry, manned by local seamen, sailed from theport of Palos de la Frontera while Huelva´s port itself, today included in the so called "shellfish route", was for many years the centre of trade with the Indies.
Although the city has always retained a strong maritime tradition, in the 19th century, with the exploitation of the Riotinto mines by the English- owned Rio Tinto Company, Huelva was to become one of the most important industrial centres in Southern Spain. Impressive industrial construction bear evidence of this period of splendour.
The long history of Muslim Welba, and the important role that the city played in the disvovery of America by Christopher Columbus, are constantly featured in the local museums. The Huelva Museum, declared a Site of Cultural Interest, which is housed in modern facilities, exhibits objects of great archaeological value including pieces found and the remains of la Zarzita and El Pozuelo, materials from the Eastern- influenced necropolis of La Joya, pieces dating from the Tartessic era, and a collection of mining instruments from the Roman period.
The Open Air Sculpture Museum, and unusual artistic project which was created to mark the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Discoevry of America, was conceived to improve the image of a large area of the city, whilst the Centre for the Recuperation and Documentation of Huelva´s Port combines elements from the oldest port traditions with state of the art technology.
Fresh fish and shellfish, the key elements in Huelva´s traditional cuisine, are supplied daily to local markets such as that of El Carmen where it is possible to find choco, white prawns, tiger prawns, sole, clams, etc. The most popular local specialities include a variety of fish dishes such as monkfish in white wine, dogfish a la marinera, or ray in paprika, as well as tasty pork products, fresh meats from the Andevalo area and the local sierras, and lively wines with the Condado de Huelva denomination of origin.
The festive calendar begins with the celebrations for San Sebastián on the 20th of January, during which there is a tradition of eating palm heart. This is followed in February by the all- important Carnival, with the popular burial of "El Choco" with is always attended by numerous "widows". Then the streets fill with the highly baroque Easter processions, whilst in May they are colourfully decorated for the celebration of the May Crosses.
Following of from the start of the pilgrimage to El Rocío, a very emotional event for the people of Huelva, are the Fiestas Colombinas, during the first week of August. These commemorate the setting sail of Columbus and his caravels, but they also mark the beginning of the bull- fighting season.
Columbu´s feat is also related to the festivity in honour of Nuestra Señora de la Cinta in September, during which the Virgin´s effigy is taken out for a procession from its sactuary to the Cathedral. It says there for nearly a month before being returned once more to its sanctuary. This tradition, widely followed amongst the seamen of the area, goes back to Columbus, who, experiencing difficulties during his return journey made a pledge to visit the shrine, a promise that he later kept.
After the Feria de la Tapa (Tapa´s fair) at the end of the summer, comes on the most important cultural events in Huelva: the Iberian American Film Festival. This was set up in 1975 and takes place in mid November. An international panel of judges awards the Colón de Oro, a golden statuette depicting Columbus, to the best feature length and short films.
In the Andalusian city with the strongest Latin American association one can stroll through its historic centre of pedestrian streets and admire its important heritage, discover colossal vestiges of 19th century industrial architecture, sample the traditional local dishes which are served in its numerous restaurants or perhaps wander through the streets of the Barrio Obrero (the Workers District) to see its typical English houses. Huelva offers alternatives for all tastes.
The Centre for the Recuperation and Documentation of Huelva´s Port, housed in the old coach house, marks the starting point of a route along the banks of the River Odiel. At the Jardines del Muelle gardens is the Monument to Alonso Sánchez, who is considered as the "pre- discoverer" of the New World as it was he who gave Columbus an account of the route that he followed on his first trip to the Indies.
Next to the old Zafra station, stands the Plaza de Octubre, a squear built for the 1929 Iberian American Exposition which retains its original street lamps and obelisk, and the Las Canoas wharf, from where boats sail the route to Punta Umbría, passing thorough the marshy landscape of the Marismas del Odiel Natural Area.
Alter taking a small detour to admire the beautiful neo- Mudejar building that houses the Estación de Sevilla station, we return to the port area to see the Muelle de Riotinto, a quay some 1.165 metres in length whose mineral loading jetty marks the end of the railway system which was constructed by the Río Tinto Company to transport copper from the mines to the city in 1873. From one of Huelva´s landmarks, we move on to two others which are of great symbolic importance for the city´s people: the Real Club Recreativo de Huelva, the oldest football club in Spain, founded in 1889, which recently moved to a new stadium, the Nuevo Colombino; and the Monument to Colón, in Punta del Sebo, a colossal stone statue 20 metres in height which was erected in 1929 by the North American Columbus Memorial Foundation.
Around the emblematic Plaza de la Merced we find some of the most important monuments and idiosyncratic places in the city and it is area which will delight lovers of culture and the arts.
Declared a Site of Historical Interest, the archaeological of Cabezo de San Pedro stand in the heart of the historic centre. They are a valuable reminder of the presence of Huelva´s earliest settlers and contain elements which span from the late Bronze Age to the Middle Ages. Of special importance was the Tartessic era, during which Huelva became an important commercial centre. Dating from this period is a necropolis found at the Cabezo de La Joya site which id considered the largest example of a proto- historic funerary complex in Andalusia. Next to the remains of the medieval castle stands the Church of San Pedro, the oldest temple in the city, dating from between the 15th and 16th centuries, which contains gothic and Mudejar elements and a beautiful tower from the 18th century.
