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Palos de la Frontera, Huelva






Convent of Rabida, Spain
Convent of Rabida, Andalucia


The little Franciscan Convento de la Rábida* dates from the 1300s, and sits on a commanding hill beside the mouth of the Rio Tinto and the Rio Odiel near Palos de la Frontera, Huelva.  The site was earlier occupied by a ribat - a fortress garrisoned by Islamic warrior monks from a tradition which predated, and possibly even acted as a model for, the Knights Templar.  The convent has entered the history books because of its links with Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America, but even without this it would be worth visiting this little Franciscan jewel. 


The Palos area was an obvious choice for Columbus (in Spanish Cristóbal Colón) when he left Portugal, as it was well known for having state of art ship builders and experienced sailors - such as the Pinzón brothers with whom he teamed up.   Columbus arrived at the convent in 1485 with his five year old son Diego (his Madieran wife having died), and established an early rapport with the Brother Juan Pérez (a senior state official in a previous life) and Brother Antonio de Marchena (who had a scientific bent and education).  Both friars had extensive court contacts, Pérez being a confessor to the Queen, and together they acted as Columbus' merchant banking advisors over the next seven years until the expedition that changed world history set sail from just under the convent in 1492.    More when we get stuck into a bit more research .......


* For the mendicant orders like the Franciscans, their residencies were called convents (which mainly housed men), and they were known as Friars rather than Monks.


Rabida Convent - Cloisters

The lower level of the Mudéjar style cloisters dates from the early 1400s, and so would have been there when Columbus was doing his thing.   The structure survived the great earthquake of 1 November 1755 which devastated so much of Portugal and Western Spain.

Columbus and the Convent of Rabida, Spain

This little cell on the south cloister was where America was born - it was here that Columbus first met with the two friars to plan his strategy.   On the other side of the cloister is the friar's refectory (below).

Rabida - Hispanic American World Memorials


The area between the convent hill and the river is a wasteland of  monuments contributed (but not looked after) by many nations of the Hispanic American world.    


Then, there they are - full sized replicas of the unbelievably tiny little boats - the Niña , Pinta , and Santa María - that set out West in 1492 to go to China (they even had a letter of introduction to the Great Khan for when they reached China on the other side). 


Columbus' Boats - Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria

Cruz de la Parra - Christopher Columbus

Photo: John McNamara


Baracoa Cathedral, Cuba

Photo: John McNamara


Remains of a wooden cross ("Cruz de la Parra") erected on Saturday 1 December 1492 by Columbus in what in 1512 became the harbour of the first Spanish settlement in Cuba - Baracoa.    It is now displayed in the rather dilapidated Cathedral Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in Baracoa, Cuba (built in 1833 to replace a 1512 church burnt down by the French in 1652). 


Rabida Convent Visitors' Cloister
Later structures in the Rabida Convent include the outer visitors' cloister (above) and upper floor chapter house (below)
Rabida Convent Chapter House


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