26 April 2022

The ever-changing street names of Alcalá

Most of the streets and squares in Alcalá have had several different names over the years. Indeed some are still referred to locally by their old names, causing confusion for visitors, postmen and delivery drivers. 

The renaming often followed drastic changes in the country’s government, notably:
  • The declaration of the 2nd Republic in 1931, when Spain was governed by elected representatives following the abdication of the King and the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera;
  • The military-civilian coup of July 1936, when the Falange party took over the government of Alcalá at the beginning of the Civil War;
  • The transition to democracy following the death of Franco - the first local elections were held in 1979.
The following list, in alphabetical order, was compiled from the series Las calles de Alcalá y sus nombres: Evolución Histórica I-VII on the blog Historia de Alcalá de los Gazules, and Por las calles viejas de Alcalá I-IV on Mi Alcalá.

Alameda de la Cruz: The open space at the eastern end of Calle Real dates from the mid 16th century, when it was known as Plazuela de los Mesones. In the 1570s it was renamed Plaza de la Vera Cruz, after a monastery which was located there. This endured until 1895, when it was renamed Plaza Montes de Oca after the man who made many improvements to the town including the introduction of piped water. During the 2nd Republic it became Plaza de Fermín Galán y García Hernández, two soldiers who led an uprising against the monarchy in 1930 and were subsequently executed. Following the coup in 1936 it became Plaza del Generalísimo Franco, and after the return to democracy it was given the name we know today.

Alameda de la Cruz

C/ Alonso el Sabio: Named after King Alfonso (or Alonso) X, "the Wise", who reclaimed Alcalá from the Moors in the 13th century and declared it a Villa. At some point in the 19th century it was renamed C/ del Padre Félix after the Bishop of Cadiz, but the name didn't stick.

Plaza Arcipreste Roa: Originally known as Plaza de San Juan, this little square was renamed after a priest in 1899.

C/ Cádiz: originally C/ Cruz del Manchego, this street was given its current name in 1907 as it leads from the old town to the main route to the provincial capital. 

C/ Diego Centeno: The old Calzada de San Antonio, site of a now-demolished monastery of that name, was renamed after a local politician in 1907.

Callejón del Gato: "Cat Alley" was renamed Callejón de Lugo in 1824 after José María Lugo, the liberal mayor of Alcalá between 1820 and 1823. It is not known when it reverted to its original name.

C/ Galán Caballero: This street was known during most of the 19th century as Segunda Cárcel Vieja (to differentiate it from the first old prison in C/ Miguel Tizón). In 1884 it was named C/ Alonso Cárdeno after the founder of the Franciscan monastery on the Alameda. In 1902 it was renamed following the death of a popular mayor of Alcalá, Juan Galán Caballero.

C/ Juan María de Castro: Still popularly known by its original name, C/ Amiga, it was renamed after José Moreno de Mora, founder of a provincial hospital, in 1900 and given the name of another Alcalá mayor in 1907.

C/ las Brozas: One of the town’s earliest recorded street names. There is a document referring to C/ de Juan de las Brozas dated 1638, but no mention of who he was. Early in the 19th century it was known as C/ Cruz Verde, and in 1877 it was renamed after Eduardo Garrido Estrada, a local MP. During the 2nd Republic it briefly bore the name of Mariana Pineda, heroine of the Liberalist movement executed in Granada in 1831. Following the Falangist coup in 1936 it was renamed after José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of that party, but a year later his name was allocated to a more significant thoroughfare, now the Paseo de la Playa, and las Brozas was renamed C/ Capitán Cortes after a Civil Guard who fought against the Republicans in the Civil War. It reverted to its original name after Franco’s death.

C/ Ildefonso Romero: Originally C/ Villa Abajo because it led from the old heart of Alcalá around the Plaza Alta into the newer part further down the hill. In 1884 it was renamed after C/ Luis Cameros, an Alcalá man who became Archbishop of Valencia, and was given its current name to commemorate a local lawyer in 1907.

C/ Mancebía:  Until relatively recently this was the town's red light district (mancebía = brothel). An unsuccessful attempt was made in the early 20th century to rename it C/ la Gloria.

C/ Maura: Originally part of C/ Río Verde, in 1899 after the construction of the Barrio de las Flores (see below) it was given the name C/ Posadilla. in 1907 it was renamed after the liberal politician Antonio Maura.

C/ Miguel Tizón: Formerly C/ de Cárcel Vieja, site of the old prison, and renamed in the 19th century after an Alcalá man who fought in the Cuban war of independence.  His brother José is commemorated in an alley leading through an arch off the Alameda.

