The Politics of Spanish Monuments: Dictatorship, Democracy and Colonialism in Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor

Elle Shea traces Spanish history through Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, and examines the arguments surrounding the decision to remove General Franco from its facade.

Salamanca or, La Dorada as it is known by many, is a city brimming with some of the most eminent jewels of Spanish architecture. One could say that Salamanca, in the northwest of the Spain, is an emblem for a wider trend throughout its province, Castilla y León; home to one of the most prestigious universities in the country, it is a charming Gothic patchwork, with a plethora of buildings with glowing yellow sandstone that almost tints the vast blueness of the sky above. Many sites of interest come to mind: the stunning New Cathedral, the University building’s façade, the Convent of San Estebán… but none so much as the striking Plaza Mayor, the beating heart of the city and, indeed, the royalty of this moda castellanoleonesa. This grand example of the Spanish conception of a plaza is firmly in touch with its historical and artistic roots in the aesthetic it projects, but is also part of every-day salamantina life. The square, like many of the city’s monuments, is magnificently lit up at nightfall, 365 days a year, evoking a warm and inviting ambiance even in the depths of December. Indeed, it is an essential part of day-to-day Salamanca, an intersection between the residential and shopping zones, and the stylised old town. It experiences the daily trajectories of many and is even the location for public events. In November, the plaza glowed purple, rather than its usual golden warmth, in solidarity with the Día Internacional contra la Violencia de Género, and every December 16th it is host to eager university students as they celebrate a premature Nochevieja with their classmates before returning home for the Christmas holidays.

Yet the rich history of the site has, in recent years, come into conflict with the present. Comprised of four pabellones, the square pays tribute to the faces of the Spanish past, with each wall adorned with numerous medallones, or plaques in honour of various historical figures. The iconography of the Pabellón de Petrineros is probably the most varied of all, documenting profiles ranging from the literary celebrities of Cervantes and Unamuno to religious figures such as Santa Teresa Jesús – even the Duke of Wellington makes an appearance. The plaques of the Pabellón Consistorial, on the other hand, have experienced a fraught history, some of them being removed during the Revolution of 1868 and others disappearing during the Second Republic. It does now, however, feature allegories of the First and Second Spanish Republics and proudly displays plaques in honour of an important monarch in the democratic history of Spain, the recently-abdicated Juan Carlos I and his wife Sofía.

These familiar faces of democracy have, however, been neighbours to a very different figure ever since their arrival at the plaza – but not for much longer. The medallón which commemorates General Francisco Franco, the dictator from 1936 until his death in 1975, is to be removed after a unanimous vote by the Comisión Territorial de Patrimonio Cultural. While exactly how the plaque will be removed is still to be revealed, the commission announced that they would do so with the aim of guaranteeing no harm to the architecture of the plaza.

But why take such a step, over 42 years after the death of the General, who remains an important figure in Spanish history? Answers to this question are plentiful. Firstly, the medallón has always been rather misplaced on the Pabellón Real, which, prior its commission, had always been reserved exclusively for Spanish monarchs from across the ages; his neighbours include Isabel I & Fernando II de Aragón, Alonfso XI, Carlos I de España… the list goes on. Thus, one powerful argument, albeit not the central reasoning behind the decision, is the fact that the plaque categorically does not belong on the pabellón.

A further logic behind the commission’s vote concerns the conservation of the plaza from an artistic-historical perspective. Over the years, a number of restoration attempts have been carried out on the medallón in the aftermath of acts of vandalism, most poignantly those carried out on the 20th November (the anniversary of the dictator’s death). Consequently, the members of the commission maintained that the plaque had been so changed over time due to these restorations that it no longer concurs with, “las suficientes razones artísticas, arquitectónicas o artístico-religiosas protegidas por la ley.”

A final reason presents itself as more problematic still, as it concerns the fraught historical and cultural significance of Franco in current Spanish national imagination. The key question is: how does he fit in?

