Columbus’ legend continues to unfold in Spain

May 4, 2013
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Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 1.21.13 PMThe story:

The smell of oranges and lemons permeates the air in the nearly 55,000 meters of gardens. Perfectly trimmed hedgerows stretch for what seems like miles, lining long sparkling ponds, which reflect the surrounding flora typical to Córdoba, Spain.

These grounds, Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, mark the site of the agreement between Christopher Columbus and the Christian king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492. This document, the Capitulations of Santa Fe, was signed in Granada and allowed Columbus the resources and funds he needed to complete his famous voyage to America, said Mercedes Valverde Candil, the director of municipal museums in Córdoba.

“In 1482, the kings settled in Córdoba and received ambassadors and characters like Christopher Columbus, who came to Córdoba for the first time in 1485, to offer the conquest of new lands to the Spanish crown,” Candil said.

Though the kings did not grant his wish until his third attempt, Columbus’ journey proved to be one of the most advantageous of its kind.

“In Spain and Italy he is still largely seen in heroic terms, as the leading edge of the Hispanic conquest of the new world that gave Spain such a push to power above her rivals in Europe, and brought Spanish civilization, culture, religion and more to the Americas,” said Dr. Larry Clayton, a University of Alabama professor who has written on Columbus in his newest book, “Bartolomé de las Casas: A Biography.”

While legend claims that Isabel sold her entire jewelry collection to fund the voyage, Candil said this is inaccurate. Isabel did grant Columbus the money, but she did not sell her jewels, she explained.

But many legends surround Columbus’ explorations and life, as they often do surround hero-like figures.

“My sense is that in Spain, Columbus is viewed as a figure from a glorious period of history in which Spain was emerging as the most powerful country in Europe,” said Daniel Riches, a University of Alabama history professor. “He likely represents growing national greatness and the beginnings of Spain’s over- seas empire.”

This representation of Columbus led to intrigue in his personal affairs as well, often lending the question, “What was the reason for his frequent visits to Córdoba?” The answer, according to Candil, was a woman named Beatriz Enríquez de Arana. Arana, Columbus’ mistress after his first wife’s death, ultimately bore his son in 1488. They named him Ferdinand Columbus, after the king, Candil said.

“Columbus left his son Ferdinand and his eldest son Diego in the care of Beatriz Enriquez de Arana, whom he never married,” she said. “But she was the heiress of his fortune, though she never claimed it.”

While many people may recall Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, Columbus’ wife, Arana was arguably his true love, Candil said.

Legends such as this one are often invented years later, inspired by the intrigue of a well-known figure. However, a much greater mystery surrounds Columbus according to the Catalan Circle of History. Some historians believe that Columbus may not be an Italian from Genoa after all. Joaquim Ullan and Eva Sans, president and treasurer of the association respectively, said throughout the years, documents have been altered to hide the mariner’s Catalan heritage.

“After the civil war in Spain, the effort stopped,” Sans said. “In 1990, we rescued the story and began the research again.”

If they are able to prove that he was in fact Catalan, they would change history books, class lectures and museum descriptions of one of the most highly revered explorers to date, Sans said. While the theory is not upheld worldwide at this time, the arguments by the Catalan Circle of History provide an in depth look into one of the most commonly taught history lessons.

To further educate the public on their findings on Columbus, Ullan and Sans have organized a walking tour in Barcelona. Some of the most significant sites include: the Plaza del Rey, Barcelona Cathedral, Archivo de la Corona de Aragon and the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral.

Although five centuries have passed since Columbus’ glorious exploration, controversy and theories will continue to surface, Clayton said.

“Precisely because he [Columbus] embodied a lot of the seemingly contradictory nature of Renaissance/Early Modern Europeans, one foot firmly anchored in the past, spiritual and mystical, and the other very much in this world, materialistic, adventurous with eye on the gold to be had and the great honors to be gained,” Clayton said. “We all have these competing sides to our lives, except that Columbus played out his life on a stage like never before!”

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 1.20.47 PMThe sites:

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos:

With aromatic orange and lemon trees, flora native to Córdoba and remnants of the home of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Alcázar stands in commemoration of the agreement that led to America’s discovery by Columbus. Stat- ues of the monarchs and Columbus, erected 50 years ago in the gardens, remind visitors of the significance of the castle as the royal residence and strategic planning center for an early Spanish empire.

“Alcázar was the headquarters,” Candil said. “The three most important conquests of Granada, America and the Ca- nary Islands … everything was planned here.”

Plaza del Rey:

Reputedly the site of Ferdinand and Isabella’s first reception of Columbus after his return from the new world, the Plaza del Rey is now a bustling city center. Antiquated buildings now serve as examples of Barcelona’s gothic architecture, but the edifices may hold a deeper meaning.

“The Colóm [Catalan pronunciation] family was one of the most influential in Barcelona,” Ullum said. “Columbus’ grandfather, one of the most important figures, founded the first public bank and the plaza became an economic and commercial center.”

Barcelona Cathedral:

After his greeting at the plaza, Ferdinand and Isabella ac- companied Christopher Columbus to the Barcelona Cathedral. Holding masses in its current building since the 15th century, the cathedral was the site of the famous baptisms of the Indians — as referred to by Columbus.

“This is the original place the Indians were baptized,” Ullan said. “This isn’t a casualty that they were baptized in this cathedral. Barcelona was his city.”

“Archivo de la Corona de Aragón” (General Archive of the Crown of Aragon):

The “Archivo” (Spanish for archives) contains the Santa Fe Capitulations signed in 1492.

“This document is one of the most important documents in the world,” Sans said.

To support their theory of Columbus’ Catalan origins, Ullan said that Johan de Coloma, who drew up and authorized the document, was Catalan himself.

Santa María del Mar:

Located near the Columbus house of the 15th century, the cathedral features a ship replica in commemoration of maritime workers who built the cathedral, Sans said. Columbus talked of hearing construction of a nearby cathedral in a letter to his son, Diego, she said.

“They say he lived in Sevilla, but there is no evidence,” Sans said. “The letter was manipulated. Work was going on here when Columbus lived here.”