If we exaggerate a bit, we could almost say that the history of Málaga is summarised in the Mercy Square (Plaza de La Merced). From the Romans to the Arabs and from Torrijos to Picasso, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there are a lot of things to see here.
It would be a matter of getting started with what’s underground, that is, the remains of a Roman theatre which were still standing at the time when the Muslims invaded the city. That is why, when the latter raised a wall and opened a gate here, they called it Puerta del Teatro (Theatre Gate).
And it is in this gate, where rivers of blood were going to flow centuries later, during that campaign, rather aggressive, that the Catholic Monarchs initiated to reconquer some things. Once the city was taken, they entrusted this part of the town to the mercenary monks, whom, in no time, built a convent that would end up giving the Square the name that still retains today.
But what really gave life to La Merced was the authorisation to hold a market. A market that, by the way, was very close to Cadiz and Seville, and therefore two important ports in the commercial movement between Europe and America. This brought money and prosperity to Malaga, and this would be reflected in the same Square and in the Neoclassical aspect that took, since the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Another issue, unfortunately, was the political landscape in the Spain of those years: a perpetual battle between two irreconcilable sides that wasn’t just limited to a civilised crossing of insults in the press or in parliament. No way. The history of the nineteenth century in Spain is a dramatic succession of revolutions and counterrevolutions promoted by liberals and absolutists. The first, supporters of the famous slogan Freedom, equality, fraternity, and the second, supporters of long live the chains.
Events followed one another like a tennis match: in 1812 the Constitution was proclaimed; in 1814 it was abolished by Fernando VII; in 1820, the Liberals returned and went heads up, but the cruel King came back three years later cutting their heads and ordering executions everywhere.
The ones who claimed freedom didn’t even shrug in such a chaotic scenario. They continued to conspire to throw the despot King out, and they continued to rise against him in a pile of unsuccessful rebellions, one of which is remembered in the Merced Square: the one led by General Torrijos, executed along with his comrades after falling into an absolutist ambush.
His remains are buried in the Square, and the Obelisk erected in his memory in 1842, only nine years after Fernando VII died. It was a way of making it clear that, in the end, victory always belonged to liberals.
And to finish up a curiosity: Pablo Picasso surely played around this Obelisk many times, he was born right here in 1881. The truth is, life was going to treat him much better than it did with General Torrijos…