Monday, 30 March 2015

From Axarquia to the Americas. How the son of a small pueblo became a big man in America.

From small acorns great oaks grow, so the saying goes, is particularly apt when considering how a small pueblo in the Andalucían mountains was the birthplace of a governor of Louisiana and one of only eight US honorary citizens.


You approach Macharaviaya via a winding road so redolent of Andalucían hillside villages and turning right at a fork in the road you descend into the village's plaza. The cobbled streets are newly renovated and a large painted sign welcomes you to the village.





In the centre of the small roundabout stands a statue of Bernardo de Gálvez, holding a scroll and looking towards the ayuntamiento. Why the ayuntamiento? Because Bernardo is looking beyond the building  in the direction of America and it was there that he made his name.

Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid was also Viscount of Galveston and Count of Gálvez. Born in Macharaviaya on 23rd July, 1746 he was a Spanish military leader and colonial administrator who served as colonial governor of Louisiana and Cuba, and later as Viceroy of New Spain. Before he went to the Americas he participated in the Spanish invasion of Portugal, but it was his aiding of the American Thirteen Colonies in their quest for independence against Britain that was his crowning glory. He defeated  the British at the Siege of Pensacola (1781) and reconquered Florida for Spain. 






But Bernardo was not the only Gálvez to make a mark in history. Jose de Gálvez founded schools for boys and girls, the girls' school being the first in Spain, four years before the next one opened in Madrid. He also built the church of San Jacinto, designed the shrine at the entrance to the village and instituted an agricultural bank. Miguel de Gálvez was the first to export the sweet wine of Axarquía, much loved by the Russian Tsarina Catherine the Great (which means we have something in common, she and I !!).






The Gálvez family were also patrons of the card factory in the village. This factory, which is now divided into private houses, had the monopoly on the sale of playing cards in the American colonies. This was a family that made sure that its homeland was not forgotten as they set out to conquer and protect new lands in the name of the King of Spain. 

The Museo de los Gálvez in the village is testament to the family and provides a 3D animated talk available in several languages, as well as articles from the village's history. It is closed during the week unless by prior appointment, but is open every weekend. Our visit coincided with that of a member of the Asociación de Granaderos y Damas de Gálvez de Macharaviaya (not too much of a mouthful, that one!). It transpires that there is a reenactment of the battle of Pensacola on the 4th July, in the village. This year (2015) that falls on a Saturday, which should mean good crowds and an even better atmosphere.


Macharaviaya, was founded in 1572 on the remains on a Moorish site. It is believed that the name is derived from the Andalus Arabic, Machar Ibn Yahya, meaning the court of Yahya. It is painted white and sits on the side of a hill to the west of Iznate, some 235 metres above sea-level. Agriculture was the primary concern of the village until the card factory opened. It is now home to a selection of painters, writers and sculptors, as well as those who continue to farm. 


The size of the church belies the size of the village. Built on a grand scale for such a small place it echoes to the sound of voice and footstep. It is often used for music and poetry recitals as well as worship. The interior is surprisingly plain for a Catholic church. 


The adjoining hamlet of Benaque, which forms the municipal of Macharaviaya with the eponymous village and the 'Cortija' de Vallejos, boasts a church with a tower which was originally the minaret of a mosque. Inside are frescoes dating from the sixteenth century, which have been carefully restored.


All told, Macharaviaya may be overtstating its case with the sobriquet of Pequeño Madrid (Little Madrid) which it received in the eighteenth century, but it is a charming village and municipality with a lot of history. It is well-kept, pleasing to the eye and a pleasant way to spend an hour or two.











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