October 12 is Hispanic Heritage Day, and a national holiday in Spain, commemorating the date, in 1492, that Christopher Columbus set eyes on the new world (after, it’s widely believed, one of the Spanish captains on an accompanying ship had told him where to look). So, although you can take this Sanlúcar self-guided trail at any time, a day dedicated to exploration seems a good time to visit a chain of sites linked to the adventures of another great explorer, Magellan who set off from this splendid port on September 20th 1519 and became the first to sail around the world.
Five caravales and 265 sailors set off with the principal objective of getting a grip on the spice trade from Las Molucas, which was then dominated by the Portuguese. Only one, the Victoria, returned, entering the port on September 6, 1522.
The Guadalquivir river was the ‘umbilical cord’ linking Sanlúcar with the court at Sevilla, and it was the nearby dukes of Medina Sidonia who were the Capitanes Generales del Mar Océano, both facts making this a strategically important launch pad. Throughout the 16th century, the port city was busy with ships and fleets travelling to the new world and – sometimes – back again.
The tourist board’s Ruta de la Primera Vuelta al Mundo incorporates sites that are linked to Magellan and the early exploration of the new world in general. Maps are available from the tourist office, but here are some points along the way.
Equatorial clock ‘Legua Cero’ (League Zero) in the Paseo de Bajo de Guía: There is a quote here from Antonio Pigafetta who accompanied Magellan and chronicled the voyage, confirming that according to their calculation they had sailed more than 14,460 leagues and circumnavigated the globe.
In the old ice factory, the Fabrica de Hielo, (now the Visitor Centre for Doñana) there is a 1:8 scale model of the Victoria along with a small exhibition. The spices that were brought back on this ship more than covered the cost of the expedition (although, not sure how human life is being quantified in this equation!).
You can see tiles commemorating the first voyage around the world in Calle Isaac Peral on the side wall of the municipal public library, including, usefully, a map; and a painting (2013) in Calle Escuelas the sailors who made it back alive.
The Castle of Santiago built by the second Duke of Medina Sidonia was built to protect the Guadalquivir river mouth and the route to Sevilla. The dukes’ pied-a-terre was the Palacio de los Guzmanes, Plaza Conde de Niebla.
Paintings brought back as souvenirs can be seen in various churches, but the cultural influences and exchanges worked both ways. There’s an Exhibition of Sacred Art, in the Convento de Carmelitas Descalzas, Calle Descalzas, showing early works brought back from the Philippines, Mexico and Peru.
In the chapel of Ntra. Sra. del Carmen, Bajo de Guía, there is the 16th century image of Nuestra Señora de Guía patron saint of sailors and fishermen. Sanluqueños introduced the cult of Nuestra Señora de Guía to America and the Philippines.
The Church of La Trinidad, Plaza de la Trinidad, was the first house of worship to be built in the lower part of the town, and was founded in 1441 as church and hospital for sailors. The mudéjar style (mix of Islamic and Christian) is something else the sailors took with them from Sanlúcar to the new world, while the painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe is an example of the art and influences coming back the other way. At the Church of Santo Domingo, Calle Santo Domingo, whose chapel walls are painted with naval scenes, there’s a Peruvian painting sent back by a Sanlucan emigré.
Sailing was a fearsome business, and the deeply religious sailors prayed at several churches around Sanlúcar before leaving for the unknown. One was the Church of San Jorge, Calle San Jorge, built in 1517, where they prayed in front of Cristo de los Barqueros, while at the Convent of Capuchinos, you’ll find the 12th century Virgen del Buen Viaje, patron of the ancient Brotherhood of Mariners.
And at the Parish Church, Nuestra Señora de la O, Plaza de la Paz, there is the altar before which the sailors gave thanks after their safe return from Magellan’s voyage.