In theory, there is no reason why Santa Fe, Spain should still be of significance, let alone worth a day trip. It is not an organic city, as it was intentionally founded in 1490 for one purpose, to be the tactical center of the Spanish army as it laid siege for two years to Granada.
That task achieved, it now sits only 11 kilometers (about 7 miles) from the older, grander pomegranate jewel it conquered, with a population today one-fifth the size of the 60,000-man army that bided its time there in the late 1400s while Granada succumbed.
Yet, it was one of the nicest day trips we have had.
We awoke on Saturday to what promised to be a sunny, if slightly cool, December day. Promises can be fleeting when one lives next to a mountain, however, as storms can roll in even as one dresses to enjoy good weather. We decided to take a chance, however, and jumped on the excellent bus system that Spain, and indeed most of Europe, enjoys.
I should add that we suffered an unusual bit of confusion in changing buses, hearing an incomprehensible harangue in rapid Spanish from a bus driver who made us get off to pay at a machine (we usually pay on the bus with our transit card) who then quickly closed the doors and drove away as we were paying!
Fortunately, public transport apps such as Moovit, combined with Jiab’s ever growing navigational skills, got us to the right bus and a much friendlier (and slower speaking) driver.
The old city of Santa Fe is, as usual, in the center of the modern town, set apart by a ring of buildings that once served as a defensive wall (complete with moat). The fervent Catholic army laid out the city in 1490 in the shape of a cross (either out of devotion to faith or simple logistics), with four gates in each cardinal direction.
Three of the gates remain intact, upgraded in the 1700s. They apparently had not yet heard, “If it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it.”
The interior of the old city is charming and sleepy, with the ubiquitous church/ayuntamiento (city hall) square one finds in most small Spanish towns.
There are statues of Los Reyes Católicos (the Catholic monarchs), King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who took up temporary residence here as they oversaw the final re-conquest of Spain over the Moors for Church and country.
The special-ness of Santa Fe, however, and why it should be of note to business people of vision, if not the entire world, is revealed just beyond the church, in a modern building that doesn’t quite fit in with the old style architecture surrounding it.
It is a museum, dedicated to a single incident that providentially happened in Santa Fe during its two years as the epicenter of Spanish monarchy.
Where the museum is located, a forty-one-year-old aspiring entrepreneur made his elevator pitch (back then it was an oxcart pitch) looking for money angels to invest venture capital into his proposed startup.
His name was Cristobal Colon, though we remember him as Christopher Columbus.
History records that Colon made his pitch to the King and Queen here. Initially feeling no love, however, and not “shown the money,” he climbed on his mule and headed out of the north gate, intending to try his luck in France.
About 7 miles north of the gate, on a bridge, a messenger from Santa Fe caught up with him, informing him that Isabella had decided to fund the risky venture, and there and then, on the bridge, did Cristobal sign the agreement (As an aside, sexist history says that Isabella snuck him her jewels to pay for the trip so that Ferdinand would be none the wiser, but in fact she was co-monarch and fully empowered to authorize the support on her own, in the open, as she did, perhaps securing for a woman the title of greatest visionary venture capitalist in history!).
The Columbus (Colon) gate from which he left Santa Fe after pitching his plan.The museum is on the spot of this fateful meeting. It has nice displays of the Euro-concept of the world before Columbus, his journey, his “discovery” (Spain still holds on to that word, rather than the American re-christening of the event as “encounter”), and the effects (at least the beneficial ones as far as Spain was concerned). There are many facsimiles of important documents related to the voyage, including Columbus’s journal entries.
I’ve seen better museums; I’ve seen far worse, but the entire ambiance of standing on the site where such an important decision, one that truly set the world on an unimaginable course, was actually made is special. How often does one stand on a spot, to borrow from Archimedes, that moved the Earth?
As an added bonus, the museum had an exhibit dedicated to Neoarabic influences in Latin American architecture that intrigued Jiab and her love of Mudéjar design.
Of course, any trip to anywhere in Spain is incomplete without sampling the local food. I suppose that, if Santa Fe can claim to be the origin of a second history-changing achievement, it is the birthplace of the pinono, a dessert invented in 1897 by Ceferino Isla González in his little bakery, Ysla. Named after the beloved Pope Pius IX, the pinono is loved today wherever Spanish culture interacted, from the Philippines to Latin America.
They come in many flavors, though we liked the orange better than the original ones…
…at least until Jiab discovered the ultra- dark chocolate mousse – Ginkgo – the winner of the World Chocolate Master Spain 2015.
We also found a nice café that had wonderful tapas (because one ALWAYS has time for tapas, as even Columbus no doubt felt) and sampled the local specialty of cod fritters.
It was an entirely wonderful day. In some ways, it’s ironic that Santa Fe was created as a temporary camp dedicated to war and destruction, made important as the place where a decision was made that rocked the world, but today it stands as a lovely, protected historical alcove from the bustle of conflict that one reads about daily.
When we first said we were going to check out Santa Fe, one of our friends said, “Why go to Santa Fe? There’s nothing going on there.”
Maybe that was the point.