Throughout history, many have been the people who have been and dwelled in the Odiel Estuary, in the Southwest coast of Spain. Seafarers and merchants from far-off countries came searching for the region's wealth in metals: the Tartessians, the Phoenicians, The Greeks, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Visigoths... And with the running of the time, we have known that the historic deed of the Discovery of America had its origin in the port area of Huelva, in La Rábida and in the port of Palos, to be more precise. The author of the discovery was Christopher Columbus, but the "onubenses" seafarers played a great role in the first voyages to the New World, especially the one in which America was revealed to Europe.
During the Modern Age, the village of Huelva, along with the village of Puerto de Santa María, hold the leadership in the fishing industry on the Atlantic coast of Andalusia, being this business in close relation with the exploitation of salt. The Town Council regulated fresh fish sale by means of bylaws, carrying out the same current system of auctions. Precisely in the 18th Century, piracy danger decreased and consequently the economy revived. It was then when La Casa de Contratación (The House of Trade) was moved from Seville to Cádiz –so becoming the Port of Huelva part of the American circuit, and Huelva Customs House was created.
Huelva was elected for its harbour and its strategic location on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean output for mineral transport.
At the dawn of the 19th Century, a milestone was reached when Huelva was appointed capital of the province, followed by the revitalization of the mining by foreign capital. It was also decided that the most profitable way to transport ore was by sea, and Huelva was elected for its harbour and its strategic location on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean. Afterwards, the big Companies of Rio Tinto and Tharsis built railways and wharves within the same service zone of the Port of Huelva.p>
In this context, in December of 1873, a group of influential people of the onubense province contributed with their determination to the birth of the Special Board of Trade and Port of Huelva, the present-day Port of Huelva Authority. In this way, the administrative development of the institution started to grow slowly: Regulations for its governing, the expense budget, the works plan, the setting-up of the definitive Board, etc. Together with this evolution there was a big effort on the part of the engineers to channel and dredge the river in order to make possible the manoeuvring of those big vessels that were being launched using the new technology. The first director of the Port of Huelva, Carlos Mª Cortés, was appointed by the King in 1876, and afterwards, in 1880, the first general project of the Port was approved, which gradually erected its first infrastructure, and in 1888 the South Wharf was inaugurated.
As for fishing, the Port of Huelva started to grow at the end of the 19th Century coinciding with the acquisition of the first pair of "English steamships" by the onubenses ship-owners, and as a consequence of the increasing catches, a new fish sale market was built in 1893 at the Dike site. This marketplace kept on operating until 1970 when it was moved to the north area of the Levante wharf. Actually, the modernization of the Huelva fishing fleet was closely bound to Guillermo Sundheim, a notable businessman of German origin settled in Huelva.
In the 20th Century, a very important building phase had already started in which the figure of the director Francisco Montenegro stood out. The most significant constructions: the North wharf, the Lookout's House, the Mineral Depot, the Warehouse and the Train Depots. However, another important proposal carried out in the 20s was the construction of the Levante Wharf, a symbol of innovation for the engineering at that time because of its reinforced-concrete caisson-type infrastructure. Montenegro's forward-looking approach cannot be questioned since he foresaw that mineral exportation would not be the traffic of the future and committed himself to open up the Port of Huelva to other merchandise. Moreover, we must emphasise the intense dredging work this famous personage performed in order to improve the draft at the Port of Huelva, thus obtaining extensive reclamation areas as well as a significant clean-up of the bottom of the estuary.
In the 20th Century, a very important building phase had already started in which the figure of the director Francisco Montenegro stood out
On the other hand, the 20s were also remarkable for a series of events celebrated at the Port, in which the Port itself played a very special role: the Plus Ultra flight, the inauguration of the Monument to Columbus or the collaboration with the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, to cite just the most important. Later, from the end of the Spanish Civil War, Huelva fishing industry provided an outlook of marked growth. Whereas coastal fishing dominated during the years preceding the conflict, in the 40s decade Huelva fishing fleet and catches reached their peak and generated an industry mainly based on deep-sea fishing. The trading of these products extended the area of operations and helped to improve both means of transport and cooling systems.
But the Great Depression of 1929 affected Spain, as did to the world suppliers of raw materials of any type; the economic situation continued to fall due to the subsequent incidents: civil and international wars. The Second World War brought about a complete halt in the mines owing to the lack of safety in the transport systems and to the tax increase. Indeed, since World War I, the downfall was inevitable except for some favourable, temporary periods.
The Port of Huelva underwent a big change in the 60s and the mineral port became an industrial port. Most port facilities located at the interior zone, which needed expensive dredging, were moved to the Outer Port, with deeper draft. Immediately afterwards, Huelva was declared a Promotion and Industrial Development Pole, mainly based on its existing port and on the pyrite resources of the province. In the same way, by Decree of October 2nd of 1969, the Port of Huelva was for the first time granted the legal status of Autonomous Port. And in 1975, the enlargement of New Port Industrial Area in Palos de la Frontera and the expansion of the service zone at the Outer Port entrenched the Port of Huelva as the ultimate Industrial Port on the Spanish South Atlantic façade; a port with strong oil, chemical and petrochemical development.
Furthermore, during the 60s decade, frozen fish industry had also developed in Spain, and Huelva, specializing in the crustacean catch, sent deep-freeze vessels to African waters in search of shellfish.. Nowadays, the Port of Huelva ranks a significant position among the fishing ports for both the quality and quantity of the unloaded fish. Besides, it is one of the most important European ports in frozen seafood trading.
In recent years, the Port has increasingly worked to promote its resources and, it is at present time involved in a continuous process of port activity diversification aimed at capturing new traffic and consolidating shipping lines. All this intended to basically stop being an industrial enclave focused on the loading and unloading of solid and liquid bulks. In keeping with this goal , the Port goes on investing in new infrastructure to provide greater and better service. The results obtained in the last financial years show a quite obvious upward trend proved by the ever highest figures reached in the volume of trade.
Ana María Mojarro Bayo
Huelva, June 18, 2012