Esteban Martin Martin was a physician in New York who held a lifelong fascination for Christopher Columbus. He believed that there wasn’t a monument anywhere in the world that adequately celebrated his hero—so he decided to build one himself.
Martin owned of a large plot of land in the mountains of Benalmadena in Andalucía, with splendid views over the Mediterranean. So he gave up his practice in New York, returned to his hometown, and set to work. Between 1987 and 1994, with the help of only two bricklayer friends, he erected a fairy tale of a monument. Though it’s called Castillo de Colomares, it isn’t really a castle, but rather a structure composed of three styles—Gothic, Romanesque, and Mudéjar (featuring Islamic decoration and motifs)—with towers, walls, staircases, sculptures, and paintings. His “castle” was intended as a tribute to the explorer and his crews, but also as a a history lesson on the times of Isabel and Ferdinand of Castillo, the Catholic monarchs who sponsored his voyages.
Locally, Martin was looked upon as weird at best, out and out crazy at worst. He toiled on anyway, without recognition or any kind of outside financial support. Brick, mortar, and cement were transformed into the three caravels Columbus traveled in, statues of royalty (including Juana La Loca, the daughter of Isabel), gargoyles, stone maps, and features from the Americas (where Columbus’s impact included violence, forced conversion to Christianity, and the introduction of diseases). There are also references to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, the three religions in Spain during the Middle Ages.
In the middle of the building stands one of the world’s smallest churches—dedicated to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary—just six feet square, planned as a mausoleum where Martin hoped the remains of his hero would one day be interred. (There is some debate whether his remains are in Seville or the Dominican Republic.) Another curiosity is a little Chinese pagoda, which symbolizes Columbus’s misapprehension that he was on his way to Asia.
The project ruined Martin, but the monument stands, surrounded by woods and gardens, facing the sea (though toward Africa instead of the Americas). Nobody shakes their head at Martin’s dream any more.