Tag Archives: Christopher Columbus

Splashdown: One of Grand Turk’s Historical Legacies

Grand Turk cruise terminal. Photo by Richard Varr

Grand Turk cruise terminal. Photo by Richard Varr

I found a bit of solitude and country charm during my June visit to the small bean-shaped island of Grand Turk – more laid back and quiet when compared to many other Caribbean islands. I was also surprised when I learned about the island’s historic past. On the eastern edge of Turks and Caicos, Grand Turk is where the cruise ships stop and is home to this British Overseas Territory capital, Cockburn Town.

Along Grand Turk's leeward shoreline. Photo by Richard Varr

Along Grand Turk’s leeward shoreline. Photo by Richard Varr

What history? In particular, visits by explorers, from colonial to modern times. Many believe Grand Turk is where Christopher Columbus first stepped foot in the New World. But debate continues as to whether landfall was actually on a Bahamian island, or on a white sand beach along what’s now appropriately named Columbus Landfall Marine National Park on Grand Turk’s leeward side. The National Park helps preserve the world’s third largest barrier reef with its dramatic 7,000-foot-deep “wall.”

Cockburn Town. Photo by Richard Varr

Cockburn Town. Photo by Richard Varr

What’s not debated, however, is the visit from astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. His Friendship 7 Mercury space capsule splashed down off Grand Turk’s shoreline on February 20, 1962, and Glenn was brought to what was then a U.S. Air Force base for debriefing and medical evaluation. A few months later, astronaut Scott Carpenter – the second American to circle the Earth – also splashed down off Grand Turk.

John Glenn exhibit at the cruise terminal and (right) capsule replica at the airport. Photo by Richard Varr

John Glenn exhibit at the cruise terminal and (right) capsule replica at the airport. Photo by Richard Varr

Along Cockburn Town’s scenic shoreline, the Turks and Caicos National Museum outlines the visits of Glenn and Carpenter after their historic missions. It also showcases the archipelago’s geography and history along with cannon fragments, pottery pieces and other artifacts of the 1513 Molasses Reef Wreck, the oldest European shipwreck discovered in the Western Hemisphere. Some believe it could be Columbus’s Pinta.

IMG_1848An exhibit at Grand Turk’s cruise terminal celebrates John Glenn’s splashdown, as does a Friendship 7 replica outside the island’s international airport. Inland, former salt ponds or “salinas” are testament to the past salt industry. The Salt Museum explains how it all started when late 17th century Bermudan salt rakers first settled on Grand Turk.

Swimming with stingrays. Photo by Richard Varr

Swimming with stingrays. Photo by Richard Varr

As for fun in the sun, I kayaked tranquil waters off Pillory Beach at the Bohio Dive Resort, and walked the quiet leeward beaches outside the Osprey Beach Hotel where I stayed for my three day visit. I also relaxed for three days on Providenciales, Turks and Caicos’ most populated island lined with resorts and miles of beaches. But a highlight for me was snorkeling and swimming with stingrays during an excursion from Grand Turk to tiny Gibb’s Cay, where docile stingrays swimming in the wild freely ease up to shore.

Osprey Beach Hotel. Photo by Richard Varr

Osprey Beach Hotel. Photo by Richard Varr

 

 

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Subterranean Barcelona – The World’s Most Extensive Underground Roman Ruins

By Richard Varr

Roman ruins under Placa del Rei. Photo by Richard Varr

Roman ruins under Plaça del Rei. Photo by Richard Varr

I walk on raised platforms above the subterranean ruins – crumbling walls, sections of chipped stone columns and carefully-laid mosaic floors amidst rugged walkways and alleys.  Historically speaking, however, the ancient stone chambers, streets and squares within Barcelona’s Musea d’História de la Ciutat (City History Museum) are often described as the most extensive and comprehensive underground Roman ruins in the world.

Gaudí’s masterpiece, Casa Milà. Photo by Richard Varr

Gaudí’s masterpiece, Casa Milà. Photo by Richard Varr

In the city best known for the genius of Antoni Gaudí’s Modernisme architectural style – undulating walls, colorful chimneys and eye-catching building facades designed with nature’s image in mind – it’s often easy to overlook the City History Museum’s fascinating glimpse of Barcelona’s past in what was once the old Roman city known as Barcino.

  where it is believed Columbus was received by royalty upon returning from the New World. Photo by Richard Varr

Plaça del Rei, where it is believed Columbus was received by royalty upon returning from the New World. Photo by Richard Varr

Located in the central Barri Gòtic or Gothic Quarter, the museum sits adjacent to the 13th and 14th century Royal Palace where, in its medieval courtyard known as the Plaça del Rei, it is believed King Fernando II and Queen Isabel welcomed Christopher Columbus upon his return from the New World.  And it’s under this courtyard where the museum’s vast underground ruins lie.

Giant urns used for salting fish. Photo by Richard Varr

Giant urns used for salting fish. Photo by Richard Varr

Dating back to between the 1st and 6th centuries AD, the ruins were once buildings housing aspects of the Romans’ everyday life.   They include a factory where fish was chopped and salted, and a wine-making facility where grapes were pressed and wine fermented in open vats.  Hot and cold baths refreshed Roman citizens.  Well-defined pits once served as dyeing and laundering centers.

Overlooking the ruins. Photo by Richard Varr

Overlooking the ruins. Photo by Richard Varr

Another important Roman site not particularly obvious to those strolling through the old town are four grand columns that were once part of the landmark Barcino Temple, the dominant structure in the Roman forum, the lively public city square.  “This is the most ancient part of Barcelona – the very origin of the city or Barcino,” says tour guide Artur Costa.   “The temple was constructed over a hill and was in the center of the forum.”

Four surviving Roman columns from Barcino Temple. Photo by Richard Varr

Four surviving Roman columns from Barcino Temple. Photo by Richard Varr

The columns are housed in a museum of sorts known as the “Temple Roma D’August, Local Dei Centre Excursionista de Catalunya,” standing tall – although chipped and eroded – within an internal courtyard of a medieval mansion.  They once supported the back end of Barcino Temple, built in the late first century BC and presiding over the city’s forum for more than four centuries.  With the dawn of Christianity in the 5th century AD, the temple lost its importance and its columns were used in the construction of new buildings and palaces.

Richard atop Gaudí’s Casa Batlló with its mosaic chimneys.

Richard atop Gaudí’s Casa Batlló with its mosaic chimneys.