Amongst the villages of Soto de Roma there is one village called Fuente Vaqueros and another called Asqueroso (now named Valderrubio). In the former was born Federíco García Lorca on the 5th June, 1898. Shortly afterwards, Federíco’s family moved to the neighboring village, then called Asqueroso. Here, in the lands of the Duke of Wellington, the poet lived his childhood and adolescent years.
In an attempt to try and put into practice the idea of community land ownership, “land for those who work on the land ”, on the 31st July, 2008, around 20 militant trade-unionists made a symbolic gesture of occupying the estate of the Dukes of Wellington in Alomartes (Granada). In the words of one of the leading unionists, “this is one of the last remaining, blood-stained bastions of medieval privilege in one of the poorest regions of Granada and the Dukes merely use it as a hunting lodge for their wealthy, aristocratic European friends”.
The only incident that occurred was involving the Head of the Estate who warned his workers about hefty fines against the trade union. Previously, whilst the unionists distributed propaganda in the village, he tore down the radical posters and, mop in hand, desperately tried to clean off the graffiti.
Encompassing 4000 acres of land, bordered by the Sierra Elivra, Soto de Roma, 16km from Granada, was granted to the first Duke of Wellington by the Spanish Government as acknowledgement of the services paid to Spain during the “War against the French” (War of Independence).
English people touring Granada continue to visit the Spanish estate of the Duke of Wellington, in almost pilgrim-like fashion as a form of hero-worship.
These lands were part of the personal assets of the Catholic Kings and were originally given to Captain Alarcón as a reward at the end of the Reconquest. Soto de Roma eventually returned into the hands of the Monarchy after periods of ownership by individuals to whom the land was donated for services rendered to the state. Charles III gave the estate as a gift to his minister Richard Wal, an Irishman, for his services to Spain. Wal renovated and restored the estate from the state of ruin in which he received it and eventually died in the grounds of the estate. Charles IV gave it to Godoy. Joseph I, otherwise known as “Pepe Botella” got his hands on Soto de Roma and then, at the end of the War of Independence, the Spanish crown donated it to Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington.
The origins of the name of Soto de Roma date back to the time of Muslim dominance in Spain, during which time there was a tiny hamlet of Christians in this area, called Roma, and presently called Romilla (also known as Romilla la Vieja, belonging to the municipality of Granda called Chauchina). The estate was divided into two parts, one clearly named Soto and the other was the so-called meadow of Illora. The former was made up of irrigated land, lush orchards and large quantities of cattle and wheat crops on the non-irrigated land. There were also vines which produced thousands of gallons of wine every year. This is where the village of Fuente Vaqueros can found, the birth-place of Garcia Lorca. In the middle of this extensive estate there was an area where water collected, occasionally turning it into a swamp due to the waters seeping from the water table from where the village gets its name (fuente meaning fountain or spring). There were also two farmhouses – the Fuente farmhouse and the Vaqueros farmhouse, which eventually led to the name Fuente Vaqueros.
Until 1940 the municipality of Fuente Vaqueros itself belonged to the Duke of Wellington and the land was rented out to tenant farmers, to whom the Duke gradually sold off the land and it is these settlers who formed the current municipality. The history of Fuente Vaqueros is linked to Soto de Roma, the extensive estate that, since the Catholic Kings belonged to the Spanish crown, but was then given to Lord Wellington, Duke of Ciuadad Rodrigo by the Courts of Cadiz. In his Geographic, Statistical and Historic Dictionnary, 1845-1850, Pascual Madoz states, “these very courts, wanting to recognize and repay the important efforts on Spain’s behalf during the War of Independence, made by Lord Wellington, Chief of the British Armed Forces, working as a united front with the Spanish against Napoleon troops, grant to this distinguished soldier and to his successors, the estate of Soto de Roma in the lowlands of Granada, as per the decree of 22nd July, 1913”. In the donation was included “the area of Fuente Vaqueros, its annex of La Paz, and the farmhouses named Casa Real and Martinete”, although it was never made clear what the boundaries of Soto de Roma were and therefore has been the source of many lawsuits from owners of nearby estates.
The Illora meadow is 10 kms from Soto de Roma and has extensive olive tree plantations.
In addition to land, the “Protector of Spain” was given a collection of paintings which include a work of art by Correggio, “Prayer in the Garden” and “The Waterseller of Seville” by Velázquez. These are just three of the hundreds of paintings that Wellington seized from Joseph Bonaparte when he fled after the Battle of Vitoria during the Spanish War of Independence (1808 – 1814). Bonaparte had begun his move to France, taking with him numerous paintings, relics, jewels and other valuable objects from the royal palaces. Wellington wanted to return this loot to Spain, but Fernando VII chose to give them to Wellington to show his gratitude. Thanks to this gesture, Apsley House enjoys three Velázquez originals, “The Waterseller of Seville”, “Portrait of a Young Man” and “Two Young Men at a Table”, an example of the artist’s Sevillian period.
Written by Jesús Castro.