Sanlúcar in 1519

Take a look around this hive of cosmopolitan activity that helped make history.

Ayuntamiento de Sanlúcar de Barrameda

Ayuntamiento de Sanlúcar de Barrameda

Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the 16th century by Arturo RedondoAyuntamiento de Sanlúcar de Barrameda

In 1519, Sanlúcar was a hive of cosmopolitan activity. It was also the point of departure and arrival for an amazing voyage that completed the first circumnavigation of the world.

The historic center, known as Barrio Alto, overlooks the estuary from a headland, with the port of Bonanza behind, and the sands and marshes of Doñana National Park in front.

Beneath this, down to the shore, is the narrow strip of land once called the suburb of La Ribera, now known as Barrio Bajo. It continued to grow into the cove, which was much bigger than it is today.

With its 130-foot turret, the Castle of Santiago in Sanlúcar was erected in an advantageous clifftop position, on an outcrop overhanging the walled perimeter of the medieval town. It was from its battlements that Ferdinand Magellan's fleet was waved off in 1519, and also where the solitary Victoria was welcomed back in 1522.

The Plaza de Arriba (High Square), also known as the Plaza de la Paz (Peace Square), in the center of the historic walled town, formed the main public space. The highlights of the surrounding area include the Church of La O, next to the Duke's Palace, and other significant buildings such as the tower of the ancient alcazar where, for decades, town council meetings were held.

The palace complex of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, including residences, service areas, stables, courtyards, and other areas, was located on the edge of the clifftop, in front of Barrio Alto, overlooking the River Guadalquivir. The wooded border of the gardens extended along the slope, from the palace terrace down the hill to Las Covachas.

The gallery of Las Covachas is part of the wall at the foot of the Duke's Palace, at the end of bustling Bretones Street, which leads down to Barrio Bajo before the incline climbing toward the Puerta del Mar (Gateway of the Sea). This market links the riverbank and the walled center, opening onto the end of Bretones Street and the incline rising to the clifftop.

Sanlúcar had a defensive system from at least the 11th or 12th centuries, built by the Almoravids and Almohads. Stemming from these constructions, and also the Alcazar of Seven Towers located in the Plaza de Arriba, from the late-18th century the town's lords engineered a wall. It was nearly one mile long and rectangular in shape, and the perimeter marked out the historical quarter of Barrio Alto.

A gate was placed on each side of this walled enclosure. The Puerta de Sevilla (Gateway of Seville) was located in the northeast of the compound, in the part of the perimeter wall closest to the Castle of Santiago. Traffic between Sanlúcar and the capital of Seville was directed through this gate.

The Puerta de Jerez (Gateway of Jerez) was located on the highest side of the wall, facing inward, and funneled a never-ending flow of produce from the countryside.

Similarly, the Puerta de la Fuente (Gateway of the Fountain), also known as Puerta de Rota (Gateway of Rota), was positioned in the southwest of the fortified rectangle in the medieval town. Located on a slope, its arch has been preserved, albeit substantially reformed.

Finally, the Puerta del Mar (Gateway of the Sea) was an interior side door connecting the walled center with the suburb of La Ribera. Countless sailors shuffled through this gateway, weak and exhausted, having arrived from perilous journeys across seas and distant lands.

In the suburb of La Ribera in Sanlúcar, where the tugboats charged with unloading the ships came ashore, there are some substantial but unfinished buildings, such as the Church of La Trinidad.The first church in Barrio Bajo, it was founded by a family from Sanlúcar, ancestors of one of the conquistadors of the Canary Islands.

The area south of the La Mar suburb, near the Jewish quarter, housed one of the buildings recently constructed in the suburb of La Ribera: the church, cloisters, and gardens of the Convent of Madre de Dios. Home to a group of Dominican nuns, it was the richest and most well-appointed convent in Sanlúcar. It was an elite foundation, and its members came from illustrious families.

The Convent of Regina Coeli came to elevate an area that in the early 16th century was still in the process of consolidation. The area was a mix of huts, farms, and vegetable plots, alongside recently built houses, workshops, and warehouses for loading or unloading the ships in the port.

In La Ribera, the Church of San Jorge was positioned based on the interests of its developers: English maritime traders. It marked the boundary of the well-known historical presence of foreign communities in Sanlúcar. A few years later, this sandy area would be transformed into another street in Barrio Bajo.

On the outskirts of La Ribera, where the lanes led away from the Castle of Santiago, the Convent of Santo Domingo was founded in an area of workshops and boatyards.

This area was home to the riverbank carpenters, an age-old profession in Sanlúcar. They prepared, repaired, and dismantled ships and other smaller boats, such as fishing boats and those used for unloading and towing ships, and as river transport to Seville.

This area, with the River Guadalquivir flowing to Seville, also housed the historical port known as Barrameda. The nickname, added to Sanlúcar, came from a medieval hermitage in the surrounding area. It was where the freight ships docked in Sanlúcar. According to Antonio Pigafetta, before Magellan's armada set sail: “We went every day to hear mass on shore, at a church named Our Lady of Barrameda …”

At the time of the expedition of the first voyage around the world, the cove in front of Sanlúcar de Barrameda formed a much more pronounced entrance than it does now. It was dubbed the Bay of Sanlúcar by Pigafetta.

In the area surrounding Sanlúcar, the right bank of the River Guadalquivir, known as the other side, is particularly interesting. It is an area of sand, forest, and marshland, closely linked to Sanlúcar and its lords, who used it for hunting, fishing, ranching, and collecting wood, coal, and fruit. Today, this area makes up the extraordinary Doñana National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Credits: Story

Illustrations: Arturo Redondo
Text by Fernando Olmedo

This exhibition is part of the First Voyage Around the World project.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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