29 November 2018

Romería 1982 - festivities at the Santuario

In 1982 the American social anthropologist Jerome Mintz, who spent a lot of time in this part of the world, made this short film at the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Santos during the festivities of the Romería (pilgrimage).  It is subtitled in English and gives us a real flavour of the event - dancing, singing, families picnicking in the olive groves, drinking sherry and making the famous gazpacho caliente in a huge wooden bowl (which was, it seems, once used to wash small children in).

The most fascinating aspect for me is that, apart from the clothes and the cars, it is all pretty much the same today.  The Romería in September and the Fiesta de San Jorge in April are when the alcalaínos and alcalaínas let their hair down.  May that never change.

27 September 2018

R.I.P. Paco Pizarro, 1936-2018

When we first came to Alcalá, the main watering-hole for the small colony of Brits was Pizarro's, or Pizzies as it was usually called.  These days the Paseo de la Playa is full of bars and cafes, but back in 2005 there was very little choice.  One of the reasons we liked to go there was the charming owner, Paco.  He was still cooking then, and used to bring us out little plates of food to try, often sitting down for a chat, listening patiently to our broken Spanish.  He loved meeting people, especially foreigners who had elected to visit or move permanently to his home town.

So it was with great sadness that we learned of his death last week, at the age of 82.  He'd been ill for a while, but would still come down to the bar occasionally for a game of dominoes.  Just two weeks before he died, I drew a picture of him and was wondering how to give it to him as I hadn't seen him for a while...

Paco Pizarro may be the best-known Alcalá resident of all time, by virtue of having a nephew named Alejandro Sanz.  Most Brits have never heard of him, but he is one of the most successful pop stars in the Spanish-speaking world.  In 2006 Paco went to stay with him in Miami, and accompanied the singer on a year-long tour throughout the Americas and Spain.  He was put in charge of liaising with the fans, who christened him Tio Paco (Uncle Frank).  He won them over with his gentle charm, and ended up being nearly as popular as his nephew.

A few years ago he published an autobiography, Tío Paco.  It's a fascinating read, and since it isn't available in English, I've extracted some of the highlights and translated them.  You can read the results below.


Francisco Pizarro Medina was born in Alcalá de los Gazules on 25 February 1936, the third of seven children.  His father, José Pizarro Torres, was a baker and his mother, Maria Medina Gonzales, gathered firewood for a living. They were both illiterate, not unusual at that time, but his mother was particularly keen that all her children should learn to read and write.  Paco described her as a hungry she-wolf, fighting ceaselessly to raise her cubs.

Civil War broke out a few months after Paco was born.  One of his uncles, who was literate, was assassinated by the nationalists for organising agricultural workers and reading them "subversive" materials.  His aunt had her head shaved and was marched through the streets in a display of public humiliation, for the crime of being the sister of a Red. So it was not surprising that Paco's parents took the children and fled to the sierra.  José returned to the town each night and cadged some bread from his colleagues at the bakery.  One night the boss said it would be safe for them to return, so they did.

The family home, in C/ Rio Verde, consisted of just one room and a cooking area under the stairs.  So José borrowed the money from his boss to buy a further room upstairs, which is where the children slept.

Work in the bakery was long and hard. José had to get up in the small hours to make the dough, light the wood-fired oven, cook the bread, and then load the loaves onto mules to sell them round the streets. So eventually he decided to open a bar. It was christened “Los Panaderos” (the bakers) and was located on the Alameda next to the church. It served whatever foods were easily available –tagarninas, wild asparagus and artichokes in spring, the meat from the matanza (pig-slaughter) over the winter, barbel, carp and eels during the fishing season.

Despite the cramped living conditions and poverty, Paco describes his childhood as being happy, full of laughter and solidarity amongst the neighbours. He was a mischievous and talkative child, with jet-black hair and wide eyes, and all the neighbours adored him.  He didn’t do well at school, and was frequently beaten by the teacher, Manuel Marchante. But he was a good singer and sang in the church choir. Once he had a sore throat and refused to sing: Marchante slammed the boy’s head against a door, and he had to be sent home because he was bleeding profusely, though the cut wasn't deep.  His mother gave Marchante quite a mouthful.

When he was seven, Paco felt obliged to start contributing to the family’s finances. After school he would collect cigarette ends from the streets and bars: a tinful would earn 50 cents. The woman who bought them would roll them up into fresh cigarettes, making five or six from a tinful. 

His next job, at the age of eight, was selling newspapers door-to-door and on the street. His father didn’t approve of this sort of child labour, but eventually gave his consent. He did well, not only selling all the papers that were delivered, but receiving small gifts from his customers, such as milk to drink, cakes and fruit. In the evenings he sold sweets at the local cinema, which meant he got to see the films. He was particularly impressed by Marlene Dietrich and Humphrey Bogart. He would also make toys for Christmas presents, such as brightly coloured hoops made out of old bicycle wheels.

C/ Rio Verde, with the church in the background.
The Pizarro family home is on the left.

When Paco was eleven, his mother gave birth to Luis. She contracted an infection after the birth and spent some time in hospital, leaving Paco and his sister to care for the baby, himself a sickly child. At times like this the solidarity between neighbours came to the fore. Both recovered, but there no more babies. Luis later became a distinguished socialist politician, and his son Javier is the current mayor of Alcalá.

Once the bar was up and running, Paco gave up his other jobs, going there after school to clean fish and fry sardines. He left school at 12 and went to work there full time, Another teacher, Don Antonio, recognised his artistic and dramatic talents and offered to pay for him to continue his education, but his father refused, as he needed him to work in the bar. Nonetheless, Paco became involved in amateur dramatics in his spare time and showed a special flair for impromptu comedy. This would serve him well throughout his life.

At thirteen, Paco contracted typhus when playing in the town’s sewer, and nearly died. The only treatment was to cover his stomach with a paste made of mashed cabbage leaves and vinegar, alternated with bags of ice. It took him the best part of a year to recover, during which he spent some time with an aunt in Cádiz because it was thought the sea air would do him good.

Plaza Alameda de la Cruz, location of the bar "Los Panaderos"


Paco lost his virginity in a brothel on the Plaza Alta, to a prostitute named “Ana la Gorda”. He and his friends weren’t officially allowed in because they were under 21, but the madam, Mari Cruz, said they could come in the afternoon when there were no other customers.. The five of them lined up and took her one after the other, and then had to clean themselves with potassium permanganate solution to avoid infection.

