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Best Sights of Huelva
Huelva is located at the southwestern end of Andalusia, beside Portugal. Huelva has one third of the province dedicated for nature preserves, including the Doñana National Park, which is very large. So one can say that the people in Huelva are dedicated to preserving their environment, which is a big plus for them. Their population is about 484,000. They do not have an airport because they think that the jet traffic will disrupt their wildlife preserves, so if one wants to fly, one has to travel to Seville. Traveling across the province one can see that there are many umbrella pine forests in the lowlands and close to the sea. There is a small industry in gathering the pine cones and removing the seeds (called piñones) for use as ingredients for pastries. The mountains have another type of pine tree, the conical type.
Huelva is very rich in agriculture. About 80% of the strawberries exported by Spain come from Huelva. There are vast plastic greenhouses that use metal semicircular frames to support the plastic. During harvest time, the farmers hire contract help from Morocco and eastern Europe. The women are the ones hired because they have a more delicate touch picking the delicate strawberries. Besides strawberries, there are vast plantings of oranges, lemons, and other fruits and vegetables.
Lepe is a famous town in Huelva. A neighboring town was jealous of Lepe and spread the rumor that the people from Lepe were country bumpkins. So there are thousands of jokes in Spain that target the people of Lepe, making them seem stupid. However the people of Lepe are very rich because of their strawberry crops, so they have had the last laugh.
Incidentally, there are few monuments in Huelva because the earthquake of Lisbon in 1755 affected all of the coastline in Huelva and Portugal. There was a tidal wave that hit all the coastlines and destroyed all the important buildings.
Isla Cristina is a city on the coast that has a population of about 20,000. It used to be called the Real Isla de la Higuerita (Royal Island of the Little Fig Tree) until 1834, when the name was changed to Isla Cristina to honor Queen Maria Cristina for her help during a cholera epidemic. Isla Cristina's major industry used to be fishing, but in 1991 the city developed a plan to have tourism on the island. Several hotels and many apartment buildings were built. There is a beach with white sand called Islantilla, which is virginal and very wide, about 70 meters wide. The hotels were built close to this beach. Beyond the beach are sand dunes that are about 80 meters wide, before one reaches the paseo maritimo, paved with brick with a beige color.
Islantilla has the Centro Comercial Islantilla, a small shopping center with a supermarket and many cafeterias. This is very convenient for hotel guests. All the neighborhood was planned properly, with many trees planted along the sidewalks and the medians. One would classify the neighborhood as very upscale, because there are many expensive apartment buildings. Everywhere there are bouganvilla plants of different colors and hibiscus planted in the gardens.
Islantilla has the trenecito, which is a small vehicle shaped like a train. The ride brings one all over Islantilla and inland, where there is a large golf course with 27 holes. Around the gold course is expensive housing and a good hotel. The people who vacation in Islantilla are mostly from Seville, since it is close to that city. During summer the area is full of vacationers, but during the off-season it is quiet.
Bollullos Par del Condado
Bollullos Par del Condado is a little town of 13,000 which has a wine industry, with its own denomination, and it is famous for its white wines. The Bodegas Oliveros gives a tour of the wine making facilities. After that there is a wine tasting of three wines, two white wines and a third that is orange flavored.
Doñana National Park
Doñana National Park is the most famous natural park in Spain. The area it covers is 543 square kilometers. In 1994 the UNESCO named it as a World Heritage Site. It is a place where birds migrating between Africa and Europe stop. The park contains 45 Iberian lynx, a species close to extermination, since there are only about 200 animals of this species in all of Spain. The park employs about 400 people. The only way to see the park is to book a tour that the park gives. There are only seven tours given each day. Four wheel drive Mercedes Benz minibuses that can hold a dozen people are used.
The bus tour takes about 3 hours and we covers a distance of 70 km. One first drives along the beaches along the Atlantic. These were about 100 m wide and virginal, without any development. They are bordered by large sand dunes that are also bordered by the umbrella pine forests. There are thousands of seagulls on the beach. One is informed that when the seagulls are on the beach, they always faced the wind, otherwise they may lose feathers. There are men who are looking for mollusks on the beach, which is their livelihood. After finding some, they have to use a screen to separate the big ones from the small ones. The small ones are not legal to catch and have to be returned to the sea.
