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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of Monument a Colom in Barcelona

What is Monument a Colom?

Monument a Colom, or The Columbus Monument in English, is a 60-metre-high monument completed in the late 19th century in honour of the famed Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.

Columbus Monument Barcelona

Monument a Colom History

Christopher Columbus has stood on his column at the foot of La Rambla in Barcelona since 1888. The monument was erected for the Barcelona International Exhibition, Spain's first World’s Fair, and commemorates the trip the famed explorer made to the city, to report his findings to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in 1493 after his first voyage to the Americas.

Since antiquity, Europe had engaged in trade with the Middle East and Asia, developing routes known collectively as the Silk Road. However, by the 15th century these had become increasingly dangerous. The voyage was long and arduous, and encounters with hostile armies and bandits difficult to avoid. The lure of profit impelled explorers to seek new trade lines to Asia that would eliminate intermediaries. In this era of naval exploration, Italian explorer Cristoforo Colombo (anglicized to Christopher Columbus) had the idea of reaching the Indies by circumnavigating the globe, initially sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean, over what was presumed to be open sea.

In 1492, Ferdinand II of Aragon and his wife Isabella I of Castile, joint rulers of Spain, agreed to support Columbus’s daring project. The Spanish monarchs saw this as an opportunity to enhance trade and to take Catholicism to lands across the globe. In August, Columbus and his crew set sail from southern Spain in three ships: the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. They touched land in San Salvador on the 12th of October. The monument in Plaça Portal de la Pau (which translates as ‘Gate of Peace Square’) at the end of La Rambla, commemorates the meeting Columbus arranged with Ferdinand and Isabella in Barcelona upon his return.

Local merchant Antoni Fages i Ferrer first proposed the idea of building a monument to the explorer in 1856, and for years obsessively pursued his plan with the authorities. Eventually the project was taken up by the mayor who organised a competition to decide on the architect. The winner, Gaietà Buïgas i Monravà, proposed a cast-iron column with the novel addition of a lift-shaft within the monument (which still operates to this day).

The bronze statue of the great explorer that crowns the monument, sculpted by Rafael Atché, depicts Columbus pointing towards the sea with his right hand, while holding a scroll featuring a map in the other. The towering column stands on an octagonal plinth, surrounded by winged Victories taking flight towards every corner of the earth. The four buttresses (or supports) bear medallions depicting people close to Columbus, including Isabella and Ferdinand, and seated against them are representations of four of Spain's territories in the 15th century: the Principality of Catalonia, and the kingdoms of Castile, León and Aragon. On the lower part of the monument are eight copper reliefs of scenes from Columbus’ life.

Recently, the monument has come under fire for its link with colonialism. In 2016, councillors in Barcelona called for it to be removed. Indeed, despite Columbus's accomplishments, he remains a divisive figure. Historians have argued he was also responsible for the widespread suffering of Native Americans through slavery and the brutal pillaging of valuables. Violence and disease decimated local populations like the Taino, who went from 250,000 people to a few hundred within 60 years after Columbus landed. However, in 2020 the Mayor of Barcelona rejected calls to pull down the city's iconic statue, arguing that citizens ought to face up to the country's past instead of denying and forgetting it. Whether one agrees with the presence of the statue or not, the monument remains an iconic landmark in the Old City, and one that offers arguably some of the best views of Barcelona.

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