C/ las Monjas: The first section of this lengthy street, from the Plaza Alta to the corner of C/ Villegas, used to be called C/ de los Toros due to the fact that bulls were run down it on festival days. In 1884 it was renamed C/ Pedro Mirabal after the local bishop. The rest of the street was known as Las Monjas because of its proximity to the Convent of Santa Clara, but in 1907 the name of Pedro Mirabal was replaced by that of Manuel Espinosa, the mayor who obtained city status for Alcalá in 1876. This fell out of use during the 20th century and now the whole street is known as Las Monjas.

C/ Nuestra Señora de los Santos: One of the oldest roads leading from the countryside into the town, it known as C/ de la Salada because of the springs of mineral water located on it. It was officially given its current name in 1898 although it is still commonly known as “La Salá”.

C/ los Pozos: In the 16th century, possibly even earlier, this road was known as the Camino de los Pozos because of the public wells which were located along it. In 1877 it was named C/ Montes de Oca, after the businessman who brought piped water to Alcalá (see section above on the Alameda), but ten years later it became C/ Sagasta after a politician who awarded a contract to build cruise ships to the city of Cádiz. During the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1931) it became C/ Capitán Cadalso, after a military hero. Then came the Republic and it was changed to honour the politician who gave Alcalá a grant to improve the water supply, Diputado García Atance. After the electoral success of the Popular Front in 1936 it was changed yet again, becoming C/ 16 de febrero, the date of the election. Following the coup in July that year it briefly bore the name of General Franco, but in 1937 the dictator’s name was given to the Alameda and los Pozos became C/ General Mola, after another fascist general. It returned to its original name after the transition to democracy.

Paseo de la Playa: Before this area officially became a street at the beginning of the 20th century after the construction of the Barrio de las Flores it was known as Lerma, after a stream which ran through it. It was named C/ Algeciras in 1905, but in 1907 it was renamed C/ Marqués de Mochales, after a senator from Jerez, and then Paseo Toscano Dalmau, a local politician. In the 2nd Republic it became the Paseo de la República, and during the dictatorship it took the name of the founder of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera. Following the Transition it was given its current name, which confuses visitors as there is definitely no beach in Alcalá. It was probably named after a bar located there, though no-one is sure why the bar was so called. One theory is that prior to being paved, the area used to be covered in sand.

Paseo de la Playa

La Plazuela: The area at the western end of the Calle Real used to be the location of an open-air produce market, and was referred as Plazuela de la Carnicería in 1826. In 1894 it became Plaza Duque de Almodóvar del Río, after a politician who completed the paved road from Alcalá to Medina, but three years later it took the name of Canóvas del Castillo after the recently assassinated president. In 1923 it became Plaza Alfonso XIII and with the arrival of the 2nd Republic it was renamed after Nicolas Salmerón, president during the 1st Republic in 1873. When the fascists took over the town in 1936 they gave it the name Plaza Calvo Sotelo, the right-wing politician whose assassination helped spark the coup. It became La Plazuela following the Transition and in 2015 this was extended to Plazuela de los Emigrantes in honour of the many alcalaínos who had to leave their home town to find work.

La Plazuela

Calle Real: Alcalá’s main street with its majestic buildings was not developed in its present form until the 19th century. It was referred to as Calle de los Mesones at least as far back as the 16th century because it led to the square of that name, but by 1700 it was referred to in documents as C/ Real. In 1898 it was named C/ Duque de Almodóvar del Río (the name then in use for the Plazuela). It bore the name of General Primo de Rivera when he became dictator in 1923, and in the 2nd Republic it was renamed C/ Pablo Iglesias after the founder of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, changing in 1934 to C/ Alejandro Lerroux, President and leader of the Radical Republican Party. The Falangists changed it back to C/ General Primo de Rivera, and in 1979 it reverted to its current name.

Calle Real

C/ Río Verde: This name was already in use in the 16th century, given that after heavy rain its steep slope turned it into a “green river”. In 1907 was given the name of the military commander for the region, General Bazán. In 1936 it was renamed after the fascist General Queipo de Llano, Franco’s right-hand man in Andalucía, reverting to its original name after the Transition.
C/ Sánchez Aguayo:  Originally C/ Carrera, as horses were raced down it during festivals on the Plaza Alta.  At some point it was renamed in honour of Bartolomé Sánchez and Doña Catalina Aguayo, founders of the town's hospital, La Misericordia. 

C/ Sánchez Díaz: Known as C/ Nueva as it formed part of the "Barrio Nuevo", built on the hill between the Plaza Alta and Calle Real in the 18th century. In 1899 it was given the name of a local politician, although the old name is still used by locals.

C/ Sánchez Flores: Named after Miguel Sánchez Flores, the local councillor who built the Barrio de las Flores at the end of the 19th century.