The memory of the dictatorship, which ended a mere 40 years ago, means that it is still alive for many, particularly those who experienced it personally. Indeed, it is unsurprising that there should exist Spaniards who remain in support of Francoism given the very length of the regime and the illegality of political opposition throughout its duration, coupled with an air-tight propaganda machine. Yet since the Transición began, shortly after the Franco’s death, there has been an outpouring of reactions against public monuments in his honour. Indeed, in 2007, the government prohibited official public references to Franco; thus, government buildings and streets named after El Caudillo reverted to their original names, and memorials to him were removed, the last of which being an equestrian statue in Santander removed in 2008. Just last year, the city of Malaga also revoked honours and distinctions concerning him, including the titles of “Hijo predilecto, Hijo adoptivo y Alcalde honorario.”

These conflicting associations are symbolically summarised in the very fact that, while the Spanish national anthem, the Marcha Real, is no longer sang with the lyrics introduced under Franco, no new lyrics have been introduced to replace them due to a lack of consensus. The decision to remove the plaque, conversely, ‘tenía que ser tomada por unanimidad,’ according to historian María José Turrión, a member of the commission. Thus, for the commission, the answer to the question is, he does not fit in, be it artistically or architecturally, categorically, or as a figure worthy of depiction in this national emblem to Spanish history. The law introduced in 2007, known as the Ley de Memoria Histórica, sought to recognise and amplify the rights and established mediums in favour of those who suffered persecution of violence during the war and dictatorship (paraphrased trans.). Turrión went on to defend the decision as, “un acto de justicia y de coherencia con el Estado de Derecho y la democracia”. And yet, adjacent to the Pabellón Real, the Pabellón de San Martín, boasts an array of conquistadores, important figures in Spain’s colonisation of the Americas such as Cristóbal Colón and Hernán Cortés. A few kilometres further west in Salamanca, as in many Spanish cities, there lies the Plaza de Colón, with a monument of the conquistador as its centrepiece. With colonisation still largely viewed as a major scientific and geographical discovery in Spanish history, it seems that it is not only recent history with which the country has yet to come to terms.

I went to an Extra Virgin Olive Oil Master Class and had an o-lively time.

Italian student Marie-Louise James learns to taste olive oil the hardcore, Italian way.

The event spontaneously popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. Half joking, half intrigued, I put myself down as “interested.” When a friend also expressed curiosity, we decided to book our tickets and give it a try.

All we knew was that it was an “extra virgin olive oil master class” led by Dr. Alfredo Marasciulo and hosted by ITMAW UK at Emmanuel College; canapés and wine were promised to follow. With the exception of these few details, our first impressions would be completely uninformed. We were immediately greeted with the sight of dozens of unlabelled miniature olive oil vials, ranging in colour from opaque jade and clear gold to almost black. We were also greeted by the sound of animated spoken Italian; all of the organisers were native speakers, as well as about half of the audience. Others were simply Italophiles. As an MML student, I considered my participation a part of my academic approfondimento, a word used in Italian schools that literally signifies “deepening” but is more similar to our concept of extra credit. A warm welcome was provided, and, of course, complimentary Prosecco.

Once the master class began—in true Italian fashion, at a languid tempo and
only after a convivial introduction—Dr. Marasciulo began to speak of the importance of extra virgin olive oil with authority and pride. Truly knowing what defines the quality of olive oil, he emphasised, was a skill that many pretend to have but do not actually possess. He even admitted to playing a plainclothes game in grocery stores, innocuously asking fellow shoppers for their advice on which olive oil to buy. Often they gave confident responses, without actually knowing what features made an olive oil so good. For example, unlike wine, the newer the olive oil—the more recently pressed—the better. In the first hour of the lecture, Marasciulo broke down the audience’s misconceptions of olive oil, discussing qualities such as acidity, grades, and pressing. We then moved onto the tasting portion of the class. We had expected to accompany our samples with bread; Marasciulo told us that the true hardcore way of tasting olive oil was in its pure form.

And, just like the importance of quality in extra virgin olive oil, this was no quick process. First, the sample cup had to be warmed up, which can be done most easily between the palms of one’s hands. Then we had to smell the olive oil: not a quick whiff, but rather a proper inhalation. Finally, to taste the olive oil, it had to be “aerated.” Aerating the olive oil is more or less equivalent to slurping it in through the teeth, an act which Marasciulo said may seem, “come si dice… maleducato?,” but nonetheless necessary for true degustation.

