A maritime town between the rivers Anas, and Baetis, it was situated on the estuary of the River Luxia, and on the road from the mouth of the Anas to Augusta Emerita.
The city may be the site of Tartessus; it was called Onoba by the Phoenicians. The Greeks kept the name and rendered it Ὄνοβα. It was in the hands of the Turdetani at the time of conquest by Rome, and before the conquest it issued silver coins with Iberian legends. It was called both Onoba Aestuaria or Onuba (used on coinage) during Roman times, or, simply, Onoba. The city was incorporated into the Roman province of Hispania Baetica. The Arabs then called it Walbah and ruled between 714-1250. It suffered substantial damage in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.
There are still some Roman remains. The city had a mint; and many coins have been found there bearing the name of the town as Onuba. Modern inhabitants are called Onubenses in Spanish. Part of a large wooden wheel that was originally used to drain a copper mine in Huelva was discovered in the late nineteenth century. Dating to the Roman times, it was donated by the British mining company Rio Tinto to the British Museum in 1889.
Mines in the countryside send copper and pyrite to the port for export. From about 1873, the most important company in the area was Rio Tinto, the British mining firm. The mining operations caused severe sulfur dioxide pollution and were frequently accompanied by protests of local farmers, peasants and miners, allied under the anarchist syndicalist leader Maximiliano Tornet. On 4 February 1888, the Pavi Regiment of the Spanish Army opened fire on demonstrators at the village plaza of Rio Tinto. Historians estimate the number of deaths between 100 and 200. Environmentalists from the nearby Nerva village referred to 1888 as the "year of shots" a hundred years later in their protests against the province government's plans to site a large waste dump in a disused mine in the 1990s.
During World War II, the city was a hub of espionage activities led by members of the large British and German communities. German activity centered on reporting British shipping moving in and out of the Atlantic. Most famously, the city was the location where Operation Mincemeat allowed a body carrying false information to wash ashore.
The body of Glyndwr Michael, the fictional "Major William Martin, Royal Marines," of the espionage operation is buried in the San Marco section of the cemetery of Nuestra Senora under a headstone that reads:
William Martin, born 29 March 1907, died 24 April 1943, beloved son of John Glyndwyr and the late Antonia Martin of Cardiff, Wales, DULCE ET DECORUM EST PRO PATRIA MORI, R.I.P.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission in January 1998 added an inscription to the gravestone, which reads:
Glyndwr Michael served as Major William Martin.
On 11 October 2005, Hurricane Vince made landfall in Huelva as a tropical depression.
The local football club, Recreativo de Huelva, is the oldest in Spain. It was founded in 1889 by workers of Rio Tinto Group, a British mining company.
The Port of Huelva is divided in two sectors: the inner port (in the city) and the outer port (the main one):
Huelva is home to Grupo Damas, a provincial bus company. Huelva´s train station is now a shadow of its former self, and exists on a spur line. There are no trains to Portugal. Huelva´s port hosts Naviera Armas´ ferry Volcan del Teide, on which one can travel weekly to Arrecife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Huelva had a population of 149,410 in 2010. The city experienced a population boom in the nineteenth century, due to the exploitation of mineral resources in the area, and another with the construction of the Polo de Desarrollo in the 1960s. It had a population of 5,377 inhabitants in 1787, which had risen to only 8,519 by 1857. From 1887, the city experienced rapid growth, reaching 21,539 residents in 1900, 56,427 in 1940, and 96,689 in 1970. Rapid expansion occurred in the following decades and the population reached 141,479 by 1991.
In the last ten years, immigration both from abroad and from the surrounding area have sustained population growth. In 2007, the city reached the 145,000 mark, while the metropolitan area had nearly 232,000 inhabitants, encompassing the surrounding areas of Aljaraque, Moguer, San Juan del Puerto, Punta Umbría, Gibraleón, and Palos de la Frontera. The 2006 census recorded a foreign population of almost 5,000 people in the urban centre, the majority of whom were of Moroccan origin.
Huelva and its metropolitan area have a Subtropical-Mediterranean climate, characterized by very mild and wet winters and long warm to hot and dry summers. The average annual temperature is 23.9 °C (75.0 °F) during the day and 12.4 °C (54.3 °F) at night. The average annual precipitation is 525 mm (20.7 in) per year, there are about 52 rainy days per year. Extreme temperatures have been 43.8 °C (110.8 °F) recorded on 25 July 2004 and −3.2 °C (26.2 °F) recorded on 28 January 2005 at Ronda Este.
Among the attractions to visit in this province are the Columbus sites. These sites include the city of Huelva, Moguer, Palos de la Frontera, and the Rábida Monastery. La Rábida is where Columbus sought the aid of the Franciscan brothers in advancing his project of discovery. They introduced him to local rich sailors (the Pinzón brothers), and, eventually, arranged a meeting in Seville with Ferdinand and Isabella.
The most well-known artists in Huelva have been: the poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Juan Ramón Jiménez, the sculptor Antonio León Ortega, the writer Nicolas Tenorio Cerero and the painter Daniel Vázquez Díaz. Other outstanding artists from Huelva include the painters José Caballero, Pedro Gómez y Gómez, Antonio Brunt, Mateo Orduña Castellano, Pablo Martínez Coto, Manuel Moreno Díaz, Juan Manuel Seisdedos Romero, Francisco Doménech, Esperanza Abot, José María Labrador, Sebastián García Vázquez, Pilar Barroso, Juan Carlos Castro Crespo, Lola Martín, Antonio Gómez Feu, Rafael Aguilera, and Florencio Aguilera Correa. Miguel Biez, called el Litri, is perhaps the town's most famous artist; he was gored in a bullfight in 1929.
Near Huelva lay Herculis Insula, mentioned by Strabo (iii. p. 170), called Ἡράκλεια by Steph. B. (s. v.), now Isla Saltés.