Barrio Sánchez Flores

C/ Sánchez de la Linde: Originally C/ Barranco, because of its steep incline, it was named after a local doctor in 1907.

Plaza de San Jorge: In the 16th century the square at the top of the town was known as Plaza Alta de San Jorge, after the church and the town's patron saint. During the period of government known as the Trienio Liberal (1820-23) it was briefly renamed Plaza de la Constitución, commemorating the first Spanish Constitution drawn up in Cádiz in 1812. Today its official name is Plaza de San Jorge, but it is universally referred to as “Plaza Alta”.

Plaza de San Jorge (Plaza Alta)

Paseo San Juan de Ribera: Named after a member of the aristocratic family who owned Alcalá for centuries, canonised in 1960.  Until then it was called C/ San José, after a long-gone church of that name.

Plaza Santo Domingo: This large open area bore the name of the Santo Domingo monastery alongside it until 1899, when it was changed to Plaza de Castelar after a President during the First Republic. During the dictatorship it was renamed Plaza de General Varela, and reverted to its original name after the Transition. In 2019 it was renamed C/ Alejandro Sanz after a famous pop star whose mother, María Pizarro, came from Alcalá.

16 April 2022

New book about Alcalá in the 19th Century

 I've just published a follow-up (prequel?) to my book Winds of Change, about Alcalá de los Gazules in the 20th century.  It covers events over the previous hundred years, including the Napoleonic Wars, and is available worldwide on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format.  

Alcalá de los Gazules in the 19th Century

12 October 2021

España First: the racist origins of Spain's Fiesta Nacional

 Today, 12 October, is a public holiday in Spain.  It is the date when Columbus (allegedly) discovered the Americas, and Spain reaches out to its former colonies to celebrate the notion of Spanishness.  It's also the day of Our Lady of the Pillar (aka Pilar), patron of the armed forces and the Guardia Civil, hence the grand military parades which take place on the streets of Madrid and other large cities on this date every year.

Many people assume that the festival was invented by General Franco, and he certainly took advantage of it to promote his particular brand of nationalism.  But it dates back to 1914, just sixteen years after Spain lost the final fragments of its once vast empire.  It was dreamed up by Faustino Rodríguez San Pedro, Spanish politician and President of the Unión Iberoamericana, and declared a public holiday by the King in 1918 under the name Fiesta de la Raza - Festival of Race.  

The Spanish Empire around 1600

An article published in 1918 by Alcalá newspaper owner Pedro José Cohucelo, unearthed by local historian Ismael Almagro and published on his blog, is a fine example of the sentiments which certain Spaniards, evidently smarting from the country's diminished role in the world following the loss of its colonies, were feeling:

Raise your hats, citizens!  It's Columbus Day.  Burn the lamp of reverent enthusiasm on the altars of the Fatherland; may the flowers of our inextinguishable love perfume the altar of our History, and the Hispanic soul sing the hymn of brotherhood.  Today is the day when the blood of the noble Hesperia boils in the immense lagoon of two worlds, showing  the world that there are races which do not perish, weaken or expire, thanks the immortality of its origin and the omnipotence of its faith.

The adverse wave of fate cannot extinguish [the Spaniard's] energetic good looks nor tame the impulses of his valiant heart ... he smiles and compassionately rejects the selfish onslaught of his rivals.

There follows a lengthy comparison of Spain's situation with the fall of the Roman Empire, summarised thus:  

Great peoples, when they are razed by force, do not face eternal death because their exploits will be a perpetual lesson that will mark the paths of victory for successive generations.

Then come several paragraphs extolling the virtues of Spanish colonialism:

I have seen my race, this glorious Race of Titans, feel the holy ecstasy of pure patriarchal love, lulled by the monorhythmic rhapsody of hope ... I have admired her armed with slings in open field facing the hordes of the barbarian Alaric…  I have seen her exchange the iron armour of the warrior for the toga of the jurist who legislates with utmost wisdom in the first charters ... 

I have seen my Race merge in glorious rapture with the semi-divine soul of Columbus and the superhuman soul of the Catholic Isabella, to launch itself into the sea of prowess, and in the likeness of God, rise like a colossus that amazes by its gigantic proportions over the mysterious waves of the Atlantic, and pronounce the sovereign fiat that brings forth a new world, a shining pearl that brightened the fleurons of the crown of Spain.

And so on. You get the gist. 

The master race arrives to enlighten the pagans

Pedro ends on a flourish:

If the sun that shines in the heights sets in the political dominions of Spain, not so the sun of her loves or her hopes; that this sun, sinking into the twilight of national life, will once again illuminate the world of Christopher Columbus, to say to those brothers with the luminous language of his glory: America! Hispanic America! The mother who incubated your prowess in her womb, is tearful, dejected and eager to tighten more and more the bonds of her love for you. The vile men who ruled their destinies, wanted to undo their History by dint of indignities and infamies. Today he seeks in his daughters the regenerative and fruitful support to triumph over his assiduous and secular enemies. 