There is a continuous fight between the pine forest and the sand dunes for territory. One also drives along the vera, the dividing line between the dunes and the marsh. One sees hundreds of wild deer feeding and many of the male deer have impressive sized antlers. Most of the marsh may be dry during the dry season, but there are places where there is water in the shape of small pools. These are marked with three poles around the edge. The pools are called eyes and are very dangerous. When the marsh is full of water, if one enters the holes, one can drown accidentally because it is difficult to climb out of them.
One may not see any lynx, but one sees many bird species. The tour is very educational and one is happy to see this natural wonder.
In the northern part of the province, there are mountains and one can find the town of Aracena, with a population of about 7000. The mountains are covered with oak trees and the Iberian pigs feed on the acorns, which gives the ham a nutty taste. The Iberian pigs have black hooves, so their ham is called "pata negra" (black hoof). The town has a ham factory called Conservas Jabugo, where one can see how they air dry the hams for three years. Sausages are also dried in the factory.
The main attraction in Aracena is the Gruta de las Maravillas (Cave of Marvels). The caves are located just below the hill where the Aracena Castle stands. The legend is that a boy was looking for a lost pig and stumbled onto the caves. The caves were opened to the public in 1914 and there is a circular route of about 1 km. There are about 400 steps going up and down, so one needs to be physically fit to see the caves. The route takes about an hour to see with a guide, who points out places of interest. The caves are of karstic origin and there are many places with low ceilings. One can see many pools of water that are dramatically lighted. After a group passes, the lights are turned off automatically because any light makes bacteria grow, which is a danger to the caves. There are many stalactites and stalagmites and caverns which are very impressive. These caves are some of the most best caves in Spain.
The town has many pieces of modern sculpture around the streets and plazas because they are part of the open-air Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. It surprising to see these sophisticated modern sculptures in such a small town. There is a ham store on the main street, where one can buy many products.
On the way to Aracena, one passes the town of Riotinto. In 1873 a British company bought the mines of Riotinto from a Suede and started a big open pit mine to extract copper, silver, and gold. The mines were in use, on and off, for the last 5000 years, and every civilization that passed through extracted ores from the mines. The British constructed Victorian houses for themselves, which are now a novelty. The mines closed in 2002 because they could not compete economically with similar mines from Chile.
Huelva has a population of about 150,000 and has a big port, one that gets much of the crude oil imported by Spain. There is a big petrochemical industry at the port. More than 2500 years ago Huelva was a colony of the Tartessan people. Later it was occupied by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and the Romans. The Visigoths made the nearby town of Niebla one of their capitals. The Arabs came and renamed Huelva as Welba. In the 13th century King Alfonso X (the Wise) conquered the city for the Christians.
The Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Cinta is a chapel located on the El Conquero hill, about 2 km north of the city. The chapel has an image of the Virgen de la Cinta, who is the patron saint of Huelva. The image of the Virgin has her holding the Child Jesus and holding a pomegranate in her left hand. Before Columbus went on his first trip to America, he went to this chapel and prayed to the Virgin. He promised the Virgin he would return and visit her again, which he did when he returned from his voyage to America. There is a blue and white tile picture of this on the interior wall of the chapel that was made by the artist Daniel Zuloaga in 1920. The chapel dates from the 15th and 16th centuries and its style is Mudejar, but there have been restorations since then, especially in the outside patio. There is a processional image of the Virgin called the "Virgen Chiquita" in polychromed wood created in 1760 by Benito Hita del Castillo. On Sept. 8 of every year, there is a pilgrimage of this Virgin, who is brought to the Cathedral by the Hermandad de la Virgen de la Cinta, the brotherhood created in the 15th century to take care of her image. A month later the Virgin is brought back to the chapel.
The Barrio Reina Victoria is a neighborhood of English Victorian houses that was created by the Riotinto company for its English employees. Every house has a little garden. The whole neighborhood is incongruous because its architecture is not Spanish and the architecture is for a rainy climate, where Huelva has more than 300 days of sun during the year. The barrio has been declared a Conjunto Historico-Artistico, meaning that the outside of the houses cannot be touched or remodeled.
The Cathedral of La Merced dates from the 18th century. It started as the Convent of La Merced, founded by the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1605. The Cathedral now houses the Pantheon of the Counts of Niebla.
