Columbus: Ramblas statue to be retired?

Christopher Columbus on his Ramblas Plinth

Since the Universal Exposition of 1888, a bronze statue of Chistopher Columbus has towered over the bottom end of Las Ramblas, pointing towards the eastern seaboard, to the continent he wished to reach and never did reach. The base of the 60 metre-tall column is decorated with tributes to his patrons, los Reyes Catolicos, Queen Isabella and King Fernando of Spain, for whom he opened a trail to a new territory and the riches of a 'New World'.

It was to Barcelona and a glitzy reception with the monarchs that the Genoese navigator returned in 1493 after his first successful voyage, where he explored the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, mistakenly believing them to form part of the Asian continent.

In his dream of finding a route east via the west, Columbus had failed. But his success in navigating across the Atlantic seaboard would secure Columbus a place in the pantheon of mythical explorers.

Columbus' legacy was this week under scrutiny, however, having been questioned by members of the anti-capitalist CUP party (Candidatura d'Unitat Popular).

CUP, who are strongly represented in Catalan parliament, have voiced the opinion that Columbus should be toppled from his 60 metre-high perch. The anticapitalist group claimed that the colonization and 'museumification' of the Americas 'through historical interpretation' meant that Columbus should not be a symbol of discovery and enterprise, but of plunder and appropriation.

CUP went on to recommend the erection of a monument in its place representing the values of 'American resistance to imperalism, oppression and indegenous and Afro-American segregation.'

CUP also took aim at the statue of the Spanish 19th Century business mogul Antonio López, currently observing Port Vell from his plinth outside the Post Office at the bottom of Via Laetana. López 's statue is already a controversial presence thanks to his association with the transatlantic slave trade, having sent thousands of African slaves for recruitment in the Cuban army during the Ten Years War.

CUP have suggested López should be replaced by a monument representing the victims of the slave trade.

Columbus, Colón, Colonization: In Spanish, Columbus is known as Cristóbal Colón. This has led to the erronous equation of his name with the word 'colonización.' An article in El Periodico this week threw its weight in behind the legendary explorer, pointing out: 'Colonizar is not a word that has anything to do with America's discoverer (sic), Cristóbal Coln. It comes from the Latin , 'colonia' (a territory established by those who came from another) and 'colonus' (worker and inhabitant). There were colonies and colonizers much before Colon was born, although that does not mean he was not a decisive protagonist from the outset in one of the great colonizations.'

Columbus, Ohio: Barcelona isn't the only place where Columbus' legacy has recently been braving choppy waters. Another statue of the navigator, called The Birth Of The New World and created by the Georgian artist Zurab Tsereteli, has been doing a tour of the USA in search of a home for over 20 years.

The US cities of Columbus, Ohio, Boston, New York, Miami, Cleveland and Fort Lauderdale, had all rejected the huge, 350-ft tall statue. In the end the statue finally came to port this year in the Puerto Rican city of Arecibo, 523 years after the man himself actually set foot there.

Crippled by a $72 bn debt crisis, the Puerto Rican government attracted grave criticism for paying out $12 million to erect the statue, but claimed it would attract tourists and signal not just a New World, but a new Puerto Rico. They clearly didn't ask Muscovites what they thought of Tseretelli's statue of Peter of the Great, which inspired so much disapproval there was even a plan to have it dynamited.

Reactions to CUP's call to topple Columbus from Las Ramblas: ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya) mustered lukewarm support for CUP's idea, suggesting that while the statue need not be removed, a full analysis of the motifs on its base should be commissioned. Furthermore they were in support of the removal of the controversial Lòpez statue.

Other parties were quick to lambast CUP. Alberto Fernandez of the Partido Popular scoffed, 'all that remains is for CUP to convert the pillar into a statue of Kim Jung-Un pointing towards Ithaca.' Joaquim Forn, CiU's number two, called the idea 'a frivolity.' A representative of Ciudadanos dismissed it as 'an abdusrdity in line with the usual CUP eccentricities.'

The last word of course, is the Ajuntament's, and Gerardo Pisarello, Ada Colau's spokesperson, yesterday confirmed that, while all the debate was legitimate, there would be no 'retirement' of Columbus's statue from the bottom of Las Ramblas.

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