26 de February de 2018
Farewell celebration on the occasion of the removal of Antonio López statue from the square of the same name on Sunday, March 4th from 11.30 a.m.
There will be a farewell celebration in Plaça d’Antoni López on Sunday 4 March for the removal of a statue dedicated to a businessman of the same name at the end of the 19th century. A statue questioned from the moment it was unveiled because of his past, which was linked to the slave trade. Placing the statue there, at the request of a small number of city dignitaries, also involved changing the name of a square known until then as Plaça de Sant Sebastià, as there had been a convent of that name on the site until it was burned down. Now, following the decision of the municipal government to remove the statue, a participatory process has been started to find a name, even though various organisations have suggested Plaça de les Bullangues, in memory of the popular disturbances with democratic aims that took place between 1835 and 1843.
The negative historical connotation and hardly exemplary character of the figure concerned, and requests to remove the statue received in recent years, led Barcelona City Council to take the decision to remove it this year. Such actions are not isolated cases these days. In the United States the statues of various Confederate generals are being removed and, in each case they cause controversy and lead to specific solutions. They have also revived the debate over other national monuments in the country that were built by slaves.
Music, circus and a firework display for the farewell
The celebration, which will take place between 11.30 am and 1.30 pm, will involve a series of leisure activities, including music from the Always Drinking Marching Band and Djilandiang, a kids’ workshop, circus activities and a small fireworks display. Institutional speeches will be given by the First Deputy Mayor, Gerardo Pisarello, and the Ciutat Vella District Councillor, Gala Pin, and some information panels about the square will be unveiled, apart from the physical removal of the statue, which will be kept at the Museu d’Història de Barcelona (MUHBA) Collections Centre.
Who was Antonio López?
Antonio López y López (Comillas, Cantabria, 1817) emigrated to Cuba, where he was involved in various business ventures, notably in trading slaves from the coasts of Africa to the Caribbean island, an activity that had been illegal since 1820. Years later, he returned to the Iberian Peninsula and decided to settle down in Barcelona, where his wife’s family lived. Thanks to the money he had made in Cuba, he entered a period of intense and varied business activity here, notably founding the Compañía Trasatlántica (1857) and contributing to the setting up of Banco Hispano-Colonial (1876). He also funded the Spanish government’s military effort in the Cuban War and played an important role in founding the Círculo Hispano Ultramarino de Barcelona (1871), an organisation designed to put the brakes on any reformist political activity in Cuba or Puerto Rico and defend the economic system of the two colonies, based on the widespread use of slave labour. As a reward, King Alfonso XII made him the Marquis of Comillas (1878) and Grandee of Spain two years before his death, on 16 January 1883.
Shortly after his death, a small group of city dignitaries put forward the idea of changing the name of Plaça de Sant Sebastià and naming the square after Antonio López, as well as placing a statue there, paid for by his admirers and unveiled on 13 September 1884. It soon provoked controversy: only a year later, Francisco Bru was questioning it in a devastating portrait of his brother-in-law. Another notable moment occurred in 1902, following the death of Jacint Verdaguer, when the magazine La Campana de Gràcia proposed replacing López’s statue with that of Verdaguer.
During the first days of the Civil War, the statue was pulled down and the metal it was made from was used for war materials. However, in the early years of the Franco era, the Falangist Mayor Miquel Mateu Pla commissioned a new statue of López from the sculptor Frederic Marès and the monument was relocated a few metres from the original (1944). After the end of the Franco dictatorship, criticism of the monument once again gained strength. A series of civic actions took place, intensifying in the 1990s, that called for it to be removed. In 2010, various organisations called on the City Council to remove it and from then the petitions gradually increased, until the municipal government finally agreed to do so this year.
A new name for the square
The square was known by the name Sant Sebastià until 1884 because a convent of that name stood next to it between 1719 and 1835. It was set on fire during the bullanga, or riot, in July of that year. The building, part of the church lands sold off by the government, was bought by the city’s Board of Trade and housed the Escola d’Enginyers Industrials de Barcelona (1851-1873), along with various businesses until it was demolished to make way for the Via Laietana. When the Antonio López monument was placed there, it gave the square its name until the present, a participatory process having now been opened to find a new name for it.
The Ateneu Memòria Popular and16 other organisations have asked to change the name of this space to Plaça de les Bullangues for various reasons, one of which is the fact that it is one of the very few places preserved in the city where the bullangues took place, making it a suitable location in their eyes for a memorial space dedicated to those popular movements. They had been declaring their interest in changing the symbolic meaning of the monument and the square for some time because they considered it expressed a model of enrichment that is still present today in the limitless exploitation of people in precarious situations and the clandestine trafficking of human beings. The platform Tanquem els CIE, also taking part in the popular consultation, has asked for Plaça d’Antonio López to be renamed Plaça d’Idrissa Diallo.
These were popular disturbances between 1835 and 1843 that were very important in the process of moving towards a liberal society. They were led by the working class in the cities, included the demand for democratic policies and political participation and arose out of protests against social ill-ease and political marginalisation. They took the form of violence against those considered responsible for inequality and poverty, so one of the most frequent images of the initial disturbances was the setting fire to convents.