FIT: The ripped Hercules in Los Barrios

OUR pueblo is all of a-flutter this month over the arrival of a new centrepiece for the town roundabout.

For years it was crowned by a giant pink birthday cake that lit up with candles at night.

A bit of a tacky monstrosity, we thought at the time, but when it was replaced by a concrete hexagonal fountain flashing disco lights we kind-of missed it.

Now we have our very own statue of Hercules, worked in bronze, with a ripped torso and a very neat butt (if you’re wondering, he’s wearing a loincloth).

SECOND-BEST: Ronda’s overgrown poodles

But what really made me look twice, being a cat lover, are the two enormous wild pussy cats he’s stroking: a pair of magnificent male lions, as splendid as the ones in Trafalgar Square and quite something for Los Barrios, an address that generally provokes the puzzled response, ‘Que barrio?’   

It didn’t instantly register why we’ve got big cats on the roundabout. A new use for the bullring? Circus coming to town? Or David Attenborough? Unlikely, unless he’s interested in the small feral variety…I even vaguely wondered whether the lions might be symbolic of the pueblo’s pioneering Trap Neuter Release alley cat scheme I wrote about last month. 

In the days when Spain and Africa were one continent – before Hercules split them to create his mythological Pillars, Gibraltar and Mount Jebel Musa across the Strait in Morocco – lions did leg it up from the Serengetti to roam these parts.

But finally the penny dropped. They reference the lions on the Andalucian Flag, doh! 

STRIPPED: Hercules in Sancti Petri Poblada

(Historical note: the emblem of Hercules subduing the lions was chosen by Blas Infante, the ‘father of Andalucian nationalism’, born just up the road in Casares, to symbolise man’s power over animal instinct).  

Hercules is a big dude all over the world, having got about a bit while fulfilling his 12 Labours…such as slaying the nine-headed Hydra and the man-eating Stymphalian Birds and capturing Cerberus, the Underworld’s very unpleasant dog.

I’m not sure what the Me Too movement would have to say about him stealing the girdle of Hippolyta; and he did kill the Nemean Lion, which would now be a protected species, and turn it into a trophy loincloth. 

But he wins double brownie points for cleaning up the Augean stables in a day. I’ve been on at Dave to sort out our garage for nearly a decade. 

In Andalucia, geographically attached to one of his Pillars (Gibraltar actually gets a mention around the base of our sculpture) all seven provinces pay their respects to Hercules in some shape or form: a wall frieze at the Alhambra Palace in Granada; a lofty column in Sevilla’s Alameda Gardens; and there’s a particularly stirring statue (sans loincloth) in Sancti Petri Poblada, over Cadiz way.

But in my humble opinion, none are finer than our own. Los Barrios sculptor Bernardo Martinez Torres: Respect.  

Yeah, I know there’s a cool Hercules in Ronda with lions. But check out their curly mains.

As our Roman hero would scoff, they’re nothing but overgrown poodles!

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