City of Gypsies

They say that El Vacie in Seville is the oldest still existing shanty town in Europe. Founded in 1932, it was swelled by the fact that after the Francoist takeover the poorest families were expelled from Seville’s Triana neighborhood, the city’s only quarter over the river, where the Gypsies have been living since the 16th century as the blacksmiths of the region, maintaining their own religious confraternity. They created several slums on the outskirts, but certainly the most famous of them is El Vacie, now completely enclosed by the cemetery and the motorway junction.

Officially 600 people live in the colony, but the reality is more than double. There is no water conduit and sewer, and electricity was also just recently taken out from the city. There are promises by the politicians, beginning with Franco who in the 40s came out to the colony, promising improvements, and every politician has done so since then before the elections, but improvements do not seem to come.

The site is not easy to get into, let alone take pictures. Even the Russian blogger Rustem Adagamov, mentioned more than once in Río Wang, succeeded by the local social workers’ intervention.

“The concrete blocks have been placed on the site of former homes, whose inhabitants received social housing. Indeed, there is a risk that they sell the new house and relocate to El Vacie, because they cannot live without the community.”

The site is divided into three parts: one is inhabited by Spanish Gypsies, the other by Portuguese Gypsies, the third by Gypsies from Estremadura.

Forty-year old Urbana, a Portuguese Gypsy woman was married 26 years ago to a local man. Today she has seven children and seven grandchildren, all living in the colony. They built their house themselves, there is no heating, although freezing is not uncommon in winter in Andalusia. Her husband was a factory worker, and now they live in eight from his disability pension of 350 euros.

But the inhabitants of the colony are not completely left to themselves. In 1998 Spanish volunteers established in the site the Maria Angeles Kindergarten, still maintained from private donations. Twenty permanent volunteers and eight paid staff members work here, and in addition they are regularly visited by doctor and psychologist. They strive to take care of all the children of the colony, most of whom only get hot food, hot water and education here, and to rescue them from the circle of poverty and criminality. The residents speak with great thankfulness about their work. Of course, there is another side to the coin: the last summer break, they broke into the kindergarten, and they took everything, so that it took two months until they could reopen. “This is life”, says a senior social worker resigned, “here good and evil fight with each other every day. One of them will finally win.”

Recently the Spanish TV station Cuatro broadcasted a five-part (1 2 3 4 5) documentary on the site. And in 2008 the TNT Theatre Center convinced the women of the colony to put on the stage García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba. The actors of the drama were photographed by Giovanni Nardelli in their everyday environment.

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