A few days before the date of festival in 1919 he wrote urging the Alcalá town hall to splash out and celebrate, but his pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears since no expenditure on the event is recorded in the minutes for that year.

Today there are probably more demonstrations against Spanish colonialism than for it, and in Alcalá the puente de Pilar is little more than a half-term break.  Unless your name is Pilar of course, in which case it is your Saint's Day and you are entitled to party.

Military parade in Madrid

Protesters in Barcelona

11 August 2021

Reflections on Alcalá by a visitor from abroad

An American gentleman penned these lines during a recent stay in Alcalá de los Gazules, and has kindly allowed me to share them with you.


The social climbers won't leave simple fare alone;
have somehow to corrupt and claim it as their own,
endow it with Privilege and Prestige,
attempt to slide it out of reach.
They've taken guacamole, dead easy and good
(ripe avocado, chopped onion, squeeze lemon,
dash salt, mash with fork) to come up with versions
that hinge on this or that:
a blender, paprika, sour cream, capers...
till fancy and high-strung,
it's no longer for just anyone.
They've done all they can to appropriate gazpacho.
The next time you pay through the nose for a bowl,
take time to reflect that as good a gazpacho's as ever
been made happened 80 years back at a camp in the
cork oak-forested hills northwest of Algeciras where
a crew of corcheros weeks absent from home soaked
their leftover bread in a basin with water, added
garlic, olive oil, salt. When they could they threw in
cucumber, tomato, green pepper from the huerta,
chopped, mashed, splash of vinegar; a little more oil,
a little more salt. After work the men moved in
with spoons to eat from the common bowl.
Gazpacho. It wasn't chilled or blended smooth;
in fact, it was warm with a tang of ferment,
and someone had tossed in half an onion.
It cost nothing, adhered to no plan,
bore no Michelin stars. It tasted
like a blessing from the land.

Old Men on the Square

My father would have liked it here;
have felt at home, have blended in.
The men on the square resemble him –
unobtrusive, unassuming, wearing
short-sleeved patterned shirts,
not too loud, machine-made, modest,
tucked in denim or polyester pants.
Men who worked the land in their day
hard and long for little pay:
corcheros, rancheros, campesinos,
rural people resting now,
sitting on benches under the trees;
not much to say, not much to do,
not far to go. Headed back to the land.

July Evening, 2021

Eight o'clock. The village still
hot and bright with sun. More
SE VENDE signs than ever
patch the faces of the houses
like some skin disease. The young
have few prospects. The old
are down to the one. A tattered
fringe of bon vivants persists in
lining the cafes; tail-end of pandemic
or just the beginning, who knows...
it can feel like the end of days;
but just for now, the good news is,
we've made it to the edge of dusk.
A trickle of masked humanity
emerges onto the Alameda. Swallows
slash the air, relentless scimitars.
A woman leads her mother by the elbow,
easy does it, slow and tender,
hunched señora taking the air.
Kestrels hang like kites, then slide,
then hang, (then slide) quartering rooftops,
gliding past bell tower topping the hill.
Not the end of days just yet,
this slow and tender end of day.

Jump to Conclusions

America No! is all the young man said,
before angling away into the dark.
At first I didn't understand;
slowly the words found their mark.
How did he know where I was from?
I don't exactly look the part.
In a town this size word gets around.
America No. So what did he mean?
Was it just a lark? Or maybe he bears
a chip on his shoulder; imperial swagger
makes him smolder.
He's tired of meeting extranjeros
on his evening rambles, blames
the Beacon of the Free World for
the current shambles. Fair enough.
I had a tee-shirt once read
US Out Of North America.
But wait a minute...
he was likely just saying americano
in which event,
this rash of speculation 
 is spectacularly misspent.

© John Liechty 2021

14 June 2021

Fermín Salvochea (Cadiz 1848-1907), Republican and Anarchist

Now and again you come across people who spend their lives fighting for magnificent but futile causes, and their names fade from the pages of history. Salvochea was one of those. He was committed to social justice for the labouring classes at a time when they had few rights and no political voice. The 19th century in Spain was marked by conflict between conservatives who supported the status quo, where the monarchy and the Catholic Church had absolute power, and liberals who wanted reform and a voice for the emerging middle class. Those at the bottom of the pile were largely ignored by both parties.

Salvochea began by believing that social change could come through the existing political system, but towards the end of the century when the poor were still dying of hunger he changed tack and supported the anarchist idea that workers must take matters into their own hands and bring about change by whatever means were available to them. He died a frustrated and disillusioned man, his body exhausted by the years of incarceration he was subjected to in the struggle to achieve his utopian dream.