The modernist building of the UGT Workers Union, the Mora Claros Palace in an eclectic style with neo- classical influences, the Oficial Collage of Architects and the Casa Hermandad del Rocío de Emigrantes are all to be found on the way to the Plaza de la Merced, an attractive square in which gardens are arranged on various levels. The plaza affords the best views of the magnificient baroque Nuestra Señora de la Merced Cathedral.
This was originally and old convent church, bearing the same name, but in 1954 it was chosen as the seat for the cathedral. Declared a Site of Cultural Interest and a National Monument, from the faÇade of this colossal church protrude the belfries of two unfinished towers. The Cathedral contains interesting works of art such as the altarpiece of the Virgen de los Dolores, oil paintings such as that of San Lorenzo, by Herrera el Viejo, and the Virgen de la Cinta by Martínez Montañés.
Other places on this route which are well worth visiting are the Gota de Leche building and the La Merced bullring, in neo- Mudejar style, whose design is a mirror image of that of Las Ventas in Madrid.
In the narrow pedestrian streets with their traditional shops which are located on both sides of the Avenida Martín Alonso Pinzón, such as Calle Berdigón, Rábida, and Tres de Agosto which stretch from Plaza del Punto and Plaza de las Monjas, we find numerous buildings of interest. The avenue is also dotted with the beautiful modern works of art which form part of the Open Air Sculpture Museum. This route through the historic centre takes in monuments such as the Convent of Las Hermanas de la Cruz, an uncomplicated construction in regionalist style, the Casa de la Cultura, and the neoclassic building which houses the Town Hall.
In the Plaza de las Monjas, one of the holdest and most popular squares in the city, stand the Convent of Las Agustinas de Santa María de Gracia, with an original Mudejar courtyard, the building housing the Bank of Spain, and the Church of La Milagrosa or Nuestra Señora de la Estrella del Mar. The latter is one of the few examples of neo-gothic architecture in the province.
The wealth of the bourgeoisie in the 19th century was reflected in the city´s historic centre which saw the construction of magnificent buildings such as the Great Theatre, with its façade of large columns, the Círculo Mercantil, the old Musical Conservatory, undoubtedly one of the finest examples of modernist architecture in the city and the La Unión y el Fénix building. Before finishing this route it is well worth visiting the Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. Declared a Site of Cultural Interest, this church from the 16th-18th centuries has Mudejar and baroque elements and contains valuable works by Zurbarán.
The main green space in the city, El Conquero is one of the most idiosyncratic areas in Huelva, both for the unusual outline of its numerous hills and the beautiful views which can be seen from the top of its postmodernist miradores (belvederes). Underneath the Cabezos hills lie the remains of an underground Roman aqueduct from the 1st century AD. Nearby is the Parque Moret, a park with watercourses and fruit trees which contains four burial mounds from the Tartessic period.
On one of the hilltops stands the Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de la Cinta, a church from the 15th century which has been declared a Site of Cultural Interest, despite the fact that only the façade of the Muro de Evangelio remains from the original building. A centre for popular devotion, of special note are the cloister in the entrance which has porticoed galleries, and the tile painting on one of its walls which commemorates the visit by Christopher Columbus upon his return from the Indies, thereby fulfilling a promise he made prior to his voyage.
The Avenida de Andalucía, the main artery of Huelva, is in the more modern part of the city. On this avenue we find the University Campus, the Palacio de Deportes, a large sports complex, the main offices of the Hermandad del Rocío de Huelva religious brotherhood and the Peña Flamenca de Huelva. The avenue also contains various gardens and park such as the Parque de la Esperanza and the Parque Alonso Sánchez, which is formed by three hills, and a number of monuments dedicated to a variety of people and themes: the Litri dynasty of bullighters; the flamenco singer Paco Toronto; the Virgen de la Cinta (the patron saint of Huelva); the towns villages of Huelva; football; etc.
This route begins at Plaza del Punto, with its Monument to Fandango, and passes through various busy roads which lead to the unusual Barrio Obrero, next to the Parish Church of El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús. One of these emblematic avenues is the Alameda Sundheim, which contains the residences of the colonial upper bourgeoisie of the late 19th century. Also on this avenue are the Speed Track in which the first football stadium in Spain, and the finest examples of international architecture: the Casa Colón, inaugurated in 1883 to house the Gran Hotel Colón and owned by The Huelva Hotel Company, today converted into a modern exhibition and conference centre, the modernist casona or large house, which stands next to the Huelva Museum; and the Reina Victoria quarter or Barrio Obrero, declared a Historic Site, which was constructed by the Río Tinto Company for its employees with houses in the typical English style.
Beginning at the Muelle de las Canoas wharf visitors can take a route through the Marismas del Odiel Natural Area, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. This covers sine 8.000 hectares in the municipalities of Huelva, Aljaraque, Gibraleón and Punto Umbría, and comprises the islands of Saltés, of special archaeological value- Enmedio and Bacuta. Its unique situation between Europe and Africa means that it is an extremely important area for migratory birds. The Muelle de la Compañía Tharsis wharf, opened in 1871, is also to be found in this important natural area.
The body of William Martin which lies at rest in the English Cemetery, played a strange role in the events if the Second World War. It was discovered by a fisherman in El Portil along with the remains of a dinghy and a briefcase attached tohis arm which contained information about a possibla landing by allied troops. Apparently he had actually died of pneumonia but the English had tried topass him off as a Commander in the Marines with false documentation, so as to mislead German intelligence and make them think that the later landing in Sicily was going to take place elsewhere. This was all part of a secret operation called "Operation Mincemeat".