Mythology wanted the Canary Islands to be called 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.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived at La Gomera on board three ships after leaving the Port of Palos, in Huelva, on 3rd of August. He intended to reach India using a new route that circumnavigating the Atlantic Ocean, the feared sea.
Back in the day…
At that time, the capital 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 the island. Its bay was considered the best of all the islands and was also the safest port. Christopher Columbus was aware of these qualities. He must have met Beatriz de Bodadilla, Lady of the island, when both of them lived with the Catholic Kings on mainland Spain. On La Gomera, the Admiral found all the supplies and drinking water to provision his ships and sailors.
Finally, on the 6th of September of 1492, the Admiral set sail for India from La Gomera reaching dry land on the 12th of October of 1492. He discovered a new continent: America. Since then, La Gomera was named in history as the Columbian Island and today we can retrace Columbus’ footprints on the island through several monuments.
Today, San Sebastián de La Gomera is a city of just 9,000 habitants that continues to live under the shelter of its bay and among deep ravines of extraordinary beauty. To walk its streets to relieve the times in which Christopher Columbus lived with its habitants, contemplating its historic monuments erected in those times of legend where, according to the tradition, the love story between the Lady of the Island was forged, Beatrice of Bobadilla, and the Admiral.
What to see
La Torre del Conde (The Count’s Tower) is the oldest military fort in the Canaries. It was built in 1450 for the Major of La Gomera, Hernán Peraza, whit the aim of defending against a possible revolt by the indigenous population of La Gomera. It walls saw the refuge of Beatriz de Bobadilla in 1488 during the uprising of the island’s natives and furthermore, we can imagine the furtive meetings between the Lady and Christopher Columbus. Today in one of the most visited monuments in La Gomera and it has an interesting exhibition of historical cartography. A good place to start this particular journey of discovery.
Very close of the Tower, at the beginning of calle Real or del Medio, you come across the Aguada or the Aduana Customs House. Originally, this historical building was the first house of the islands nobility. Inside you can see a well which originates from the 15th century together with a notice that says: “Con esta agua se bautizó América” (“America was baptised with this water). Indeed, it tells the tradition that it was from this well Christopher Columbus took the water that led to the New Continent in the Voyage of Discovery. Be that as it may, the well of the wash is one of the most important witnesses of the Columbian past of San Sebastian.
Just 200 metres away from the Customs House you will find the Church of Assumption, a real 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, but the value of its walls is such that the Columbian memory remains intact in its walls. Sculptures from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries coexist with important paintings and altarpieces and, if we approach the chapel of the Pilar, we will discover a fresco that tells the story of the pirate attack of the English Charles Windham to San Sebastian in 1743.
Our travel finish with two significant buildings: the hermitage of San Sebastián and the so-called house of Columbus. The origins of both go back to the 16th century and they are a faithful witness of those times when the capital was one of the main social and economic centres of the return voyage from America. The hermitage houses the image of the patron saint of the city and the Casa de Colón is an exhibition centre where arte and tradition meet. You are welcome to La Gomera: Columbus departed from here.