One of the few 20th century historians to celebrate the life of Salvochea was Fernando Toscano de Puelles, whose family was from Alcalá. There follows a resumé of his book FERMIN SALVOCHEA: REPUBLICA Y ANARCHISMO, published in 1984.

Fermín Salvochea was born into a middle-class family in the city of Cádiz in 1842. His father, a merchant in the textile industry, held strong liberal values and was concerned about the exploitation of the working class, but he was no revolutionary. He sent his son to the innovatory school of San Felipe de Neri in Cádiz, which combined business studies with other forms of learning including natural sciences, language and literature. Fermín specialised in languages and in 1858 went to London to improve his English and act as local agent for the family business. His elder brother died suddenly and the business went into decline, but Fermín stayed in England, impressed by the people’s love of independence and liberty which appeared so different to Spanish culture. He studied the works of socialist reformer and philanthropist Robert Owen, founder of the Cooperative movement, which opened his eyes to ideas of social justice and equal opportunities for the working class.

Salvochea immersed himself in the political and philosophical debates in London clubs and societies, and became friends with the militant atheist Charles Bradlaugh, founder of the National Secular Society, under whose influence he came to despise the religious dogma which perpetuated ignorance and inequality in his own country. He remained an atheist for the rest of his life.

On his return to Cádiz in 1861 Salvochea turned his back on commerce and entered the world of the progressive intellectual elite. The city was one of the last liberal outposts in a Europe dominated by absolutist monarchs. It had a spirit of tolerance and openness, having for centuries been a major trading port where ideas as well as goods were exchanged. Unlike much of Spain it had a powerful middle class which supported liberal ideas of free trade. Cádiz had been the natural place for the Spanish Cortes (seat of government) to move to when Napoleon Bonaparte took over the rest of the country in the early 19th century. Spain’s first Constitution was proclaimed there in 1812, establishing an electoral parliamentary system to control the power of the monarchy, with universal (male) suffrage, freedom of the press and the separation of church and state. This liberal Constitution was abolished when Fernando VII returned to power in 1814 and restored the absolute power of the monarchy.

In the salons and cafes of this cultural melange Fermín Salvochea discussed the socialist ideas of Robert Owen with proponents of other progressive persuasions such as Fourierism and anarchism (libertarian socialism). The pragmatic Salvochea dismissed these as too utopian, but he and his colleagues were united in a desire to overthrow the monarchy and restore the 1812 Constitution. This came to fruition in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1868, when Queen Isabel II was deposed and replaced by a provisional government. There followed six turbulent years in which Salvochea was to play a significant part in the city and province of Cádiz.

The revolution started in the city with a mutiny by naval forces, and quickly spread across the country. Salvochea and his colleagues believed that the provisional povernment would restore the terms of the 1812 Constitution and guarantee liberty and republicanism, but it soon became clear that this was not going to happen. In December government troops were sent to quell the revolutionary fervour which predominated in Cádiz, and the city endured several days of fierce fighting as armed volunteers and the Republican militia fought the forces of the Provisional Government across the barricades. Eventually the volunteers were worn down and a truce was declared. Salvochea was arrested and interrogated, as he was held to be the leader of the revolt. He maintained throughout that he was acting on the will of the people and therefore not guilty of any crime.

In January 1869 there was a general election. The Progressive-Liberal Coalition won 263 seats and the Federal Democratic Republican Party 85, including Salvochea (who was still in prison). After some debate as to the legality of his candidacy he was granted an amnesty and released.

The previous year the Cuban nationalists had revolted, various Carlist parties had re-emerged from the woodwork, Spain was facing a civil war. The government therefore decided to suspend the constitutional guarantees, much to the protest of the Federal deputies, who walked out. Salvochea was elected President of the Provincial Committee of the party and signed a federal pact for Andalucía. There followed a rallying campaign across the region to protest about the government’s U-turn, in which the Republicans were hotly pursued by government troops. When he arrived in Alcalá de los Gazules in October 1869 he was welcomed by cheers of “Long live Salvochea” and the pealing of bells. He picked up fifty new recruits ready to fight for the cause.

The Republican volunteers were pursued and defeated by government troops in Algar, in the Sierra de Cádiz, suffering heavy losses. The survivors hid in the mountains around Ubrique before engaging again near Ronda. They were heavily outnumbered and defeated, with several leaders losing their lives. The manner of their death became a national scandal.

