In search of: Christopher Columbus in Seville

The explorer vowed he would never be buried on Spanish soil. So what is he doing in Andalusia?
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The Independent Travel

OK, so why all the fuss about Christopher Columbus and what's it got to do with Seville?

Where have you been? Don't you read a newspaper? For the uninitiated, Christobel Colon (well all right then, plain old Christopher Columbus to you and me) has been making front-page news recently. A brainy band of academics is claiming that his final resting place may, in fact, not be in the vast marble tomb, held aloft by four mighty courtiers, representing the ancient kingdoms of Spain, in the cathedral in Seville. Oh no. And to prove it, they are going to exhume said remains and do DNA testing to see if it matches that of Columbus's son, Ferdinand, whose bones are also interred in Seville's Santa Maria Cathedral. Which, I'll have you know is the largest (if measured in cubic metres) and most impressive cathedral in the world. So there.

Hmm. Where else might Columbus's remains be then?

Ah, well, there's the rub. Columbus died in the Spanish town of Valladolid in 1506 after his fourth and last voyage. He was initially buried in the Carthusian monastery in Seville for 20-odd years. His remains, along with those of his son Diego were then removed to Santo Domingo Cathedral in the Dominican Republic at the request of Maria de Toledo, Diego's widow. Columbus had latterly fallen out of favour with the Spanish royal family who he felt had cheated him out of the riches he felt he had deserved. It was his final wish, apparently, not to be buried in Spanish soil.

So he might still be in the Dominican Republic?

Well, yes and no. In 1795 when Spain handed Santo Domingo over to France, Columbus's body was transferred to Havana in Cuba. And it was brought back to Seville in 1898, when the Spanish were thrown out of Cuba. Now, just to confuse matters ...

Yes, go on

... in 1887, workmen in Santo Domingo Cathedral unearthed a lead box containing bones and the inscription "Illustrious and enlightened male Don Christobel Colon". That urn was moved 10 years ago and placed in the towering Columbus Lighthouse Monument in Santo Domingo. And that's what all the controversy is about. Phew!

So why was he buried in Seville anyway?

Because, you dummy, Seville was the port from which Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors set off for the New World, some 510 years ago. And the really clever bit is that he got his wish after all. Because the tomb is held up high in mid-air, it means that even if he is in there, he's not on Spanish soil.

So where should I start to look for Columbus connections in Seville then?

Clearly, the sensational Santa Maria Cathedral, which is one of the best places to get your bearings in Seville. Also look out for the tomb of his bastard son Hernando Colon, which is situated near the royal entrance.

Anywhere else?

Yep, you bet, he's all over the shop. Next stop is only a hop, skip and jump away, at the gorgeous Alcazar. Like the cathedral, it's a cultural sandwich, in that it has Roman foundations, an Arab filling and a Christian topping. It is truly magnificent, straight out of the Arabian Nights and it's no wonder that the current royal family chooses to stay here when in town. Columbus can be seen in the Capilla de los Navegantes, in the Fernandez painting La Virgen de los Mareantes, the oldest representation of the Virgin as protector of sailors. Decked out in a smart gold cape, Columbus, along with the brothers Pinzon, is being blessed. In the corner of this salon is a wooden scale model of his ship, the Santa Maria, and a replica of one of the chests of gold he brought back home.

All this looking for Columbus is wearing me out. I'm getting a bit hot and hungry

Let's do lunch. To keep to the theme, head for the Paseo de Cristobal Colon, which runs alongside the Guadalquivir river. Spilling out onto the pavement, the Isbiliyya Café-Bar, Paseo de Colon 2, is a trendy eaterie where you'll find a mixed bunch of Sevillenos tucking into tasty tapas and downing cooling cervezas. For something more formal you could always pig out at El Burladero, at the swish Hotel Colon (see below for details).

So back on the trail, where next?

The river, obviously. Columbus sailed on it and so can you. Take one of the many trips, which leave from the Torre del Oro (Golden Tower). The choices range from a short panoramic tour of the city to a day-long cruise down to the Coto Donana National Park on the coast. And if that doesn't suit, you cannot miss La Cartuja, the Carthusian monastery, across the river on the Isla de Cartuja. Given a grand makeover as the Royal Pavilion for Expo 92, today this historical site is also home to the Andalusian Museum of Contemporary Art in a cutting-edge extension. Columbus resided and studied with the monks at the monastery prior to his voyages and it was here that his remains were temporarily buried. Look out for the statue of Columbus in the stunning grounds, which cleverly juxtapose classical and contemporary architecture. Later, try some evening tapas in the street named after Columbus's bastard son. You simply can't beat the fresh fish at La Bodeguita de Santa Justa, Hernando Colon 1-3. His dad would have been proud.

So, how do I get there?

Cresta Holidays (0870 333 3303; www.crestaholidays.co.uk) offers a three-night weekend break at the four-star Hotel NH Viapol from £382 per person, including return scheduled flights with GB Airways from Gatwick and b&b accommodation. GB Airways (0845 773 3377; www.ba.com) offers return flights from Gatwick to Seville from £149 return.

Camp out at the eponymous hotel, the swanky five-star Hotel Colon (0800 962720) on Calle Canalejas 1. Double rooms cost from €101 (£67) at weekends including breakfast.

Europcar (0870 607 5000; www.europcar.com) offers four-day weekend car hire from £148.

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