Monday, July 26

The secret history of the Cerro de las balas y los locos in the Dehesa de la Villa

On the last Sunday in June, as on previous occasions, the Cerro de los Locos (in the Dehesa de la Villa park) hosted a photographic exhibition about its history called People of the hill. The neighbors offered sangria at a table in the cool of the garden area by themselves over the years. Photographs and laminated newspaper clippings hung here and there: on the hill of the hill, where there is an ancient turret that serves as a pediment and on which the plaque “Cerro de las balas y los locos (1915-2015) is read. . One hundred years of popular sports. School of champions. Circus, pelotaris, boxing, wrestlers, cyclists, soccer and environmentalists “; in the gardens and in Parliament.

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The Parliament is a semi-circular stone solarium and meeting space built by the regulars of the hill. At first it was made of earth, taking advantage of the unevenness of the promontory. It was later made in stone and has been rebuilt when it has been the victim of vandalism. The spirit of self-construction has always been one of the examples of the liveliness of the inhabitants of Cerro de los Locos: also because of the showers and gymnastics equipment, which at some point were withdrawn by the City Council (there are now others, habitual of the City Council street furniture catalog).

A few weeks ago, walking through the hill, I had met Ángel Vázquez the puppeteer, one of the crazy oldest of the place. It grouped the numerous litronas abandoned in Parliament in a large sack to call the City Council to collect them – “yesterday they had a good party here” – he told me; he would go down to the nearest fountain with some cuttings and wave to other people in the gym area. “In a while some friends will come and we will take out the rackets,” he said, pointing to the little open room in the old turret that crowns the hill, on whose walls fronton champions have played.

Even today there are frequent night bottles in the Cerro de los Locos, as corroborated by Ángel’s morning routine cleaning the place, but there was a time, in the early 2000s, when the raves. The immensity of the Dehesa drowned out the sound of music, fed by generators brought expressly for the occasion, but the place was a mess the next day.

Although it may seem strange to us today, the land on the hill belonged to the College of Orphans of Finance, which was exchanged to the City Council for another plot in Moratalaz in 1998. The College of Orphans was created in 1927 and received 28,000 square meters of land, separated by the canalillo of the adjoining College of Orphans of Railways. All these constructions must be considered in the context of the ongoing urbanization of the University City, which was understood as a small expansion of the city.

In the Agricultural Gazette of the Ministry of Development of 1882, mention is already made of the Cerro de las Balas (which is how it was known before), regarding a canalization of water from the Canal de Isabel II for irrigation of the lands of the Agricultural Institute of Alfonso XII, which was on land that would later be the University. The land on the hill was used for some of its activities, such as agricultural machinery congresses.

The hill appears in the historical press due to the shooting practices that were carried out in the nearby field of Tito Nacional, which surely gave the site a popular name – another type of shooting was those of poaching – and on May 22, 1923 the newspaper The voice warned of the danger of stray bullets:

“The shepherds, gañanes, workers, foremen, guards, of the Moncloa field, and how many visitors frequent that area and heights of the canalilllo, known as Cerro de las Balas, where even the poplars of the quijero are perforated by projectiles”

The fields of the Dehesa also appear very early in the sports sections of the newspapers on the occasion of car races, cyclists or athletics. In the twenties, for example, important championships of cross country, in which sports teams such as Ferroviaria, Gimnástica or Rácing (Fructuoso del Río’s team, several years champion of the test) competed and the hill was consigned as a relevant place within the route.

In 1923 it already appeared in the magazine Graphic world an article that certified that the hill had passed from being known as of the crazy. In the text, which refers to the sporting activities of bullfighters: “apparently alleged imitators of fallow deer, zebras and wildcats, who give the feeling of crazy tying in their morning acrobatics exercises and crosscountry“. A year later, the newspaper The voice He discovered the unknown place to his readers, clearly referring to the practice of nudism on the hill and to self-construction in space, with a pool that anticipated the famous showers installed by the regulars of the place:

“We start to flake when we have been walking for a few minutes. There is nothing more than stubble, cuts in the ground and a stream that runs rustling towards the Manzanares. You don’t see a soul. There is nothing we are looking for. In the shadow of a cut. on the land there is, yes, a citizen belly up, who is given a guard of honor — to the right and left — by two good girls, also lying indolently. No Sultan of the fabulous East would be in a more satisfied or comfortable attitude. ”

“At the top of the hill, among the undergrowth, we began to discover men and boys completely naked. Some run like fear; others do push-ups on their legs; others twist their torso in an extraordinary way; two, there, do boxing fencing “.

“In effect, these ‘madmen’ have built a surprising pool. They have been forming in the stream like a four meter square and one deep hole, where two or three meters can bathe comfortably. Bullfighters are distinguished from athletes in that they wear gold medals around their necks. ”

During the war the hill always remained on republican terrain and was heavily bombarded from Garabitas due to its nature as an observatory close to the front. There are many residents who know well the trench trenches in the area, caves for storing weapons, now blinded, and remains of shrapnel embedded in the surrounding trees. More than one shell, and more than two, has been sold for scrap in the postwar period, and the older ones recall getting into the galleries leading to the bunkers, before they were sealed. In these caves and forts families also lived badly in the worst years of famine.

The Cerro de los Locos was also during the Franco regime an epicenter of what the anthropologist James C. Scott calls everyday resistances. In a regime in which the right of assembly did not exist and moral vigilance reigned, a lot of people – most of them men, it is fair to point out – gathered to do gymnastics with hardly any clothes. There were circus performers, naturists, gymnasts, pelotaris or wrestling wrestlers. One of them, Ángel Vázquez Sartí himself (Ángelo the puppeteer), who began his career as a tightrope walker. Police visits due to calls from scandalized were not uncommon, there have been clandestine political meetings and the Republican flag has crowned the hill for many months of April.

Another regular athlete on the hill was Young Martín, champion of Spain and Europe, known as The Lefty of Four Paths. A well-loved boxer in Tetouan and in the Dehesa de la Villa area, he continued training there when he played important titles but in the exhibition he could be seen as a child on the hill, together with his father. On People of the hill also featured wrestlers from the sixties, such as Joe Rodry Terror of the Four Paths, or acrobats like the Aliar, among many others crazy.

Likewise, the photographic exhibition gave an account of the battle of the residents of the area against the attempt to make a road pass through the urban forest, which led to the creation of the Coordinadora Salvemos la Dehesa de la Villa. The neighbors stood first in the morning in front of the tractors and articulated a very loud neighborhood response to avoid the breakdown of their park.

On an esplanade next to the hill (today replanted with trees), massive football matches were also played every weekend that served as entertainment and social mortar for the neighborhood. Asked about those pachangas, some attendees remember that a regular, scissors in hand, cut the hair of the crowd.

In short, here are some snippets of a history lived by many people over decades, that of this promontory of the Dehesa that, with priceless sunsets over the University City and the mountains of Madrid, has such a dense cultural and human heritage that hardly fits in an article.

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