As a child, Paco had been close to Father Manuel, the parish priest.  He used to do odd jobs round the church. and took over ringing the bells when the stairs became too much for the old man.  But when he retired, things changed. The new priest, Father Jésus, not only did not want his help but would look at him strangely. The first time Paco went to him for confession, he was told he was saying it wrong. He instructed Paco to follow him into the sacristy, where he would give him a private lesson. Paco felt very uncomfortable and left the church as quickly as he could. 

This experience left Paco feeling uneasy, almost fearful.  The Church had enormous power in the town, on a par with the Mayor or the Guardia Civil, and this priest could make life difficult for him and his family.  So he decided to go to Paris.  

He and his friend Ramón went to the French capital by bus, a journey that took five days.  When their savings ran out they busked, with Ramón playing guitar and Paco singing Andalusian songs.  Paco was astonished by the amount of freedom enjoyed by the Parisians, kissing and holding hands on the street.  Very different from Franco's Spain.  He had a fling with a French girl called Anne, but just as it was starting to get serious he received a letter forwarded by his mother – his call-up papers for military service.  So, after less than a year, they returned to Alcalá.

While waiting for his posting, Paco returned to working in the bar.  Times were desperately hard, and there were chronic food shortages.  They often handed out food to mothers who had nothing to give to their children, and gave breakfasts on credit to men with temporary jobs in the campo while they were waiting to be paid.

The "Mili"

Paco did his military service in Algeciras, where he was taught to be a good patriotic Spaniard and follow orders.  Nonetheless his sense of mischief got the better of him on occasions.  One night, on guard duty in the small hours, he applied a lipstick he had purchased for a local girl to the mouths of his comrades while they slept.  Next morning on the parade ground there was mayhem.  He confessed and took his punishment (two hours extra patrol outside the camp), but the girl never got her lipstick.

His official duties involved escorting soldiers returning from Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla from the ferry port to the station, and seeing them safely onto their homeward train.  He also did a bit of wheeling and dealing on the black market - tobacco, stockings etc. 

The Bars on the Playa

When Paco returned to Alcalá, his father had just taken a lease on the bar known as La Parada, right by the Algeciras-Jerez bus stop.  It hadn't been doing particularly well, and Paco decided to change tradition and leave the doors open all the time.  This made it more inviting for passengers getting off the bus, and also for local women who could see whether their friends were inside.  On the first day of opening, he invited the bus driver in and gave him a bocadillo de lomo on the house.  Business took off from that point, and the bar also became the local haunt of estraperlistas (black-marketeers) who would trade their goods there.  Paco installed a jukebox, which brought in a younger clientele, and soon it was the most successful bar in the town.

After two years the lease came up for renewal and the owner asked for double the rent.  They decided to renew, but started to make contingency plans and put money aside for the future.  When a plot of land came up for sale that had previously been the site of the open-air cinema, they were able to purchase it for 365,000 pesetas (€92,000 at today’s value).  This would become the site of the Restaurante Pizarro. 

Bus stopping at La Parada

Marriage and Family

In 1964 Paco got the travel bug again and set off to San Sebastian in the Basque Country.  He was taken aback by how formal the Basques were compared to Andalusians, and even encountered some prejudice against the southerners, but he soon charmed people with his good humour and his songs and got a job in a well-known hostelry, El Cleri.  After a few weeks, however, the pull of home became too strong and he returned to Alcalá.

The following year he married his childhood sweetheart, the blue-eyed Francisca, fourteen years after their first date.  In an attempt to restrict the congregation to close friends and family, the service took place at 6.a.m.  Paco and Paca went on to have five children: José Antonio, Yolanda, Franciso Javier, Miguel Ángel and Gema.  

They also had a dog, Pirri, a much loved family pet.  One day they had been out in the car and stopped at a venta in Medina on the way back.  The dog jumped out of the car and ran off, but nobody noticed he was missing till they got home.  The boy Miguel Ángel was particularly upset.  They went back several times but couldn’t find him.

A year later, someone spotted the dog tied up outside a warehouse.  He told Paco and the whole family went over to reclaim him, but the new owner wouldn’t give him back as his young daughter had got attached to him.  Eventually Paco suggested they release the dog to see which family he went to.  The animal bounded straight over to Miguel Ángel and started licking his face.  There was no doubt it was Pirri.

José Pizarro died in 1976, leaving his sons Paco and Ángel to run the bar.  It continued to be profitable, and to help ease his widowed mother’s loneliness, he bought her a colour television set from Radio Hogar across the road. At first she refused to believe it had been paid for, but soon came to love it.   He took good care of her until she died in 1986.

Paco was fond of cats, and the restaurant was full of them.  They would wait silently under the tables for titbits from the customers. He named them after the teachers at the high school, according to their observed characteristics.  Then one day the pharmacist told him it was unhygienic as they might pass diseases on to the customers.  Ángel, who was less sentimental and more businesslike than Paco, arranged for them to be taken off to the campo.  One of them, Doña Elena (mother of all the rest) found her way back to the restaurant, but she disappeared the next day.

Paco had always had a yearning to paint, and now found himself in a position to attend an art school in Cádiz.  He studied there for four years, then set up a studio in his home where he continued to paint alone.  His works were exhibited on several occasions, but he didn’t paint them to sell, preferring to give them to friends and family.

Paco the Businessman

Pizarro's bar/restaurant became well-known across the region for its good food and lively, slightly bohemian atmosphere.  It was a popular meeting place for the bullfighting fraternity, and flamenco artists, many of whom were good friends of Paco. 

The chef, Juan Panera, was gay as was his assistant Miguel, known as Tita Ingrid because of his devotion to Ingrid Bergman.  They were inveterate practical jokers and added much to the local colour.

In 1980 Paco opened Alcalá’s first discotheque, adjacent to the restaurant.   It was an instant success, being the only such enterprise for miles around, and became a friendly and safe meeting place for young people from across the province.   The evening would start with lively dance music, then popular hits of the day, followed by rumbas and sevillanas, and finally they would dim the lights and play romantic ballads.

On New Year’s Eve the disco would open for all those who didn’t have family dinners to go to, serving food and doing all the trditional nochevieja customs, followed by dancing till dawn.

Inevitably, after a while the drug dealers moved in, followed by plain-clothes policemen; musical tastes changed in favour of “heavy” and punk. A few concerned parents started to prevent their kids going there, and complained to the authorities demanding its closure.  He avoided this by keeping a close eye on everyone who came in, and discreetly ejecting anyone he suspected of dealing drugs.

Paco always dressed unconventionally, which upset a few people. He liked the Elvis look; leather trousers, Cuban heel boots and waistcoat. He strongly believed that dress was a form of personal expression.

