A statue that tells a story

Right at the entrance of the famous shopping street Calle Larios in Málaga there is a statue of the Marquis Manuel Domingo de Larios, the most important employer of 19th century Málaga.

Larios towers on his pedestal high above two other figures, right in front of him a scantily dressed woman who raises a child to him and that represents motherhood or charity, behind him a tough naked man with two pickaxes (“pico y azadón”) that represents Labour. It looks as if the woman offers the big boss a future worker and as if the tough guy on the other side of the pedestal, is turning his back to his boss, thus expresses that there will soon be trouble. The statue group was placed here in 1899 in gratitude of the city towards its ‘benefactor’. However, this is not just an ordinary statue, it has a lot to tell about the history of Málaga.

Marquis de Larios created many jobs in his factories for textile and food products, however he paid his employees very badly, which at that time was not unusual. Málaga in the first half of the 19th century lived in an era of large bloom and development, everything went well for the big industrial and commercial bourgeoisie that invested a great deal of money in grand palaces and public works, such as the Alameda and Calle Larios. This last street was financed by and constructed on the initiative of the Marquis de Larios, in the place of a complex pattern of small streets and had to provide a majestic passage from the port to the centre of the city, the Plaza de la Constitución. For the workers and their families it life was much worse in this period, they lived in small, filthy rooms, especially in the districts of Perchel and Trinidad at the other side of the river, mostly in large blocks, the “Corralones”, where they all shared their latrine and kitchen in the courtyard.

In the 1931 elections the left-wing and Republican parties obtained a major victory over the monarchist and conservative parties. As a consequence of that, the king was deposed and the second Republic was founded. In Málaga the festive celebration of this big change led the poor population to spontaneous riots and revenge against the Church and the rich, as well as against the absolute symbol of repression in Málaga, the statue of Larios. The statue was torn from its pedestal, dragged in great euphoria through the streets and thrown into the harbour. The figure of Labour was put in place of the employer Larios, as if to make it very clear that all those beautiful palaces and especially the Calle Larios had been made by the workers and not by a casual financier.

The second picture shows the changed social relations in April 1931. About a month later the popular rage against the Catholic Church returned throughout the whole of Spain in a much worse form, the burning of churches and holy statues. Sharp disagreements had emerged after the resistance of the Church and monarchist parties against the Republican Government that wanted to end certain privileges of the Church, for instance the public funds for Semana Santa. The troubles started in Madrid, but were quickly under control there. Then it spread to other cities and especially in Málaga it got out of hand. In this city the anarchists were quite strong and this part of the republican or left side was not averse to violence.

Besides that the local Government did not act vigorously against the anarchist riots. In the end more than 20 churches and monasteries were set on fire and many catholic paintings and statues were destroyed. Also the headquarters of the right wing newspaper ABC and the city registers of Málaga went up in flames. This massive rage against catholic patrimony is one of the main reasons why the republican side was beaten in the civil war of 1936-1939.

In 1937 Franco’s nationalist revolt took over Málaga and then harbour labourers were forced to tell where the statue of Larios could be found in the harbour. They were then forced to dredge it up and put it back where it was before. Of course the allegory of Labour was also put back on its former position, below and behind his boss. The “normal” social relations had been restored.

In 1951 the statue was restored and healed from its ‘war injuries’, however not completely because the child being held up by the woman towards Larios is still missing an arm and a hand of its other arm. In that hand it offered a laurel twig to Larios in gratitude of the city. It couldn’t be very expensive to restore this, detailed pictures of it do exist, but it is still not done. Maybe the issue is too sensitive and the city government is afraid to revive political troubles? Maybe for that same reason in the nineties, during the building of the large underground car park, they placed the rather ugly concrete construction at the foot of the monument: to prevent people from climbing on the statue and changing the traditional relations again?

Hein Hendriks