Salvochea and other survivors headed to France from Gibraltar until an amnesty in 1870 allowed them to return. The Republican Party had formed its own Assembly, led by Pi y Margall. Salvochea was one of those elected and the Party set about drawing up an alternative revolutionary constitution, inspired by the French model, to challenge the one published by the government in 1868 establishing Spain as a constitutional monarchy. Amadeus of Savoy was chosen as a suitably uncontroversial king. He was crowned in November 1870 – the Republicans had lost that battle.

In July 1872 Fermín's father died, leaving most of his estate to his son. He became even closer to his mother, Pilar, and lived a life of austerity and celibacy, devoting all his energy to the humanitarian cause which dominated his life.

Cadiz town hall in the Plaza San Juan de Dios, mid-19th century

When Amadeus abdicated in February 1873 Spain was officially proclaimed a Republic. However the more left-wing Republicans like Salvochea feared it would not be radical enough. He was elected Mayor of Cádiz, and promised to do his best for the people despite being hampered by unjust laws from Madrid. In his manifesto he promised to destroy everything that stood in the way of democracy, make economies in non-productive expenditure, improve the conditions of workers and artisans, and abolish the hated tax on essential goods. He also promised to resign immediately if he could not meet his pledges.

The key to maintaining order, he believed, was to form an armed citizen militia. His second main objective was education for all, free for working-class children. Religious education would be banned in favour of “universal morality”. Schools would be named after principles and virtues instead of saints. New schools would be set up in disused convents, and Church properties would be auctioned off to pay for these programmes.

The Republican government in Madrid drafted yet another Constitution but Pi y Margall, now President, insisted it could only be approved by the Cortes and would be gradually implemented across the provinces. Opponents to this policy, including Salvochea, were known as intransigentes. They wanted reforms to come from the bottom up, with an emphasis on local government (federalism), while the moderate government politicians wanted to rule from Madrid (centralism) – they were fearful of an armed revolution from the growing number of workers’ movements impatient for meaningful change.

On 19 July 1873 Salvochea received a telegram confirming that the Province of Seville had declared itself a federal canton, free and independent of Madrid. Similar declarations had been made in cities across the country. He instantly summoned the military and civilian governors to the town hall and informed them that Cádiz would be following suit – the military governor offered his support and the civil governor resigned.

At 6 pm the bells tolled across the city, announcing to the public that something important was happening. Soon afterwards the trumpets of the Volunteer forces sounded a call to arms. They occupied strategic points across the city in anticipation of reprisals. Red flags were flown on public buildings.

Salvochea immediately formed the Committee of Public Health for the province of Cádiz, with the objective of saving the Federal Republic from those in power who appeared to be intent on destroying it. Measures adopted by the Committee were similar to those proposed after the 1868 Revolution – abolition of compulsory conscription and consumer taxes, public works to provide employment, separation of church and state, secular education, confiscation of church properties, and the armed forces to take orders directly from the Committee.

Salvochea appointed himself in charge of “War, organisation, propaganda and defence”. Arms were confiscated from the HQ of the Guardia Civil, the Castle of San Sebastian and the coastguard ships. A joint military parade was held to show the unity of the Volunteers and the Army.

One of the first tasks of the new administration was to telegraph all the mayors in the provinces asking them to join the movement. Algeciras, Tarifa and Los Barrios opted to join and Paterna de Ribera, traditionally radical, sent volunteers to the capital. Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a stronghold of the Asociación Internacional de Trabajadores (AIT or First International), formed its own Committee made up of militant workers. It was however opposed in Jerez, where the conservative mayor handed over power to the Military Commander.

In nearby San Fernando civilians, the army and the volunteer militia were in favour of joining but there was strong opposition from the naval base, whose leaders remained loyal to the central government. The navy holed up in the arsenal of La Carraca and prepared for an attack by Federalist forces. The ensuing battle lasted several days, with heavy shelling from both sides. Salvochea continually offered the naval forces the chance to cease fire and support the true Republic.

The Arsenal in San Fernando

Eventually the government sent 8,000 troops to suppress the cantonalist rebels. Overwhelmed by force of numbers, they conceded defeat – the Paterna volunteers were among the last to surrender. Various leaders across the province were arrested and imprisoned or exiled to Argentina. Others fled to France or Portugal. Salvochea was given a life sentence to be served in the Spanish enclave of El Peñon de la Gomera, a rocky outcrop on the coast of Morocco. The governor was sympathetic to the Republican cause and gave him two good rooms and the freedom to come and go on the peninsula (including the jetty, where he swam every day).

After two years he was transferred to the considerably less welcoming Fortaleza del Hacho in Ceuta, another Spanish enclave. He spent his time helping his fellow prisoners, teaching them to read and write, spending the money his mother sent him on improving their conditions, and even studying medicine so he could assist those who fell ill.

