I’ve walked past these sculptures quite a bit recently – and the more I see them – the more I like them. They are ‘Los Raqueros’ – and the sculptures pay their respects to the city’s children that worked for a living.
In Santander, the raqueros were children who scraped a living from the docks at Puertochico. The term ‘raquero’ is said to come from the English word ‘wreckers’ – as in shipwreckers – those who salvage what’s left from shipwrecks. Initially scavenging and, by some reports, involved in petty crime – the children combed the bay for anything of value. They were paid a tip for fetching items that fell into the water – and in they jumped naked or half-naked. But it was when they dived into the bay – that they made their place in history. They dived into the water – holding their breath until they could retrieve the coin or “perra” with their mouths – that had been thrown in by sailors and passengers of the ships in the port.
This trick and way of life was immortalised by the Cantabrian writer Jose Maria Pereda in a chapter called ‘El Raquero’ in his book ‘Escenas Montanesas’ published in 1864, 1877 and 1885. The same raquero character appears again briefly in his novel ‘Sotileza’ in 1885 in which the writer describes how the raqueros ‘worked’. Although the word ‘raquero’ and the activity were not unique to Santander or even Spain – Pereda’s fictional characters (all bearing nicknames – Muergo, Sula, Cole, Guarin and Toletes) brought fame to the Santander scavengers and their city.
It’s not clear whether the whistle was blown on the activity or whether there was no longer a need for the children to ‘wreck’ but it appears to have discontinued in the 1960s – probably as education became accessible to all. I came across an account of a raquero Julian who said he dived in the 1960s for money for sweets and the cinema rather than money to feed his family as was previously the case. The term ‘raquero’ has not died out – it’s still used in Santander as a way of describing the rougher or tougher element of society.
The bronze sculptures of four life-size boys are very popular among residents and visitors to the city. It’s tricky to get a picture of them on their own. I took most of these pictures on a quiet day (deliberately) but as you can see below on a different (cloudier) day – there is usually somebody looking on, reading the plaque or having a photo taken beside the sculptures.
They were made by local sculptor Jose Cobo and were set in their bay location in 1999. Cobo is no stranger to public sculptures – he also made the statues of the Tonetti clowns by the Sardinero and the memorial to the city fire of 1941 by the Ferry Building.
The raqueros are located exactly where they used to work – on the quay parallel to Paseo de Pereda – not that far from where the new Botin Centre is being built. Today this is the most elegant section of the city – popular with tourists going for strolls along the bay – it’s hard to imagine the scene one hundred and fifty years ago when it was an industrial docks.
Los Raqueros: Personajes tipicos Santanderinos, descritos por Jose Maria de Pereda, que en los siglos XIX y XX frecuentaban las machinas y acostumbraban a darse un cole en Puertochico, buceando en las aguas de la bahia para recoger las monedas que los curiosos les lanzaban.
The Wreckers: Typical Santander characters, described by Jose Maria de Pereda, who in the 19th and 20th centuries used to hang around the cranes and have a swim in Puertochico, diving in the waters of the bay to retrieve the coins that had been thrown in for them by the onlookers.
One of the better-known raqueros – Nicolas Ochoa – or Kalin as he was called – published his biography ‘El Puertochico Que Yo Conoci’ (The Puertochico That I Knew) in 2007. The book is out of print but I’m hoping I’ll find one in a library or secondhand book fair. Kalin was a well-known character in Santander and contributed to radio broadcasts on the COPE radio station under the guise of helping out with the weather reporting. Kalin was proud of his roots and never lost his love for Puertochico – he worked the petrol pumps where the boats fill up in Puertochico – just a few metres from his original diving spot. He died aged 74 in January 2009 and his ashes were spread in the water just in front of these sculptures – where he had dived as a child. ‘Buen viento’ as they say here.
Do you like Los Raqueros?
Had you heard their story before?