In later years, Paco explored the possibility of becoming a freemason.  He received an invitation to a conference on masonry in Cádiz, and was intrigued because it had always been a taboo subject.  He listened to the speakers and had many questions for them, but was frustrated because none of them were answered.  He was interviewed, and told that he would have to attend a lodge meeting in Cádiz every week and be subject to an extensive background check.  After some thought he decided that although he agreed with the principles of charity and brotherhood, he preferred to exercise them under his own terms.

The Pizarro empire in 2006: Restaurant, disco and hostel.

Politics and Politicians

Paco used the disco to express his political beliefs, taking the microphone to promote the policies of Felipe González and the newly reformed Spanish socialist party.  This may seem odd to us, but in context, after decades of dictatorship during which no-one dared express their political views in public, it’s perhaps not so strange. 

However the authorities decided that the disco could only remain open on condition that Paco stopped “indoctrinating the youth”.  He was in effect barred from his own local.   Word reached González himself, who wrote to Paco after his 1982 election victory: “Dear Paco, go back to the disco, for as long as there is a socialist in Spain nobody will bother you again”.  That night he did just that.  

González visited Alcalá for a meeting shortly afterwards and promised to call in at the disco afterwards to meet Paco in person.  However word got round and the venue was so crowded he couldn’t even reach the bar, where Paco was waiting with some refreshments. They could only wave to each other from a distance.   His security team escorted him out, but he would return several times in subsequent years to meet the family and eat in the restaurant.

The day after González’s visit, the police turned up and demanded to see all the documents and licences relating to the disco.  Paco had them all to hand, but they insisted that he was disobeying the order to stay away.  Paco showed them the letter from Felipe González.   They read it carefully then went away.  The disco stayed open another twenty years, until the point when the trafficking in drugs could no longer be kept under control.

There is a story that when the disco was in its heyday, the religious processions during Semana Santa used to lose their followers as they were enticed into the disco by the sound of Bob Marley et al.  The priest asked Paco to turn the music down, which he did, but the problem continued.  In the end the priest decided that the processions should not pass along the Paseo de la Playa, which remains the case to this day.

When Paco was barred from his own disco, he ran the bar in the San Jorge Hotel which his father had purchased.  He decorated it with coloured lights and soft music, with the occasional jazz singer and other live entertainers.  It became as popular as the disco, in its own way.

During a general election campaign, some teachers and local politicians were having lunch in Pizarro’s dining room when in walked the leader of the right-wing Allianza Popular, Manuel Fraga.  Being of a somewhat different political persuasion, the locals started to heckle him until the point where Paco had to ask them to quieten down.  Meanwhile Fraga. a notorious gourmand, took full advantage of the local dishes presented to him, and offered his congratulations to the chef.   Seeing that his guest was somewhat the worse for wear, Paco let him use his bed to take a siesta afterwards, so he would be fresh for his meeting in the evening.  The following day, people in the town shouted “fascist!” at his mother, but she countered them by saying that one should be generous to everybody, regardless of their social class, economic position or religion.

The Arrogant Argentinian

Carlos Perdomo was a wealthy Argentinian businessman who in 1985 brought a finca and 1000 hectares of land in Alcalá.  He and his wife ate regularly at the restaurant, and Paco started to act as a go-between between Perdomo and local tradesmen, whom Perdomo treated with disdain, stating publicly that you should never trust anyone, not even your mother.  This upset Paco greatly, as it went completely against his personal philosophy.  But he carried on doing favours for this odious gentleman, and they continued to ply him with expensive gifts.

Their demands became more and more bizarre; they decided they wanted some rabbits on their finca, so Paco arranged for some friends in Paterna to bring over a few sackfuls, which were duly released.  

Three years after purchasing the finca,  the Perdomos were away for Christmas and someone burnt their house down. The culprit was never caught.  Perdomo wanted Paco to buy the land off him, and he even offered to let him pay in instalments, but it was far too expensive.  So he authorised him to sell the land on his behalf, though it was Ángel who did the work, as Paco didn’t have a head for that sort of thing.  They ended up with a gift of 5 million pesetas (€70,000 in today’s terms).


During the second half of the 1980s, Paco took the lease on a restaurant in Sotogrande, an upmarket resort/marina at the western end of the Costa del Sol.  He sussed out the competition, and decided to model it on his successful restaurant in Alcalá, with the same name and specialising in traditional rustic dishes.  He lured in the English visitors, who he knew liked to dine early, by offering free aperatifs in the early evening.  He also undercut the prices of his main competitors, particularly on the wine list.

Word got round and many famous people including the King’s daughter, the Infanta Elena, came to enjoy home-cooked pheasant, partridge, wild boar and venison.  Paco would go out and chat to his well-heeled guests, who of course found him totally charming.  One English aristocrat who lived nearby admired his paintings, which were hung on the walls.  She invited him to her studio and they became good friends.  Another of the same stripe, Lady Fiona Lowsley, invited him to exhibit four of his paintings in her mansion.  He was offered the job of providing artworks for a new hotel that a friend of hers was setting up. He was tempted for a while, but knew his heart was in his restaurant business and he could not do both.

In 1986 the film crew of Empire of the Sun visited Sotogrande to shoot some scenes.  The producer asked if they could take over the restaurant for three days, using their own chefs.  Paco offered a compromise; he would set aside a table for them on the terrace while he continued to service his regular customers inside.  This was how Paco got to meet Stephen Spielberg, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson and Chrstian Bale.

Another guest introduced himself as Antonio Pizarro, a professor of medicine from New York.  He wondered if they were related.  Paco explained that they were probably all descendants of the conquistador of Peru, Francisco Pizarro, who came from Trujillo in Extremadura. Paco’s great-great-grandfather had married against the wishes of his family and moved from Trujillo to Alcalá, where he set up a greengrocer store in Rio Verde.  The visitor said that his family had emigrated to the US from Cáceres, Extremadura, so the two of them went on a pilgrimage to discover their roots.

The other Francisco Pizarro

The Peruvian connection was genuine. Previously the mayor of Alcalá had received a letter from the Peruvian government, addressed to everyone in the town named Pizarro, detailing all the land and property that was their inheritance in that country.  Everyone started planning what they would spend the money on, but it turned out that the 75% inheritance tax and the large number of heirs made it not worth the effort of going to Peru to claim it.

One day the owners of the restaurant arrived and offered Paco a partnership and a share of the profits.  Recalling his father’s experience with La Parada, he declined their offer and continued to rent it on a monthly basis.  They put the rent up every year, until after eight years it was three times as much as the original rate - 900,000 ptas (about €10,000) a month..  They knew he could afford it, he was doing well and had bought a house.  But Paco had decided it was time to go home.