It was during this time that Salvochea became increasingly sympathetic to the anarchist ideas of Mikhail Bakunin, which were spreading rapidly among the agricultural labourers of Andalucía. He felt betrayed by the liberal bourgeoisie, and concluded that workers could only achieve emancipation if they stopped making pacts with groups who did not share their objectives. But he remained faithful to the Owenist form of communism, dismissing the idea of individual collectives.

Following a failed Republican plot in which Salvochea was suspected of being involved but no evidence could be found, he was transferred back to La Gomera. His mother and colleagues in Cádiz lobbied for him to be granted a pardon, as he was the only one of the Cádiz rebels still incarcerated. When this was granted in 1882 he declined it, saying that he was held prisoner by the law of force, not the force of law - he had done nothing wrong, so could not be grateful for a meaningless gesture of forgiveness. Instead he took the decision to escape, which he did with the help of Moroccan sailors he had befriended at the jetty.

Peñon de La Gomera, near Melilla

Aided by locals and an Arabic-French dictionary he made his way to Tetuan and thence to Gibraltar, Marseilles and Paris, where he met up with other exiles and revolutionaries including Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law. He went to London to meet up with his old atheist friend Charles Bradlaugh, and was introduced to the Russian anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin, whose ideas were to have a considerable influence on him.

Salvochea then travelled to Portugal to meet up with other exiled colleagues, but was arrested after an uprising in Badajoz in which he was claimed to have conspired. He was deported to Algeria, where he was appalled by the living conditions of the poor.

1885 saw the death of Alfonso XII and the end of Salvochea’s period of prolonged confinement and exile. He returned to Cádiz and was dismayed to see the despair and apathy among the working-class movement, demoralised by the persecution of its members during the previous few years. In particular, anyone suspected of being involved in crimes committed by the notorious anarchist group La Mano Negra (Black Hand) in the area around Jerez during 1882 and 1883 had been severely punished, despite a lack of credible evidence. One such trial culminated in the public garotting of seven men in Jerez de Frontera.

Some historians believe the Mano Negra was invented by the authorities in order to justify the persecution of militant workers and give the anarchist movement a bad name. The FTRE, a nationwide federation of anarchist groups, was keen to avoid any public association with criminal elements and offered no support to those on trial, leaving the Cádiz anarchists feeling betrayed and abandoned.

But Salvochea didn’t give up hope. He founded a fortnightly newspaper, El Socialismo, which included translations of works by international figures on the Left including Kropotkin, Marx, Engels and Pablo Iglesias, founder of the Spanish Socialist Party. Received coolly at first, its circulation grew steadily and helped reboot the moribund labour movement. The First of May had recently been established in the USA as International Workers’ Day, and on that date in 1890 Salvochea organised a demonstration in Cádiz, part of an international campaign for an eight-hour working day. He spoke from a balcony, denouncing modern slavery and encouraging workers to embrace the socialist doctrine. He was warmly received by the crowd.

The following year he proposed that the demonstration be accompanied by a general strike. On 25 April police raided the office of El Socialismo and found a leaflet encouraging workers to “rise up and build a new society on the ruins of the old system”. He and two colleagues were arrested, accused of incitement to disrupt public order, and imprisoned. The march was cancelled under threat of armed reprisals. His behaviour at the subsequent trial is a good example of how he continually played cat-and-mouse with any laws which he considered to have no moral basis.

Judge – Are you the author of this paper?
FS – Yes.
Judge -Were you trying to get workers to assemble in the Plaza de San Antonio and declare a strike?
FS – Yes.
Judge: Are you aware that the demonstration took place after the publication of this paper?
FS – The paper wasn’t published, because it was confiscated.

The defence argued that the content of the paper had been published in local newspapers, which were not on trial – Salvochea was being prosecuted purely because of who he was and what he stood for. He was found not guilty.

In January 1892 hundreds of labourers from the Jerez vineyards marched into the city centre armed with shotguns, pistols and pitchforks shouting “The time has come! Long live Anarchism!” Their aim was to free comrades who had been taken prisoner a few days before, take over the barracks with the aid of sympathetic soldiers, and gather support to turn the city into a commune based on anarchist principles. By nightfall they had taken over the streets and were firing shots in the air on their way to the prison, where the guards fired on them, wounding two. They withdrew, but a small group split off from the main body and killed two men, a clerk and a wine salesman, ostensibly for being members of the bourgeoisie. The army carried out a systematic search and rounded up over three hundred suspects.

