Huelva, Spain – Rich in History and Andalusian Culture
Located not far from Spain’s southernmost border with Portugal, Huelva is the capital of Andalusia’s Huelva Province. Blessed with a favorable location on the Gulf of Cádiz at the spot where the mouths of the Tinto and Odiel Rivers come together, Huelva has a long and fascinating history – especially for maritime history buffs. Much of its history relates to the town’s status as an important Spanish port.
Meteorologists refer to the climate as Subtropical-Mediterranean. Because of its location in extreme southern Spain, Huelva’s summers are extremely hot. Winters, though, are very mild. Although you should expect some rain during winter, the temperatures are ideal for sightseeing and Huelva averages about 300 sunny days per year. That’s good, because there are plenty of things for travelers to see and do.
Huelva has been continuously inhabited for at least 5,000 years, being founded by the Phoenicians sometime around 3,000 B.C. A little later, it was taken over by the Carthaginians and then the Tartessians, prosperous ancient metal traders who were based in southwestern Andalusia. Iberian tribes next occupied the area, followed not too long afterward by the conquering ancient Romans. They remained the governing power in Huelva until the 5th century A.D., capitalizing on the region’s importance to shipping and its rich copper deposits. The region still features a few Roman ruins.
Eventually the Moors came to Huelva as well as the rest of Andalusia. Moorish mosques and forts, together with Mudéjar churches (built by Moors who remained in Spain after the Christian Reconquista), still remain in Huelva and the surrounding area even today. Following the Reconquista, Christianity held sway in the area, which came under the rule of Spain’s succession of Catholic monarchs. It was at this time (the late 15th century) that Huelva came to be known to the entire Western World. Why so, you might ask? Well, Huelva’s port (Palos de la Frontera, about eight miles away) was the place from which Christopher Columbus set sail on his groundbreaking voyage to the New World.
Huelva suffered substantial damage in the catastrophic 1755 Lisbon earthquake, requiring much of the city to be rebuilt. After that, it entered a less colorful period, focusing on the fishing, mining and shipping industries. The Brits got involved in copper, silver and gold mining in the area during the 19th century. Among other things, they created Huelva’s Barrio Reina Victoria, a typically British neighborhood with old Victorian homes and small residential gardens. The area looks a bit out of place because of its English architecture, but it was built that way on purpose, as homes for British miners. Things stayed pretty quiet until the outbreak of World War II.
That’s when Huelva quietly became a hub of espionage activities for the Axis and the Allies. German spies who lived in the area reported on British shipping entering and leaving the Atlantic, while people living in the city’s large British community reciprocated by reporting on German shipping.
After the war, Huelva’s economy started changing. Tourism and services are now the big focus, although fishing and farming (strawberries, primarily, but other fruits too) are still important. Preserving the regional environment has become a top priority, which explains why a third of the province is now devoted to nature preserves. Doñana National Park, for example, is one of the country’s largest and most famous wildlife preserves. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the rules to see it are quite restrictive. Entry is limited to those who book one of the guided minibus tours that are offered by the park. Only seven tours are held each day and each one is limited to a dozen people. That being said, these guided tours are a fascinating 3-hour experience.
This strong focus on environmentalism also explains why the province has no airports – Huelvans believe jet traffic would disrupt the delicate balance of their nature preserves. So, if you want to fly into the area, you’ll need to take a plane to Seville instead. Fortunately, Seville isn’t that far away and it’s a city you’d probably want to see anyway.
Huelva (both the city and the province) has many attractions, but the sites relating to Christopher Columbus are among the most popular. In addition to Huelva city itself, they include:
Huelva is something of a regional cultural capital. The area hosts a number of annual festivals. Here are just a few of them:
Multiple stunning Mudéjar churches (and an 18th-century cathedral) are scattered throughout the area, as are Roman ruins. Nearby Mediterranean beaches beckon on sunny days, and there are a lot of them. Wine tours and tours of the 5,000-year old Rio Tinto mines are available. And because Huelva’s economy is primarily based on travel and tourism, there’s no shortage of hotels or restaurants, including everything from upscale fine dining to inexpensive tapas bars. All in all, it’s a terrific place to visit!
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