In an era when we witnessed the conquest of space, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the early pioneers of discovery.
A couple of weeks ago I came face to face with a pioneer.
In the Spanish coastal city of Huelva (which is pronounced H-Whel-var), we toured the place which anxiously watched the departure of Christopher Columbus’ fleet of three tiny ships embarking on the historic voyage that yielded the discovery of the Americas.
Italian-born Columbus was unable to interest neither Italian nor Portuguese royalty in his plans to discover a route to India and the Far East.
However, once King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain had tidied up after the bloody conquest of nearby Granada, it was Queen Isabella who put together the financial package to send Columbus on his way.
Columbus's discovery in 1492, led to many more voyages from Huelva, in search of a new passage to the Far East.
I visited the monastery of La Rabida, in the hills above Huelva, where Columbus lived for the seven years prior to his epic voyage.
Now referred to as the ‘Cradle of the Discovery of the Americas’, Columbus spent his time with the Franciscan monks learning about plants, geography and the night sky, as well as plotting his route, and imagining the riches he was about to discover.
It was here, in this private room (right), that King Ferdinand met with Columbus to learn the details of his proposed voyage of discovery.
Ferdinand and his Queen were smart cookies, imagining what Spain would gain with the opening up of a route to the Far East. Years before, intrepid Portuguese adventurers, urged on by the leading Portuguese intellectual, Henry the Navigator, had covered a lot of the world, and Columbus was convinced his plan would deliver the ultimate prize.
Getting up close to the replicas of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, you wonder at the bravery of the men who crewed the expeditionary voyages.
They really are very small ships which dealt with the unknown terrors of the Atlantic Ocean.
The rest is history, but it was wonderful to pause inside the ancient monastery, and on the deck of the Santa Maria (above, centre) and contemplate what lay ahead for Columbus in the fifteenth century.
Was he courageous or crazy? I’m sure that question came up many times when this project was discussed.
I think pioneers tread a fine line between those two conditions, and the world should be grateful for those souls who possess such pathological curiosity.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.