Why hadn’t I found this place earlier? Plenty of times I had caught a glimpse of the Cáceres skyline and noticed an old concrete tower, standing out as the highest point of the city on top of a hill. I had no idea what it was but thought it looked like an old water tower or lighthouse even though there’s no coast here. When I eventually went up the hill to check it out, I found what has become my favourite square in the city – La Plaza Alcalde Antonio Canales in the neighbourhood of Las Casas Baratas. I soon set out to uncover the history of the area and the purpose of its bizarre tower. What I found was both inspiring and tragic; a story that shed light on Spain’s dark and brutal past.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (Las Casas Baratas skyline with the tower)
Las Casas Baratas is the neighbourhood’s original name although it doesn’t appear on many maps. This residential area was built on a rocky hill known as Peña Redonda. Construction of the houses here, originally all bungalows, started in 1917 and was the project of an organisation called Los Socorros Mutuos. This group was made of up of both trade unionists and devout Christians who wanted to help the poor, in this case by building affordable housing. They did so successfully and the hilltop neighbourhood of Las Casas Baratas was born.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (Two of the original bungalows of the neighbourhood)
The tower sits in the corner of La Plaza Alcalde Antonio Canales, formerly known as La Plaza Italia. Antonio Canales was the local mayor here in the 1930s and a member of Los Socorros Mutuos who had built the neighbourhood. In 1933 he oversaw the construction of this tower which was designed by local architect Ángel Pérez. Its purpose was to serve as a non-religious clock tower for local residents, most of which did not own watches or have clocks at home. It was also intended to be a ‘monument to the workers’ called La Torre del Trabajo.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (La Torre del Trabajo in the Plaza Alcalde Antonio Canales)
In 1936 however, the Spanish Civil War broke out and Cáceres was captured by the fascists. Antonio Canales was imprisoned and later executed for being a supporter of the republican side. His body was thrown into an unmarked pit like thousands of others who fell victim to the brutal fascist regime. In 1939, La Torre del Trabajo was stripped of its name and the neighbourhood square was renamed La Plaza Italia paying homage to the troops of Mussolini who had been fighting in Spain on the side of the fascists along with Hitler’s Nazis. However, following the death of Franco and the subsequent transition to democracy, the square was eventually named La Plaza Alcalde Antonio Canales in memory of the murdered mayor.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (The sun shines on the corner of the Plaza)
Nowadays, the square is the heartbeat of Las Casas Baratas. Here you’ll find exotic trees, spots to relax, a park and a restaurant/bar/café called La Plazi Terraza which serves great food, fresh beer and free tapas. The tables outside are shaded by palm trees during the day and filled with locals at night. This hidden square is a lucky find in Cáceres, a fine place for that morning coffee or evening beer; but still a place with a story that shouldn’t be forgotten.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (La Plazi Terraza at night)
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