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 (and VIII)

E.P. Thompson explored those popular rituals in which a humiliating punishment is meted out in public, and explained how often they develop and subvert the ceremonial rituals of the state and the elites.31Lynching such as that endured by General Vargas took place in a number of Galician and Spanish cities during the three-year-period that followed the Napoleonic invasion, and it was usually directed against the highest authorities. These lynching were in fact adopted by the mutinous mob as their own adapted version of the ancient ritual used in capital punishment when, following execution, the criminal's corpse would be dragged around the town to the accompaniment of insults hurled at it by the incensed crowds, before it was finally put on public display.32 In Ferrol, the 1810 riots took place throughout the borders which strictly isolated the dockyards and shipyards from the city. Notice the itinerary adopted for the lynching. The women went through the 'Dock Gate' which led to an area off limits to the civil population, they joined the 'maestranza', attacking their master's house, from which they dragged him out along the 'Alameda'. He was then stabbed in front of the building housing the Prison and the Town Hall, and his body dumped at the Shipyard Gate, next to the treasury office from which the wages were paid. The riot questioned the prevailing disciplinary system, in the face of the passive reaction of soldiers who also suffered the effects of the exorbitant prices of bread and late payment of their wages.

In January 1811, the 'Audiencia' (High Court) of A Coruña passed a sentence against two women and a man accused of being the mutiny leaders, and stated that one of them 'is to be hanged by the neck and until dead and after the execution, her head must be cut and separated from her shoulders [… and] must be fixed on a Stick opposite the Dock Gate [... and there] the same officer must tell the crimes that she has committed and the punishment that the aforementioned was given'.33 The itinerary of the execution, which returned to the scene of the crime, tried to restore the spatial division and the initial disciplinary system. But new times demanded new solutions. Council authorities promoted a scheme of public works that offered jobs and reduced the vulnerability of the city during the food crises. The construction of 'Carretera de Castilla' (Castilla Road) began. The aim was to find an alternative plan to the provision of the city by sea. The new road led directly to La Magdalena through 'Puerta Nueva' (New Gate), which was opened through the city walls in 1811, a year after the mutiny. Therefore it avoided Esteiro, the main access to the city up till then. The two squares of La Magdalena were also being laid out, in order to organize markets.34 The public works were also the basis of new policies of memory. On the Parade Ground a fountain, which was crowned by a cenotaph-obelisk, was built in honour of Brigadier Cosme Damián de Churruca in 1813. Churruca was second in command of the Spanish fleet during the Battle of Trafalgar, and since he died as heroically as Admiral Nelson, he would have supposedly saved the honour of his squadron. The cenotaph meant symbolic reparation for the murder of General Vargas, who had also commanded a warship in Trafalgar. But its meaning went far deeper than this. In the iconography of the new Spanish liberal regime, where political elites tried to throw off the yoke of subordination to an absolute monarchy, cenotaphs dedicated to the fallen heroes of the Fatherland had come to supplant the ancient ephemeral catafalques dedicated to the kings. Such a reading was reinforced in Ferrol by the fact of the similarities existing between the new fountain-obelisk that was built in the market place in honour of the Navy officer,35 and that one which had been raised in front of the Dock Gate in honour of Carlos III.

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