The authorities could not accept that the march had been spontaneous, and suspected that Salvochea (still incarcerated in Cádiz) had had a hand in planning it. They asked for his immediate transfer to Jerez, which was refused as there were still cases against him in the capital. He gave a statement to a journalist from El Liberal, sent to cover the events (which had attracted national interest):
The causes of the whole anarchist movement are the misery and abandonment that the workers have been subjected to; it is not them who are responsible for what has occurred. There are field-workers in the province who receive a miserly wage of between 40 and 60 cents a day [around €2 today]. They live in permanent hardship. It is unthinkable that this situation should continue.
Salvochea was finally transferred to Jerez in August. He refused a defence lawyer and declined to answer questions when interrogated. This silence continued throughout the trial, which went on for months, during which time he was kept in solitary confinement in a dungeon as a punishment for “contempt of court”. Finally the prosecution produced confessions, obtained under torture from other prisoners, confirming that he was the ringleader. Despite lack of any other evidence and many contradictory witness statements, he was found guilty of initiating rebellion and disturbance of public order and given the maximum sentence of 12 years.

Salvochea was transferred to the penitentiary in Valladolid. When the warden tried to make him attend mass, despite his declared atheism, he refused. Threatened with being confined in an underground dungeon, he said that would be preferable to a church. After a while his health deteriorated due to the insanitary conditions and he attempted to commit suicide by cutting the femoral artery. A guard found him and he was taken to the infirmary, where he initially refused food. Denied contact with others, he taught himself Arabic, and read poetry such as Milton’s Paradise Lost. Subsequently he was transferred to the prison in Burgos, where he met some of the Catalan anarchists imprisoned there and exchanged ideas.

In 1898 he was granted an amnesty and returned to Cádiz. Thousands of people were waiting to meet his train and welcome him home. He spoke to the crowd from his balcony: “Comrades, here I am amongst you again, the same as always. Long live communism!”

Return to Cadiz, 1898

Lack of funds eventually led him to move to Madrid, where he earned a living writing and translating for the various new left-wing publications. He rented from a working-class family two narrow, sparsely-furnished rooms at the top of a block of flats, ate mainly cheese and fruit, and practised gymnastics daily. He wore cheap clothes, invariably grey, and an old black felt hat with a wide brim to protect his eyes from the sun (he wore blue-tinted glasses all his life). He attended many meetings and discussion groups, tirelessly explaining the principles of anarcho-communism and advocating the practices of personal hygiene, public health and cremation.

In 1902 Salvochea returned to Cádiz once more. His mother was in poor health, and he was homesick. Now 60, his own health was suffering the effects of years of imprisonment, but he still bathed in the sea every day and his mind was as sharp as ever. He worked as a wine dealer (though he never drank alcohol), cared for his mother, and continued to translate important works into Spanish. Although few of his former comrades remained in the city he continued to speak his mind in political discussion groups and in print.

Salvochea’s customary phlegmatic character burned with passion when he spoke of social injustice and inequality. His usual smile disappeared and his eyes flashed behind the blue lenses with the fire of conviction. “Hundreds of thousands of men die of hunger every year, while society pretends not to know because they aren’t dying in the streets like abandoned dogs, but in hospitals or in their hovels. Yet there is enough food in the world for everyone!” He despised charity: “What is it for? To maintain the poor in slavery, waiting for crumbs to slake their hunger momentarily and prolong their servitude. Charity is selfishness disguised as virtue, the sacrifice of a tiny amount of the surplus, distributed on a whim.” He himself drank only water and ate bread and cheese, believing while people were going hungry he had no right to more than that.

In 1905 the writer Vicente Blasco Ibañez published a novel, La Bodega, set in Jerez. One of the leading characters, Fernando Salvatierra, is clearly based on Salvochea. He is described as “a secular saint … free of all egoism. No action was beneath him when helping the less fortunate. Nonetheless his name evoked scandal and fear among the rich … he hated violence, but preached it to the lower classes as their only means of salvation.”

Salvochea died on 27 September 1907, fragile and confused by the failure of his dream of progress towards justice. On his deathbed, surrounded by friends and family, his mother spoke of Jesus, recalling the resurrection of Lazarus. Fermín replied that Jesus was not a good man, because he should have saved a son of the people, not a rich man like Lazarus.

His death certificate recorded acute meningomyelitis. His funeral was attended by people of all classes - the small area of the cemetery reserved for rebels and free-thinkers could not accommodate the crowd. His mother died two years later.

In 1910 the Town Hall named a street after him, and to commemorate the first anniversary of his death a plaque was placed on the house where he was born. At the beginning of the Second Republic in 1931 the mayor of Cádiz wanted to erect a statue to him (despite his disapproval of such things), and in 1932 his face appeared on a postage stamp. But all traces of Salvochea were expunged following the fascist uprising in 1936. Today few outside the anarchist movement are aware he ever existed, although things are changing under the city’s current left-wing government and the group Amigos de Fermín Salvochea; there are now several plaques in the city marking places of interest in the life of this fascinating man.

"My homeland is the world, my religion is to do good,
and my family is the human race."