The remains of the empire at the feet of Columbus

The remains of the empire at the feet of Columbus, by Plàcid Garcia-Planas

Spanish imperial historiography has overlooked the involuntary Barcelona happening staged three years after the defeat of 1898: the remains of the squad exposed at the foot of the Columbus monument

This is how ‘La Vanguardia’ drew the remains of Cervera’s squad unloaded in 1901 at the Drassanes dock in Barcelona


Sometimes temptation has a screw silhouette.

The metal piece was there, five or six meters at the bottom of the Caribbean, broken, imploring me to take it.

It was a screw Infanta Maria Teresa Admiral Cervera’s cruise ship, the last sunken ship of the Spanish empire, and the coincidences were imperially twisted that day: with the photographer Guillermo Cervera, a descendant of the admiral, we did a report on the wreck, and we did it on October 1 at the unruly shoreline of an island called Cat Island.

The temptation was irresistible, as if the screw, with the liquid voice of a siren, whispered: “I am the final point of the first globalization, forged by Spain… take me with you.”

The attraction sucked me in. I descended to the lungs, put my hand close to the screw and began to raise it towards the surface… What’s the point of moving a piece of iron broken by the war away from its breaking point?

A few days ago, the temptation returned to my mind, sailing not through the Caribbean, but through the newspaper library of The vanguard : suddenly, those irons appeared drawn in the edition of December 6, 1901, unloaded at the foot of the statue of Columbus in Barcelona.

What were the remains of the remains of the last squad of the Spanish empire doing on the Drassanes wharf? Why were they taken to Barcelona three years after the naval combat in Santiago de Cuba, which in fact sank the immense part of the metal? Why didn’t the victors –Yankees and Cubans– keep the waste?

Spanish imperial historiography has overlooked this facility , which would have fascinated artists like Francesc Torres. “There are piled up pieces of deck, remains of gun carriages, winch boilers, fans, beams, tapes and windlasses… –he wrote The vanguard next to the drawing. Painful memories that will now be turned into new iron, perhaps into other boilers and devices for new ships, and that seem to make good that principle that they taught us in high school: nothing is created or annihilated”.

Unconsciously –or not– The vanguard he elevated that metallic discharge to the category of artistic installation: he sent a draftsman and published the illustration on a page dedicated entirely to the English Pre-Raphaelites.

“A huge pile of old iron rests on the Atarazanas wharf for a few days, which is all or almost all that remained of that brilliant fleet,” wrote our newspaper. All the poetic fiber would be necessary to describe with the sadness that the painting suggests the ruins of that squadron that fell under the grenades of the insatiable North American battleships”.

TO The vanguard The symbol and loop of the place where it was downloaded did not escape him: Colón. “Months ago, it was the remains of the colonial army that arrived at the feet of the statue of Columbus: dying men. Now it is the remains of that squad that seem to be erected as a painful anniversary, trying to wake up a people as dreamy as ours”.


This is how ‘La Vanguardia’ described the repatriation of Spanish soldiers killed and wounded in the war in Cuba on November 11, 1898


“Pain persists,” the newspaper reflected, “and it turns green when contemplating those remains of something that before was the object of so many illusions and hopes, which later gave rise to so much sterile heroism and now to such bitter teaching.”

As the breakup between Cuba and Spain was a full-fledged sentimental collapse, that scrap would have been fantastic today in the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, dedicated to failed love. Former lovers from all over the world, abandoned or abandoning, donate to this museum the objects that summarize their vital bankruptcies, and highlights the ax with which a deceived Berliner turned into splinters all the furniture of her partner (who had gone on vacation with other).

“As I was grinding the furniture, which acquired the appearance in which my soul had been left, I felt better,” confesses the woman who donated the tool. I elevated the ax to an instrument of therapy”.

Therapy and happening also in the Barcelona of 1901, due to the interaction of passers-by with the twisted ghost of the empire: “Among the curious who contemplate the remains of our squadron,” he said The vanguard three days before, when announcing the download– sad and opportune comments are made… sic transit gloria mundi ”.

But let’s go back to the beginning of the story, to the Caribbean temptations, to the screw of the Infanta whispering: “Come closer, I am the end point of the first globalization… take me with you.”

The attraction sucked me in. I descended to the lungs, put my hand close to the screw, began to raise it to the surface and… I regretted it, released it and let it fall again on the seabed, on the place where it has rested since 1898.

Seen over time, every empire is a happening.


This is how ‘La Vanguardia’ described the repatriation of Spanish soldiers killed and wounded in the war in Cuba on December 10, 1898