The pilgrimage of El Rocio is the most colorful event in Spain. About 1.5 million people from all over Andalusia walk, ride horses, ride carriages and tractors to the town of El Rocio, near the Doñana Park and pay homage to the Virgen del Rocio (also called La Paloma Blanca). The people are dressed in traditional Andalusian costumes, with flamenco style dresses with all the flounces for women, and the men with striped gray trousers, white shirts, and vests and jackets. It takes them at least 4 days to reach El Rocio. So they have to camp out of doors on the way. In the morning they pray before starting out. While walking, they sing Andalusian songs. Then they prepare their lunch, with more singing and dancing to music. Then they take a nap and at 5 pm they are on their way again. Later they prepare their dinner with more singing and dancing. At midnight they pray and supposedly it is time to sleep, but the singing and dancing continue to the early hours. Many famous people take part in this pilgrimage. Every group belongs to a brotherhood and many of the brotherhoods have houses in El Rocio, where they can sleep and prepare their meals in a group. It is like boy scout outings, but much more colorful and with a cast of more than a million people. The final act in El Rocio is having a procession with the image of the Virgin.
It all started when King Alfonso X (the Wise) ordered the construction of a hermitage (where the present church is) in the 1280. Since then there were many pilgrims who went to visit the hermitage and then in 1580 the first brotherhood for the pilgrimage was organized.
The church in El Rocio is called the Ermita de La Blanca Paloma (Hermitage of the White Dove). The Virgin is called La Blanca Paloma. The church was finished in 1969 and was the work of the architects Delgado Roig and Balbontin. It is completely white and took the place of the original church that had deteriorated over the years.
Most of the brotherhoods have houses in the town. There are many more brotherhoods that want to join the pilgrimage, but they have to wait for 20 years or more before they are accepted. They have to show that their members are pious and not there just to have fun. This is really a religious event. The ground in the town consists of gravel and sand, so that the animals like the horses have an easy time walking. There is no pavement at all, so one's shoes do get dirty with sand.
Punta Umbria is a town on the coast with a fisherman’s port. Its population is 14,000. There is a long beach with hotels. The downtown has a pedestrian street called Calle Ancha with inexpensive stores.
Palos de la Frontera
Palos de la Frontera has a population of about 8,000 and is steeped in history, because it was here that Columbus started his plans to find the new world and where he took sail. The port no longer exists by the river.
The Monastery of La Rabida is a Franciscan monastery where Columbus found refuge about 7 years before he sailed for America. After not finding financial support for his voyage in the Portugese court, Columbus went to La Rabida with his son. Columbus had just been widowed from his Portugese wife. In La Rabida, Fray Antonio de Marchena gave him refuge and support. He interceded with the Catholic Kings to grant Columbus a hearing, which happened in Cordoba. Columbus wanted 10% of the riches he found in his voyage for himself and his descendants, which the Catholic Kings did not like to grant him. So Columbus stayed at La Rabida making his plans and waiting for the Catholic Kings to fund his voyage. Fray Juan Perez in 1492 helped Columbus by getting him an audience with Queen Isabela. After the Catholic Kings defeated Granada, they finally decided to fund Columbus. The Pinzon brothers (Martin Alonso and Vicente Yañez) in Palos de la Frontera helped Columbus to find the experienced crew he needed for his trip.
There are extensive gardens in La Rabida, and at the entrance to the site there is a bronze monument to Columbus. The exterior of the monastery is not impressive, but once one enters the monastery, one is impressed. There is a room near the entrance that has frescos done by the artist Daniel Vazquez in 1930. The paintings depict Columbus and the men he found to sail with him, the paintings done in the cubist style. Daniel Vazquez was one of the art teachers of Dali. There are two different cloisters in the monastery and these are beautiful, one with many plants and flowers, and the other cloister with a geometric design on the brick floor and potted flowers plants in the small windows of the gallery. The chapel is beautiful and has a very impressive Mudejar wooden ceiling with painted panels. There is a sculpture of Christ on the cross done in alabaster and made in Andalusia in the 14th century. Upstairs there is the sala capitular, which was where Columbus worked and where he discussed his project with the Catholic Kings. There is a big room that is like a museum and which explains the voyage of Columbus.
Near the monastery is the Muelle de las Carabelas (Pier of the Caravelles), which has a big modern building that contains a museum about Columbus. There is a video room which has a video lasting about half an hour explaining how Columbus made his first journey. Outside the building is a small lagoon that contains the replicas of the three ships of Columbus, namely the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Niña. One can go aboard the ships and explore them. One is amazed at how small they were, to have made that long journey to America. Around the lagoon are recreations of an American Indian village, which has life size figures of the American Indians that Columbus found in his first journey to America.