11 June 2022

Alcalá goes potty

The town has recently seen an explosion of colour as hundreds of potted geraniums now adorn its white walls.  Quite how long they will last I'm not sure, but in the meantime they are here for the enjoyment of all.  They complement a number of ceramic plaques celebrating local trades, which were installed earlier this year.















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.

Gazpacho

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