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Huelva: An important Phoenician outpost
THE STORY BEHIND A PLACE NAME

Huelva: An important Phoenician outpost

The toponym is derived from Onuba, the name of a Phoenician and Tartessian settlement dating from at least the 10th century BC

Tony Bryant

Huelva

Friday, 5 January 2024, 17:29

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The place name of Huelva, located at the confluence of the Tinto and Odiel rivers, is derived from Onuba, or Onuba Estuaria, the name of a Phoenician and Tartessian settlement dating from at least the 10th century BC. As a Phoenician outpost, it became an important trade route connecting the Northern Atlantic, the Southern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, facilitating local exports such as silver, copper and salted fish. This settlement was mentioned in an important text on the descriptive geography of pre-Roman Hispania (Ora marítima).

The term Onuba (which was used on coinage during Roman times) originates from pre-Roman languages of the peninsula, although its meaning is unknown.

Some historians claim that Huelva began as an indigenous settlement mentioned as Tartesso in some Greek sources; while others have suggested it was a multi-ethnic enclave, mixing natives with peoples with a mainly Phoenician, and later Greek, extraction.

Later academics noted the name of the inhabitants as 'cabezos', following an excavation in the 1970s of the Cabezo de San Pedro, when a wall of oriental technique dating from the 8th century BC was discovered. These first structures are believed to have been defensive and were interpreted as solutions "borrowed from the East" to protect small local settlements.

Based on the theories of classical authors such as Pliny the Elder and Strabo, 17th-century historian Rodrigo Caro claimed that Onuba was what is now the nearby town of Gibraleón, and that Huelva was a city called Hibera. This, however, was contested by several academics of the 18th century.

During the Arab occupation, the toponym appears in several forms, including Gaelbah and Umba, although the most documented name is Welba, which was Latinised as Huelva by the Christians.

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