Return to Alcalá

So once again Paco returned to Alcalá, where for the next few years he worked in the restaurant during the day and the disco at night.  He was shocked and saddened by the number of young people who had become addicted to heroin, their bright young lives destroyed.  

But there were good things happening in the town as well. Paco had always been interested in the theatre, and was invited by Mercedes, Inma and Maribel from the recently established adult education centre to help put on a performance of Lorca’s play Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding).  It was quite a challenge, because none of the cast had acting experience and some were barely literate.  But they pulled it off, gave a memorable performance in the patio of the Sagrada Familia, and went on to take the production to other towns in the area.

Directing the drama group at the Adult Education Cenre
It was clear that the actors felt a strong emotional connection to the characters they were playing.  They were invited to represent Cádiz in an Andalucia-wide amateur dramatics competition, which took place in Almeria; the cast and crew were put up in a four-star hotel, which was something beyond the wildest dreams of most of them.  Despite the fact that they were competing against experienced drama companies from Seville, Malaga and all the other regional capitals, they were awarded first prize.  Paco continued as drama director at the Centre for a further eight years, producing almost the entire Lorca repertoire.


One day in 2006 Paco received a call from his sister’s son Alejandro inviting him over to Miami for a couple of weeks.  He accepted straight away – his children were grown up, the restaurant had good staff and would prosper without him, and he had always loved to travel.  He ended up staying two years.

Alejandro Sanz
Alejandro Sanz is one of the most famous pop stars in the Spanish-speaking world, winner of countless awards and gold discs.  He had lived in Miami for many years and wanted to show off his “Tío Paco” to his American friends, and vice versa.  Paco was introduced to countless stars, actors, film directors,  artists, musicians, politicians and businessmen, and had the time of his life.   Alejandro’s famous house parties were given an Andalusian flavour by Paco's presence, and the locals loved it.  Highlights of the stay including reading Jennifer Lopez’s palm, swimming naked in Shakira’s swimming pool, and dinner with the family of the late Bob Marley, where he was ordered to smoke all the ganja he was offered so as not to offend them.  

When dining with David and Victoria Beckham in a restaurant, Paco asked the waiter for some lemonade to mix with his red wne, as was his custom when at home.  Alejandro gave him a strange look.   Later he had a glimpse at the menu and realised he’d just made tinto de verano with wine that cost $1,400 a bottle.  Paco wasn’t terribly impressed with the tasting menu, especially some foam which exploded in the mouth.  He also noted that during the whole evening Victoria only ate two broccoli florets and a couple of endive leaves, washed down with champagne.

Other anecdotes were edited out of the manuscript by Alejeandro, to spare the dignity of  his friends...

The Grand Tour

In March 2007 Paco accompanied Alejamdro on a year-long tour, El Tren de los Momentos.  This gave him a chance to satisfy his wanderlust further, as they visited countries in Central and South America as well as the USA and Spain.  All the concerts were sold out well in advance.  He would watch every performance from backstage, dancing and joining in the songs.  While they were in Spain, he took on the role of liaising with the fan club organisers, who affectionately christened him “Tío Paco”.

Paco got see as much of the places they visited as he could.   True to form, when told to avoid venturing into what were considered dangerous areas of cities such as Mexico DF, he would sneak off on his own just to see why.  He also enjoyed the more usual tourist venues, including the studios of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, which affected him deeply.

Whilst in Mexico City, he noticed from his hotel window a home furnishing shop called Lienzo de los Gazules.  Curious to know the origin of its name, he went in and introduced himself to the owner, who told him that his father had founded the business in Alcalá de Guadaira, near Seville, in 1991.  But he didn’t like that name and looked for a different Alcalá.  He liked the sound of Gazules, which had an Arabic ring to it, so he wrote to the mayor asking permission to use the name for his enterprise.  He never received a reply.

The Final Return

After two years, Paco decided it was time to home to his wife and family.  His brother Ángel, who had been running the restaurant, was ill and there was no-one else to take over.  He had thought that in America he would be able to enjoy the liberty he loved, but it turned out that people there were nothing more than numbers controlled by the authorities.  This came to a head on his return journey; at Miami airport he was seized and taken to an interview room.  The police were looking for a terrorist named Francisco Pizarro Medina, from Alcalá de los Gazules.  Clearly, somebody had stolen his identity.

Five hours later they returned his passport and he was released with instructions to get his paperwork sorted.  No explanation, no apology, no refund on his missed flight.  Even though he had committed no offence, he was treated like a criminal.  Eventually Alejandro managed to resolve the issue and Paco was able to leave the country.  But if he hadn’t had a famous nephew, who knows what might have happened.

Back in the restaurant, playing dominoes and chatting to his old friends about his adventures, Paco knew he had made the right decision. He had made the most of his life, and was ready to enjoy his old age back where he started.   And now he had a book to write.


In 2010 Paco realised a long-held dream of seeing his nephew give a concert in Alcalá de los Gazules

Fans arrive hours early for the concert in the football ground.

The book Tío Paco was published in 2013.  Alejandro wrote the introduction, and flew over for the launch party in Madrid.

Paco and Alejandro, reunited for the book launch.

In the same year, the TV show "Diez Razones para ir a ..." (Ten reasons to go to ...) came to Alcalá.  Alejandro was Reason No 3, and the programme included an interview with Paco:

Last year a Brazilian Sanz fan, Gina Clavijo, came to Alcalá to meet Paco.  She made this video, which includes an interview with him in his house:

A few weeks before his death, we were walking down the Playa one night with some friends and we heard a chorus of female voices outside Restaurante Pizarro chanting “Tío Paco!  Tío Paco!”  It was a coach-load of Alejandro’s fans, doing a tour of their idol’s origins.  They all wore black T-shirts with Tío Paco written on them.  The entertainment was provided by a carnival group from Cádiz, and then they all had a meal in the restaurant.  I don't know whether he was well enough to attend in person, but he would have certainly been there in spirit.

Paco's fan club outside Pizzies

17 September 2018

Defecating on deities: Willy Toledo and the right to free speech

Swearing in Spanish involves a fair amount of shit. Me cago en la leche (I shit in the milk) or me cago en el mar (I shit in the sea) are fairly mild expletives, along the lines of "Oh fuck".   Me cago en tus muertos/tu puta madre (I shit on your dead relatives/whore of a mother) are stronger, and more likely to get you into a fight.  Me cago en Dios (I shit on God) is in the first category - vulgar, certainly, but not likely to get you arrested.

