Camino Culture: The story of As Marias
As an exercise of made-up statistics, I would guesstimate that nearly 99% of pilgrims and visitors to Santiago de Compostela get a picture taken with the colourful statue of As Marias in Alameda Park. Hands up? If you haven’t been to Santiago but you are about to, or planning your trip… mark my words!
It is one of the most iconic statues in the city, loved by locals and visitors alike, and it is difficult to miss the sisters with their bright attire, cheeky wink and a friendly hand reaching out to meet passers-by.
But what is the story behind the statue? and more importantly who were these two ladies?
As Marias sculpture is dedicated to two sisters: Corelia and Maruxa Fandiño, who were very popular local characters in Santiago back in the 60s and 70s; but the statue also has a tragic story behind it.
The sisters were part of a liberal-thinking family and some of their brothers were involved in the anarchist movement in the 1930s, before the Spanish Civil War broke out. It is believed the brothers managed to escape and live in hiding during the war and the dictatorship of General Franco; but the family left behind in Santiago, including the sisters, were regularly harassed and questioned by authorities.
In the aftermath of the Civil War and in the grey decades of the dictatorship, the sisters lived in relative poverty, unable to find work due to political pressure. However, their neighbours made sure they were looked after, buying them food and even raising money to find them a new apartment when the roof of their house collapsed after a storm.
Coralia and Maruxa were known by the nickname of ‘As dúas en punto’ (2 o’clock’), as that was the time they chose to go for their daily stroll around the Old Town and Alameda Park. Their particular fashion sense, always wearing eclectic clothes and loud make up was very unusual in the grey years of the dictatorship and certainly made them stand out from the crowd.
It is believed they suffered from mental health issues, due to their tragic past; and during their strolls around the city, they would often tease University students (did you notice the cheeky wink?).
The sisters died in the 1980s but they are fondly remembered and honoured by this iconic sculpture built in 1994 in their beloved Alameda Park. It is seen by many as a reminder of darker times in the city, when the sisters added their touch of colour and delirious folly. A much-loved landmark, the sculpture is aptly known as As Marías, As dúas Marías or As dúas en punto (2 o’clock).
It is very fitting that the two sisters would be now watching the world go by from their prime location, all dressed up and ready to go for their daily walk; getting all the love and attention they deserve.