Ferrol - Urban History
'A Tale of Two Cities'. The Memory of Ferrol, between the Navy and the Working class.
Beginning Chapters: 1 2 3 4 Bib >

Chapter 1

A city charged throughout history with segregation and violence (VII)

Late that same month, a 'Board for the Pacification of Ferrol' was created. It was formed by the most important civil and military authorities, and exceptionally comprised all jurisdictions 'to take in advance and beforehand the necessary steps and measures to avoid the insults and disturbances of the mob, which this big town is suffering'. 27 In order to keep the population under control, the 'Board' organized the city into four 'quarters': Ferrol Viejo, Esteiro and La Magdalena (which included two districts). In this way the 'Board' actually sanctioned the social segregation of the city.28 Navy officers, important businessmen, and liberal professionals lived in La Magdalena, whereas most of the 'maestranza' and the overwhelming majority of unskilled workers and labourers lived in Esteiro.29 La Magdalena, which was built in such a way that allowed for military control and the ceremonial rituals of the state and the elite, also underwent a series of improvements and housed the buildings that symbolized the power of the Navy. Spatial segregation increased the sense of social distance, laying the foundations for undercurrents of hatred among the social classes. As early as 1771, a royal commissioner complained about the attitude of the inhabitants of La Magdalena, calling them 'a load of privileged people'. In 1807, a revolt of the 'maestranza' culminated in the burning of the Teatro de la Comedia ('Theatre of the Comedy') situated in La Magdalena, and exclusively reserved for Navy officers.

In January 1809 a crowd attacked the house of the Commander-in-chief of the Department, accusing him of being 'Frenchified'. Some days later, the Napoleonic army occupied Ferrol. The British army arrived in June, but left in August, taking with them all the useful vessels and equipment. The city lived in chaos, wages remained unpaid, and hunger arrived in 1810. On 10th February General Vargas, the new Commander-in-chief of the Naval Department, was murdered.

A group of women from the scum of society gathered riotously at the dock gate of the dockyard [demanding payment of their men's wages...] The 'maestranza' who were at the workshops [...] crowded together at the inner iron gate [...] that wild mob dragged the badly beaten and wounded General down the stairs that led from his room. The dreadful cry of 'drag him out' rose up from amongst the mob; [they] tied a rope round the poor commander-in-chief's feet, and in front of his soldiers they took him out through the dockyard gate and dragged him in the midst of a terrific clamour [along the 'Alameda'] as far as Esteiro [Square] where they left his corpse [at the gate of the Shipyard].30

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