But Spanish actor, theatrical director and left-wing activist Willy Toledo went too far for some people when he posted on Facebook last year: "Yo me cago en Dios. Y me sobra mierda para cagarme en el dogma de la santidad y virginidad de la Virgen María" (I shit on God, and have enough shit left over to crap on the dogma of the holiness and virginity of the Virgin Mary).

This outburst was in response to the reopening of the case against three women who in 2014 had paraded an enormous vagina around the streets of Seville in a May Day procession (1 May is international workers' day).  They called it El coño insumiso (the insubordinate pussy).  The original case against them was shelved in 2016 when the judge decided it was a political statement and not intended to offend religious sensibilities.  However the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers disagreed, and appealed against the decision.

The Insubordinate Pussy
That same association claimed Willy Toledo's Facebook post most certainly did offend religious sensibilities, contravening Article 525 of the Spanish Penal Code which criminalises those who offend the feelings of members of a religious faith by "publicly disparaging their dogmas, beliefs, rites or ceremonies".  The same law applies to those of no religious faith.

Toledo twice failed to turn up at the court hearing, stating that as an atheist he has the right to express anti-religious opinions. He was subsequently arrested for ignoring a court summons.  The Religious Lawyers Association claims his actions are a publicity stunt, as his acting career has been moribund for seven years (Toledo himself believes he was blacklisted for his political beliefs).  They are also asking for him to be tried for hate crimes, after he stated publicly that priests killed by Republicans during the Civil War "probably deserved it", given that they openly supported the Francoist uprising.

Defiance in the face of authority
Last week he was escorted by police to a court in Madrid to answer the charge of obstruction of justice.  He spent the night in a cell, during which he was denied access to his lawyer, but was set free after the hearing, without bail.  He was greeted outside by a crowd of supporters shouting "Me cago en Dios", and assured them that as far as he was concerned, he hadn't committed any crime and had a right to free speech.

It is not not known at this stage whether the Courts will continue with the case against him. The Christian lawyers certainly won't give up without a fight. But he has stated that he will see it through to the end, whatever that may be, in the name of free speech.

The case has certainly brought this formerly obscure law to public attention.  Given the number of Spaniards who shit on God on a regular basis, one has to ask whether those right-wing Christian fundamentalist lawyers singled him out for some other reason ...

03 September 2018

Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, the Spanish David Attenborough

The municipal park in Alcalá, next to the Paseo de la Playa and site of the new tourist information office, is named after one Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente.  But few visitors from outside Spain have a clue who he was.

Félix was born in 1928 in Poza de la Sal, Burgos, into a middle-class intellectual household.  During the Civil War (1936-1939) he was home-schooled, and spent a lot of time outdoors where he developed a deep passion for the natural world.  At the age of ten, he was sent to a religious boarding school and lamented his lost freedom, but on a summer holiday in Santander he apparently witnessed a hawk taking a duck in flight, which led him to become interested in falconry.

At a falconry exhibition in 1955

After leaving school he went to the University of Valladolid to study medicine, at his father's insistence, but he was more interested in environmental issues and was never a good student.  It was there that he met and became influenced by the biologist José Antonio Valverde, who was campaigning to stop the government draining the wetlands which later became the Doñana National Park.  Félix also took time out from his medical studies to research medieval texts on falconry, which hadn't been practiced in Spain for 150 years, and was a founder member of the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO) in 1954.

Felix graduated in dentistry in 1957 but after a couple of years, following the death of his father, he decided to devote himself full-time to his true passions.  In 1961 he worked as falconry advisor during the filming of El Cid, a Hollywood movie starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, filmed mainly in Spain.  He published the first of many books, The Art of Falconry, in 1964 and in the following years made a name for himself through numerous television and radio appearances as well as articles in newspapers and magazines.

In 1965 he rescued two wolf-cubs being beaten to death in a village, and took them away to raise at home with his future wife Marcelle Parmentier.  He named then Sibila and Remo, and acknowledged them as his first children.  It was with them that he first practiced the technique of imprinting, becoming "alpha male" in this small pack.  The experience was to develop into a life-long passion for wolves.

Félix's big break came in 1970, when he produced and presented a documentary series for Spanish state television entitled El Planeta Azul (The Blue Planet), in black-and-white.  Unlike David Attenborough's series of the same name, which appeared 30 years later, it dealt with all kinds of wildlife, not just marine life.  But like Attenborough, he alternated between speaking directly to camera and narrating film footage shot in the wild.  His passion and enthusiasm is clearly shown in this episode on big cats, where he explains the relationship between the behaviour of domestic cats and kittens and their larger predatory cousins.  The show ran for four years and won acclaim across the Spanish-speaking world.

In the following years he continued to produce and present documentaries on TV and radio, and edited a series of wildlife conservation volumes, Enciclopedia salvat de la fauna mundial, which was translated into 14 languages and sold 18 million copies worldwide.

At the same time he became involved in a number of conservationist projects.  The most memorable and successful of these was the protection and reintroduction of the almost extinct Iberian wolf.  This gained him respect amongst conservationists worldwide, but also the animosity of hunters and farmers.   Other campaigns included the brown bear, Iberian lynx, golden eagle and Spanish imperial eagle, as well as fighting to preserve precious habitats such as Coto Doñana and the Tablas de Daimiel, which later became National Parks.

His most famous documentary series, El Hombre y La Tierra (The Man and the Earth) was launched in 1973 and ran till his premature death in 1980, a total of 124 episodes which can be watched online on the RTVE A la Carta archive. The project was divided into three parts, covering Iberia, South America and North America.  They are subtitled in Spanish, and well worth watching even if you don't speak the language because of the stunning photography.   It was shot in 35mm colour film and the crew frequently had to lug bulky equipment across inhospitable terrain, but their combined efforts resulted in numerous awards and a whole new generation of fans across Spain. 

Felix's "David Attenborough-with-gorillas" moment came when he used the imprinting method first devised with the cubs Sibila and Remo to make himself a member of a pack of wild wolves, in order to study and record their behaviour as if there were no humans present.

In March 1980 Felix flew to Alaska with the film crew to cover the Iditarod Trail sled dog race.  He was apparently afraid of flying, and quipped on take-off “what a beautiful place to die”.   Tragically the small plane on which he was travelling with two of the crew became unstable when one of its skis came loose, and crashed with no survivors, not far from the Klondike.  The date was 14 March 1980, his 52nd birthday.

Felix believed passionately in a future where humans and animals could live in harmony, and dedicated his life to that goal, leaving a whole generation of Spanish children (and adults) with a new respect for the natural world.   I’ve no idea whether he ever met David Attenborough, but they would certainly have got on.  Had he survived, he would no doubt have been a comparable force in the fight against mankind's wilful disregard for the environment.

