Monday, September 06, 2021

The departure of Christopher Columbus from the Island of La Gomera to the ‘New World’

Iglesia Matriz de la Asunción (San Sebastián de La Gomera)

La Gomera celebrates Christopher Columbus' departure for the New World, each year on September 6. Today we can trace his footprints on the island through various monuments 

Mythology wanted the Canary Islands to be baptized as the Fortunate Islands. In the Atlantic, like the seven hills of Rome, seven volcanoes emerged and among them, the island where the journey that changed the course of Modern History began: La Gomera.

Christopher Columbus arrived in La Gomera after having departed, on August 3, 1492, from the port of Palos, in Huelva. Aboard three ships, he intended to reach the Indies through a novel route accross the Atlantic Ocean. In those times, the capital of the Canary Island of La Gomera, San Sebastián, was known by some sailors as Villa de Palmas for the extensive palm grove that welcomed all who arrived on this island.

Its bay was considered the best of all the islands and, in addition, it was the safest port. Christopher Columbus was aware of these qualities and must have known the Lady of the island, Beatriz de Bobadilla, from when they both resided in the Peninsula with the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs). On La Gomera, the Admiral found everything he needed to feed himself and take the water with which to replenish both his ships and his men on board. The warmth of the island's inhabitants and the mild climate were decisive for Columbus, who returned to La Gomera twice more, in 1493 and in 1498.

Finally, on September 6, 1492, Columbus left La Gomera left for the Indies, arriving on October 12. He had discovered a new continent: America. Since then, La Gomera has been named in history as the Isla Colombina and today we can trace Columbus' footsteps on the island through various monuments.

San Sebastián today is a city of just 9,000 inhabitants that continues to live in the shelter of its bay and between deep ravines of extraordinary beauty. Walking its streets is to relive the times in which Christopher Columbus lived with its inhabitants, contemplating its historical monuments raised in those times of legend where, according to tradition, the love story between Columbus and the Lady of the island, Beatriz de Bobadilla, was forged.

Torre del Conde jtoledo, CC BY-SA 2.0 El Gato de la Torre

The Torre del Conde is the oldest preserved military fortress in the Canary Islands. It was built around 1450 by the first Lord of La Gomera, Hernán Peraza, and was intended to defend against possible revolts by the indigenous people of Gomera. Its walls were witness to the refuge of Beatriz de Bobadilla in 1488 after the uprising of the island natives and also, it is said, of some furtive encounter between the Lady and Christopher Columbus. Today it is one of the most visited monuments on La Gomera and it preserves an interesting exhibition of historical cartography. A good place to start this particular journey of discovery.

Casa de la Aduana (San Sebastián de la Gomera) Javier Sánchez Portero, CC BY-SA 3.0

Very close to the Tower, at the beginning of Calle Real or del Medio, is the Casa de la Aduana or Customs house. Originally, this historic house was the house of the Lords of the island. Inside there is a well, whose origin dates back to the 15th century, along with a placard that reads: "America was baptized with this water." Indeed: Tradition tells that it was from this well that Christopher Columbus drank the water that he took to the New Continent on the Journey of Discovery. Be that as it may, the aguada well is one of the most important witnesses of San Sebastián's Columbian past.

Just 200 meters from here we find the Iglesia Matriz de la Asunción (Church of the Assumption), a true museum of sacred art where, according to tradition, Columbus prayed. It is true that the Admiral knew the primitive hermitage erected in the same place. Sculptures from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries coexist with important paintings and altarpieces and where, if we approach the Pilar chapel, we will discover a fresco that tells the story of the pirate attack by Englishman, Captain Charles Windham, on San Sebastián in 1743.

Casa de Colón Javier Sánchez Portero, CC BY-SA 3.0

Our tour ends with two significant buildings: the Ermita de San Sebastián (hermitage or chapel of San Sebastián) and the so-called Casa de Colón. The origins of both date back to the 16th century and are a faithful witness to those times when the capital was one of the main social and economic centres in the American journey. The hermitage guards the image of the patron saint of the city and the Casa de Colón is an exhibition centre where art and tradition come together. Welcome to La Gomera: this is where Columbus departed. 

La Gomera: de aquí partió Cristóbal Colón

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