How do you explain that a place with so much history behind has a rather small historical centre and has a few remaining things from its deep past?
The answer is the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The dreadful catastrophe that destroyed most of what the centuries had bequeathed to Huelva and which left severely damaged everything else. Does that mean that there is nothing left to see in the city? Of course not.
Diving in time we find the magical name of Tartessos, that splendid civilisation of which we know so little. The lands of Huelva could have housed the capital of that prosperous and almost mythical kingdom which came into contact with the Phoenicians and was extinguished five centuries before Christ.
As usual, the Romans and Visigoths were here, but there is little left from them, and also the Arabs who stayed for a few centuries. Exactly until the thirteenth century, when the Christians took control of the area.
Two hundred years later a significant event happened in which Huelva and Christopher Columbus were the protagonists. In case you need a clue, caravels and conquests are involved in it. It was the discovery of America, and it was planed in here in Huelva lands. That is why so many of the crew of those historical ships were precisely from here.
But, although trade with the New World brought much prosperity to several communities, Huelva wasn’t as lucky as Cadiz or Seville. And on top of all, it suffered many relentless pirate attacks which added to the epidemics of plague, sent half of the population six feet under. That happened in the middle of the seventeenth century, and a century later the earthquake that we spoke of at the beginning took place, which left the city and its valuable heritage shattered.
However, Huelva raised back up. They repaired old buildings which you can see today, such as the church of San Pedro, the cathedral of La Merced or the hermitage of La Soledad, and they built new ones, like the train station or magnificent buildings such as the Casa Colon. Also, the activity of the Rio Tinto Company attracted, at the end of the nineteenth century, a lot of Britons who would leave their mark in the area. Many stayed in the so-called Barrio Obrero (Working-Class Neighbourhood), nowadays, a place with a distinctly British flavour that you should not miss.
The thing is that so much English presence, along with the German, was going to really start something when the Second World War arrived. Huelva then became the nest of Allied and Nazi spies, and it even was the theatre of the Mincemeat Operation, a plan to deceive the Nazis that would end up being more than significant in the outcome of the war.
Do you have some time left? Then, go to see the Marismas del Odiel which are a Biosphere Reserve, or the famous Doñana Park, a World Heritage Site and of which we will tell you more things in another of our audio-guides.