Statues, monuments and plaques bearing the name of Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente can be found all over Spain, including Alcalá de los Gazules, located in the park which was given his name in 1983.

20 August 2018

A history silenced: What we were not told about the Civil War in Alcalá

This is a translation of the results of detailed research into Alcalá's municipal archives by historian Ismael Almagro Montes de Oca and his colleagues, on events which took place here during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39.  The original articles, in Spanish, can be found on the blog Historia de Alcalá de los Gazules:

La Historia Silenciada I
La Historia Silenciada II

Summary:  Although there were no battle-fronts near Alcalá during the Civil War, the overnight regime change in the government of the town immiediately after Franco's military coup affected everyone's lives.  The elected representatives and civil servants who supported the Republic were quickly replaced with Falangist sympathisers, and many were imprisoned or executed, along with other prominent Republicans. Streets were renamed after Francoist generals. Rights and freedoms were curtailed and private property was confiscated, often to the financial benefit of the new regime.  All forms of protest, such as the kidnapping of landowners by Republican fugitives, were brutally suppressed.  Female relatives of Republicans had their heads shaved as a form of humiliation. Land was left uncultivated because of the number of men who had gone to fight, causing food shortages, but the cork industry continued in business with the aid of the military.

Alcalá in the 1930s

There has been little research into the history of Alcalá during the Civil War - a period relatively recent, but at the same time so dark, the events of which we have very few written references for. There were hardly any direct confrontations between the opposing sides here, but a there was drastic change of regime under which rights and liberties were axed overnight in order to establish the tyranny and supremacy of a local oligarchy which saw in the coup d’état the perfect opportunity to maintain their privileges, seriously threatened during the Republican period.

We are interested in examining certain aspects of the overthrow of the Second Republic to see how they influenced events at a local level. Alcalá was always a town very respectful of the Church, and did not produce incidents [such as the burning of churches] during the Republic, as we can gather from an official Town Hall document from 1937 in which we read: “There was no damage to the artistic, religious, historical or documentary treasures during the years 1931 to 1936.”

Neither did they manage to introduce the system of secular schools proposed by the Republic in place of religious education, because barely three months before the military uprising, they still hadn’t hired the buildings necessary to set up three girls’ schools and an infant school. The agrarian land reform took its first steps in our town just three months before the uprising, expropriating the estates of Capitana, Nieto, Vega Grande, Poyales and Pagana, although only in the latter was a workers’ collective set up, officially occupying it on 27 May 1936.

During the years of the Republic, successive municipal corporations [in Alcalá] had to give aid to around 2,500 registered labourers and their families, some of whom were unable to work on several occasions due to the rain, others because of the lack of jobs, and were therefore unable to feed themselves. Suffice it to say that in barely three months [in 1936], the local council of the Popular Front spent the not insignificant sum of 74,277 pesetas [€148,450 in today’s terms] on bread for these workers. 

Victory for the Popular Front, a coalition of Leftist
parties, in the February 1936 general election

From the beginning of July 1936, the local Falangist leaders were preparing for the military uprising, as recorded in writing by the secretary of that organisation Vicente Marchante Romero in his private home before publishing the proclamation of a state of war.

One of the first acts of the new town council [after the uprising] was to cleanse the administration of Popular Front employees, dismissing eleven civil servants on 29 August. Another was renaming many of the streets after Francoist generals.

Our town was considered a war zone until 2 November 1936, the date of the sacking of La Sauceda, in which 42 Falangists from Alcalá participated, among others. Previously there had been incursions by Marxist fugitives from Jimena, who seized 30 workers on 22 August, and on 17 September two workers were murdered in La Bovedilla. On 5 October the men from Jimena attacked the Pagana estate, stealing four horses and some equipment, which were later recovered by forces of the Civil Guard and the Falange. Thanks to a tip-off, they attacked the Jimena group at Arnaos, where they were holding four families, who were freed. The Jimena group managed to escape, but four women and various children who were with them were arrested and brought to the town, along with 200 head of cattle belonging to the kidnapped families.

[Note: the accounts of crimes committed by Republicans are taken from Falangist archives, and are not necessarily accurate. "Marxist" was used indiscriminately to describe any Republican be they socialist, anarcho-syndicalist or communist.  Statements taken from the widows of the murdered men suggest that the identity of their killers was unknown and they were more likely the victims of a robbery.]

Excavating the mass grave near La Sauceda in 2012
On 10 October there was an attack on the farmhouse of Cabeza Ronda. There is evidence of attacks on other farmhouses, such as the Quiebra Hacha. On 27 October a Civil Guard and a forest ranger died in an ambush in the Picacho area. 

One piece of information unknown till now, and which faithfully reflects the harshness of the repression against the Republicans, is the significant number of arrests which occurred in Alcalá during the War,. Between 19 July 1936 to 31 March 1939, no less than 465 people were put in the municipal jail.

In the registry of entries and releases of that prison, very few record the reason for their internment. There are examples of theft, brawling or drunkenness, but the vast majority are not specified. However our investigations lead us to calculate that over 70% were incarcerated for political reasons, because the names of people executed and their families are recorded.

Shortly after the uprising the [new] mayor ordered the arrest of some of the members of the previous administration, who were subsequently shot [The Day They Shot the Mayor].  The date of their entry into the prison is recorded as 25-26 July, contradicting the notes of the Journal of the Falange, which shows these arrests as taking place on 21 July. This is not the only inaccuracy found in that journal. 

In Alcalá, the oral tradition maintains that female relatives of “Reds” were submitted to public humiliation, with their heads shaved, and this is indirectly corroborated in a Falangist document. A conduct report was found which was sent to the municipal judge in August 1937 which stated “...she lived in the house of her aunt, who is the mother of the housemaid of Yvison who had her hair cut off”. 

Photo from Todos los Rostros of women with their heads shaved

The new authorities tried from the beginning to extinguish any spark of resistance, with the arrest and shooting of the main leaders of the parties of the Left in Alcalá, and without doubt managed to put the fear of God into people. The growing number of Falange members is significant, from 58 a day before the uprising to 134 just one month later, reaching 592 in less than a year. Many families of the victims of Francoism appeared to be affiliated to the Falange.

The other organisation which supported the uprising, Comunión Traditionalista, known as the Requetés [ultra-religious Cartlist militia], counted 108 sympathisers here on 18 May 1937. On this date the two organisations combined, although it seems that there was a lack of harmony between them given that the female branch of the latter, the Margaritas, refused to turn over their premises, which had to be forced open by a locksmith on 16 March 1938. Frictions had already occurred between members of the two organisations. 