We sampled eight or nine shots of pure olive oil, and then – as a reward for our stamina – four more with bread. We tried everything from three-day-old presses to a 1997 lampante, an extra virgin olive oil unsuitable for consumption. We looked for notes of cut grass and for a slight burn in the throat, all signs of freshness and high quality. Marasciulo memorably described one slightly older, but high quality sample as “an old, but beautiful, mature lady.” Inevitably, as the class progressed the atmosphere became more and more relaxed. There was something comical and surreal about collectively slurping olive oil, to then nod emphatically in agreement that “this one had the aroma of a newly cut lawn.”

And yet here we were, exploring what was perhaps, along with wine, one of the most frequently associated images of Italian culture: freshly pressed olive oil as a ubiquitous and vital part of Italian food or, more broadly, the nation itself. As cliché as it may seem, the Italian synonymy with olive oil reflects a greater pride in the artistry and craftsmanship of national produce – an attention to detail that can be seen throughout in the Italian traditions of art, fashion, and food alike. From Florentine leather jackets to the meticulous technique of the Venetian school or, of course, a bottle of olive oil produced by a small grove in Puglia, Italian products have a longstanding tradition of precision and artisanal quality. Marasciulo’s emphatic remarks echoed this sense of national dignity, just as our seemingly amusing evaluations stemmed from a genuine respect and awe for the Italian qualità di vita.

When the session came to a close, we had become completely immersed in the jovial atmosphere of olive oil tasting, alternating between conversations and comments in Italian and English. It was an intense three hours of detailed information that I could not have previously imagined; lampante, for example, is a word I would have never thought to affiliate with the pungent musty scent of a clear, black and inedible oil. It was a Saturday afternoon well-spent: one that celebrated a shared experience of Italian culture and language, the kaleidoscopic range of olive oil samples, copious chilled white wine, and, of course, a passion to learn.

Original artwork by the author.

Submissions to Polyglossia are open throughout the whole of Lent term; send submissions or ideas to Jess Bullock at

Cray-cray but totes legit: totes is like totes grammats. For reals.

Justin Malčić reports back from the cutting edge of linguistics: internet slang.

You’ve probs heard totes being used by like, people, maybe you, which is like totes norms, but what you probs haven’t realised is that forming totes words uses your knowledge of English grammar. In fact, every time you create a totes word, several rules of grammar come into play. Though I happen to think this is totes amaze, mabes you’re like whatevs, grammar is like sooooo boring.

Well luckily, even though totes is grammatical there’s no grammar to learn here: you very likely already know these rules subconsciously even if you don’t use totes yourself, but like, mabes you haven’t consciously thought about the phonology of totes before lolz.  And as you can see, it’s not just totes: probs, fairs, deece, ceebs, and for reals are just some of the members of this class of words which end in an S or a Z sound. The earliest word of this kind recorded in the OED is obvs, appearing in the 80s, and now these words are appearing all the time, impervious to widespread but useless opprobrium. Amaze.

probably → probs
fair → fairs
definitely → deffs
joking → jokes
for real → for reals
maybe → mabes
mebbe → mebs
whatever → whatevs
lol → lolz
sorry → soz
totally → totes
CBA (seebeeay) → ceebs
same → sames
possibly → poss
decent → deece
amazing → amaze
delicious → delish
awkward → awks
later → laters

How to totes (for the lolz)

  1. Take all the syllables in the word up to the syllable carrying the main stress, in bold.
  2. Make the coda (final consonants) of the stressed syllable as large as possible using the onset (initial consonants) of the following syllable, in italics.
  3. Add Z to the coda unless this makes an illegal (impossible) coda. If the coda ends with a voiceless sound (pronounced without the vocal folds vibrating) then the Z also becomes voiceless, changing to S.
  4. An adjective immediately after totes may well also undergo this process too lol.
  • In British English, Rs aren’t pronounced in codas, so we get soz, not sorz. On the other hand, why we get laters and not lates remains unclear (awks).