The Falangists showed a total disdain for democracy, celebrating on 16 February 1937 an event mocking the anniversary of the victory of the Popular Front; they erected a small platform on which was placed an urn, similar to those used in past elections, filled it with white ballot papers, and set fire to it by spraying the contents with petrol. 

Instructions to Falangists on how to ridicule the democratic process

There is also evidence that some members of the insurgent militias took advantage of the occasion by indulging in pillage, to the point at which the military commander of Alcalá himself had to call on the local head of the Falange to hand over a mare and foal, confiscated by the authorities, which had been taken by two Falangists. On another occasion, the head of the Falange in San José del Valle asked his counterpart in Alcalá to return to their owner, a comrade from that town, four carts that had disappeared from the Venta Puerto de las Palomas, being held by someone in Alcalá.

At least 550 alcalainos participated in the Civil War on the Nationalist side, according to a census of combatants. There is no information for the Republican side. This provoked a shortage in the workforce, leaving many lands uncultivated, and affected the cutting of cork in 1937 in El Carrizoso, where all individuals were ordered to rejoin their teams urgently.

In Alcalá, both in the uprising and the subsequent repression, economic and personal interests seem to carry more weight than purely political ones. For example, the Pagana estate was returned to its owners only eight days after the declaration of war, without any order from the authorities. After the attack by the Reds on the Bovedilla estate, the local council sent militias from El Puerto in order to guarantee the work of the cork company, and part of watching over the interests of this company involved paying for the maintenance of troops there until their withdrawal at the end of the season on 22 October.  

Paseo de la Playa during the war years

The Town Hall itself benefited economically from the situation, for overnight it saw itself administering eight confiscated estates which had been abandoned by their owners at the start of the uprising. From December 1936 there were many offers for these lands, which would be auctioned, and contracts for the new tenants were agreed with the Town Hall. But the most serious outcome was that, in the event of their return, the legitimate owners could not benefit from their properties even if they fulfilled the essential conditions imposed by the new regime, because the tenancy contract would be interpreted as having been granted by its rightful owners. This resulted in grotesque cases such as that of Manuel Moreno, who in 1940 was obliged to rent his own land from the Town Hall in order to live on it.

The administration also appropriated a consignment of charcoal produced on the El Jautor estate, which had been made by workers who were written off as “Marxist riff-raff”. The civil governor verbally authorised the mayor to confiscate it, giving the order that none of the “extremist” workers should be paid.

It even took ownership of the wages of the cork-cutters who had been stripping the cork at El Jautor during the summer of 1936 for the company Industrial Corchera SA. On 27 August, the majority of workers did not show up to collect their wages, presumably because they had fled with the Marxists to Jimena. A representative of the company delivered the sum of 4,236 pesetas to the military commander in Alcalá, who passed it on to the mayor on 2 September. Most of this money never reached the hands of the workers, not even their families, because it was used to help the families of men fighting on the Nationalist side, to pay the subscription of the council for that army and other military expenses, and to pay several drivers of vehicles requisitioned by the military authority. So paradoxically, the money earned by these men through their own labours was almost certainly used to pay the executioners of many of them, and for the vehicles used to transport them to where they would be shot.

Continuing the theme of confiscations, many townspeople saw themselves being dispossessed of their belongings, even their dwellings, and we know that three people were relieved of three horses, one mare, one mule, eleven pigs, two lambs and 73 goats, plus their harvest of wheat, barley, oats and other cereals, as well as clothes and furniture. On 7 December, there was an auction of livestock abandoned by the Republicans.

Special mention should be made of the case of the town’s auditor, the doctor José Franco Rodríguez, whose wife Amalia Ochoa Vázquez had to flee with her 15-year-old daughter to her home town of Arcos after the arrest and execution of her husband. In her house, 27 C/ Sainz de Andino, all their belongings remained under embargo until 17 June 1939, when their furniture was moved to the old town hall in the Plaza de San Jorge.

The population had to face successive requisitions to supply the Nationalist army, including the trucks of Manuel Torres Mateo and Juan Romero Rodríguez, automobiles such as that of Salvador Cerejido García, who was forced to provide services with his car for the Falange and the Civil Guard, and even horses, mares and domesticated mules.

Alcalá gold donated to the Cause
Gold and silver were also confiscated, a total of 3.6 kg of gold. There were fines for hiding them, as in the case of Adela Sánchez Flores fined 1,000 ptas [€2,000 today] on 12 April 1937. Even unusable materials, scrap metal and used paper, was confiscated, filling a lorry with 5 tonnes on 21 December 1937. There were confiscations of chickpeas, potatoes, eggs, skins and wool. At the end of 1938 cornflour was being used as a substitute for wheat flour, due to a shortage of the latter.

There were "whip-rounds" of all kinds. In November 1936 there was a collection for the sustenance of the Nationalist army, with the town hall contributing 500 ptas. From then on this became a monthly subscription, raising 4,736 ptas by August 1938. Also in December 1936 there was a collection to provide Christmas boxes for soldiers at the Front, raising 937 ptas. In 1938 the Town Hall contributed 1000 ptas to this end.

There were collections to assist the liberated cities, and in February 1937 Alcalá contributed 3,075 ptas to the citizens of Malaga. In February 1939, 2004 ptas were deposited in the Banco de España to aid the liberated citizens of Catalonia.

Moreover, the town council participated in many initiatives from military and other institutions. The most striking was the creation on 17 October 1938, at the request of General Quepo de Llano, for a local commission to collect donations for the restoration of the chapel of the Virgin Macarena in Seville, destroyed by the Marxists. The local corporation contributed 50 ptas, and in February of the following year sent a further 280 ptas raised from collections.

In February 1937 a fee was collected from the townspeople to join the tribute to General Franco, and in October the same year, local councillors joined the initiative of the City Council of Osuna requesting the title of Knight of the Grand Imperial Order of Red arrows for General Quepo de Llano.

In June 1938, the Alcalá council contributed 250 ptas to the tribute organised by its Jerez-based counterpart to General Varela,. It even participated in the first celebration of the Red Cross flag in December 1937, collecting 95 ptas.

The Romería of 1936 was not celebrated at the Sanctuary but in the town, where the Virgin had been brought at the start of the war to avoid possible damage, and although it wasn’t planned, there was a procession due to the arrival of civic militia from El Puerto, including members of the Falange and the Requetés. The Virgin was accompanied by lines of Falangist women and the female branch of the Requetés, the Margaritas, who even sang saetas to her. Another high point in this religious exaltation took place on Sunday 23 May 1937, when there was a procession petitioning the Virgin to end the war with the triumph of the Nationalist troops. This procession departed at 7.30 pm from the Church of the Victoria [Alameda] ending at the feet of Our Lady in the parish church of San Jorge [Plaza Alta].

Romería with Nuestra Señora de los Santos in modern times

Despite the war being over, between 1 April and 31 August 1939 there were 130 more arrests, 89 of which were due to the simple fact of coming from the Republican zone. Many of these detainees ended up being transferred to other prisons and subsequently tried.

The war left a desolate panorama in Alcalá, for in our investigations we have been able to identify 44 deaths in the Nationalist camp, all due to the activities of war, with the exception of one who fell victim of an illness contracted at the Front, and another who drowned while swimming in a river. To this total must be added at least 22 mutilated, on the same side.

Meanwhile on the defeated side, the figures are even more heart-rending.  We have already identified 51 people native to or living in Alcalá who were shot or murdered, to which must be added an alcalaino shot in Cádiz and another in Ceuta, four who died in prison, and two in German concentration camps. We can only be certain of one Republican alcalaino who died in battle. There were many more who were judged by a Tribunal of Political Responsibilities, with documentation regarding 38 incarcerations, 4 death sentences, 21 suspensions, 22 acquittals, and another 22 of which we have been unable to discover their outcomes. In addition there were five convicted of Freemasonry, and another four whose outcomes remain undiscovered, not to mention the records of property seizures, which affected at least 26 people.

Later would come the years of hunger, with the introduction of ration cards in October 1939.  The shortages became so acute that there were days when no bread could be produced in Alcalá due to a lack of wheat, forcing that to be rationed too from March 1940.

09 August 2018

Exhibition by Alfonso Barrera

Local artist Alfonso Jiménez Barrera will be exhibiting some of his paintings at the Santo Domingo cultural centre this coming week.  Visitors to the flamenco bar on the Plaza Alta will already by familiar with his signature work, a stunning townscape of Alcalá, painted in photographic detail, which hangs in the dining area.

The exhibition is organised by the alumni association of the Sagrada Familia school (SAFA), and is open from 8 pm starting Saturday 11 August.

Born in Alcalá de los Gazules in 1959, Alfonso has always been interested in the arts, especially painting and drawing.  Over the past few years he has dedicated himself full-time to his artistic works, and is well on the way to making a name for himself across Spain, winning various awards and participating in exhibitions in Barcelona and Madrid.

Alfonso is self-taught, and is now passing on his techniques to local adults and children in classes held his own workshop.  His skill and patience as a teacher bring out abilities they never knew they had.

04 August 2018

Alcalá wants its bronze back!

Alcalá has made news this week by submitting a formal request to the Louvre museum in Paris for the return of the Lascut Bronze, an ancient Roman relic discovered here in 1866.

The tiny bronze tablet was sold to the Louvre in 1868 by a Polish engineer, who had acquired it for next to nothing from some local labourers who found it on some land just outside the town, an ancient settlement known as la Mesa de Esparragal (or so the story goes).

Dating from 189 BC, it is one of the first Latin inscriptions to be discovered on the Iberian peninsula, freeing the inhabitants of Lascuta from servitude as a gesture of gratitude for their assistance in crushing a rebellion in Astia Regia, near what is now Jerez.

The first attempt by the Alcalá administration to retrieve its treasure took place in the 1980s, when local councillor Gabriel Almagro wrote to the Louvre.  They didn't refuse outright, but said there was no way they could comply at that time.  They offered instead another artifact owned by Spain.  Almagro contacted the Spanish Minister of Culture to explain the situation, but there is no evidence of any reply.  Eventually the Louvre sent an exact replica of the bronze, which is now displayed in the town hall.

Two years later Gabriel's brother, the historian Ismael Almagro, did his own investigations into the origins of the bronze.   His findings are available in Spanish on the Historia de Alcalá blog.   He claims that it was not dug up in the Mesa de Esparragal, as was commonly believed, but was found in the parish church of St George during some building work.  His evidence for this claim was an entry in the parish records of the sum of 500 reales, being half the proceeds of the sale of an object found in the church.  The parish priest had sold said object to Ladislas Lazeski, a Polish engineer who was in the area working on the construction of a new road. Lazeski later donated it to the Academy of Inscriptions and Fine Arts, from which it it was acquired by the Louvre.

Almagro concluded that the other half of the proceeds was paid to the masons who found the bronze.  It appears likely that the priest decided to fudge the details of the sale, given that it was nothing to do with the church or the Catholic faith.

Ismael Almagro with the original bronze in the Louvre

More significantly, Almagro's research suggests that the Tower of Lascutana, mentioned on the bronze, was not located on the Mesa de Esparragal as proposed by earlier historians, but in Alcalá itself.  Although there was definitely a settlement on the Mesa, and the remains of a tower can be seen there today, he argued that since the word "lascut" means rocky, it would more logically refer to La Coracha, the large rocky outcrop on which Alcalá castle was later constructed.  The discovery of the bronze nearby in the church, rather than several miles away at the Mesa, strengthens this argument, as do subsequent discoveries of further Roman artefacts within the town.

So Alcalá wasn't merely a watchtower for the settlement on the Mesa, but an authentic Roman city at least 2,500 years old.  The bronze, giving the local people the right to own and work the land, is effectively a founding charter for an independent municipality, which later became known as Alcalá de los Gazules.

In light of this, this new attempt by our current mayor Javier Pizarro to restore the bronze to its place of origin seems completely justified.  And this time, he has the support of the PSOE, Diputación de Cádiz and the Junta de Andalucía.

La Mesa de Esparragal

18 July 2018

International music festival 2018

Alcalá's annual music festival takes place slightly earlier this year, with the first event on 31 July.  All events start at 10 p.m. and are free unless otherwise stated.

Tuesday 31 July, in the castle: Family event with story-telling accompanied by classical music.

Wednesday 1 August in the Plaza Alta:  Candle-lit flamenco spectacle with guitarist José Carlos Gómez.

Thursday 2 August in the castle: literary readings from members of the public, with a performance by singer-songwriter Juan Luis Pineda. [NOW IN SAFA PATIO BECAUSE OF THE WIND]

Friday 3 August in the patio of SAFA (off Plaza Alta): Classical/flamenco pianist Dorantes.  Tickets available at the door: €15 seated, €10 standing.

Saturday 4 August, Plaza Alta: Flamenco gala with singer Rancapino Chico and friends.

Sunday 5 August, SAFA patio: Classical concert with a 10-piece orchestra from Seville, including Vivaldi's Four Seasons.  Admission €5 on the door.