If you’d like to contribute to the Polyglossia Magazine, to be published at the end of the year, email ideas or submissions to Jess Bullock at All topics related to languages and foreign cultures are welcome.

Lightbulb Moment


Happy New Year! Polyglossia is back, kicking off the year with a thoughtful piece by Jenny O’Sullivan:

“Compound nouns. In passing conversations on the German language there is no grammatical notion that causes more astonishment (read: polite interest) than the legends of single words spanning forty yards, rumoured to contain three different kinds of choking sound. Even here, in its vocabulary, German culture cannot escape the looming shadow of ‘efficiency’; it is somehow seen as unromantic to string words together so plainly, rather than providing each concept with an individual label that is supposedly concise, unique and autonomous (read: derived from Latin). In Lightbulb Moment, I explore the visual metaphors often employed in compound nouns across both German and English, in the hope of revealing the whimsy that is so often overlooked beneath the umlauts and consonant clusters.”

Lightbulb MomentIf you’d like to contribute to the Polyglossia Magazine, to be published at the end of the year, email ideas or submissions to Jess Bullock at All topics related to languages and foreign cultures are welcome.

Polyglossia Careers Event: 21st November

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Snow, trees, lights and gingerbread. But also, jobs. Yes, it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to do after university when the big scary world of adulthood welcomes you into its arms.


Whether you are a finalist or not, we would like to invite you to our annual Polyglossia Careers event on Friday 21st November at Cripps Court, Magdalene College. Featuring speeches from:

**Ernst and Young**

Sara Barca, an Assistant Manager at EY Cambridge. She was born and grew up in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she did her A-Level equivalents, then moved to Spain where she completed a double bachelor in Law and Business Management at the University of La Coruna. Since graduating she has worked in Audit at PwC in Spain for 3 years, and just a year ago moved to EY Cambridge.

Laura Thompson: a language graduate (French & Spanish) from the University of Sheffield. She has been working at ESL – Language Travel for just over a year as a Language Travel Consultant.

**A freelance translator/interpreter**

Let us know you are coming here!

See you there!

Dates for your Diary: November 2014


The clocks have gone back, the leaves are changing colour and the mountains of work are accumulating quite nicely. Oh yes, there’s no denying that November is upon us. To get the year started in style and to ward away the early-winter blues, Polyglossia have two great events coming up this month.


Polyglossia Formal at Queen’s: Wednesday 5th November

Get to know your fellow Polyglossians over dinner at our social evening at Queen’s College Cambridge. Great food, good conversation and nice wine will get your evening off to a bang before you can go out and make the most of the fireworks.

More information here.


Polyglossia Careers Event: Friday 21st November

Join us at Magdalene College Cambridge for an evening of careers-orientated presentations from influential companies such as Ernst and Young, JP Morgan and
ESL. Ask any questions you might have, build your network and learn about the doors  and international opportunities opened up by languages.

More information here.

My Year Abroad: Working in Paris

For what seems like the majority of second year, the big question of the Year Abroad was like my own personal raincloud, constantly following me around and opening on up whenever the spectre of ‘next year’ was mentioned. Even though I was certain that I wanted to work and earn my way through the year, there were just too many question marks for my liking – what kind of job? Paid or internship? Italy or France?


Applications were sent off, telephone interviews stumbled across (may have used the excuse of ‘bad reception’/feigned a coughing fit on more than one occasion) and finally – on the day of my Italian oral in the first week of Easter Term – I was offered a job in Communications at HEC Paris, a business school just outside of Paris (emphasis on the ‘outside’). With a monthly bursary, free accommodation and the promise of hours and hours on Facebook, I was sold.

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Living the Life of A Local

Anna Bradley talks about the innumerable benefits of having local connections when travelling, and how this can make a great trip a truly unforgettable one.

romeCrossing the road. I’d say that this is what separates the true Roman from the tourist. I’m sure there are many other ways to identify a local, but for me this is the best. It’s the steadily-maintained eye contact. The unhesitant first step out into the road. The way they own the zebra crossing. Continue reading