Photograph of the Macharaviaya school founded by the Gálvez family / univesity of California

Macharaviaya - home to the first mixed, public school in Spain

In 1783, the Gálvez family promoted education in the village with no physical punishment and prizes for the best pupils

Eugenio Cabezas

Macharaviaya was known as 'little Madrid' at the end of the 18th century, thanks to the initiative of the Gálvez family, who built the Royal Playing Card factory, brought drinking water and sewage systems and remodelled the streets and in 1783, thanks to a royal decree by King Carlos III, founded the first mixed, free and public school in the country.

It is Bernardo de Gálvez whose name most people are familiar with: the soldier who played a pivotal role in the battle of Pensacola during the American War of Independence. However, his brothers and mother were also important figures in 18th century Spain.

Local historian José Luis Cabrera, a 56-year-old civil servant and descendant of a Macharaviaya family, recorded his extensive research about the village, the school and the bank in his 2013 book La Fundación de Escuelas y Banco Agrícola de Macharaviaya (The foundation of the schools and agriculture bank of Macharaviaya). However, Cabrera's research has once again come to the fore thanks to the Valencian novelist Sofía Tarazón, whose Spanish novel La Jugada Maestra, is set in the village and explores the themes of Cabrera’s 2013 work.

Cabrera explained that the background to the creation of this first public, free, co-educational school dates back to at least 1776.

"As well as helping the farmers of Macharaviaya and the surrounding area with low-interest loans, it provided education for the children of Macharaviaya without distinction of sex or social class," said the researcher, who pointed out that physical punishment was forbidden in the school and cash prizes were given to the best students.

"The children were in separate classrooms, but they took their exams together," he said.

Cabrera explained that in 18th century Spain primary schools generally belonged to religious orders, to private individuals, or were hospices. However, the advanced and enlightened nature of the Gálvez family of Macharaviaya led the village to have "what can be considered the first public school in Spain."

The population began to grow in 1776 with the creation of the playing card factory and by 1787 Macharaviaya had 1,316 inhabitants and Benaque 466, compared to the approximately 500 people who live in the two villages combined today.

"It was envisaged that the merits of the pupils would be assessed by a board made up of the local authorities. Don Miguel de Gálvez's idea was that the wealthy residents of Macharaviaya and Benaque as well as other friends of the Gálvez family should donate an annual fee," he explained.

The author added, “These schools were curiously criticised by the poet Salvador Rueda, referring to them as enigmatic and useless.” However, the existing local schools are named after the poet, who was born in Benaque.

María Rosa de Gálvez

In 1915, Rueda created two schools in Benaque, one for boys and the other for girls, independent and separate from the one in Macharaviaya. They soon became small, obsolete and unhealthy. In 1935 the local council agreed to build two new schools in Benaque to be named after Salvador Rueda. However, the Civil War delayed their construction.

The school in Macharaviaya was left in ruins during the war, but was rebuilt in 1946. "It lost the two storeys of height it had and now just has one," said Cabrera, who considers it "unfair" that it should be called Salvador Rueda, "Because the name of José de Gálvez, its creator, is lost."

In Tarazón's novel, through the figure of María Rosa de Gálvez, one of Spain's greatest 18th century playwrights and mother of the school's founders, the author delves into a world dominated by men, "where machismo and the lack of opportunities for women reach their peak in the cultural sphere and in the Catholic Church.”

Cabrera said, "The work highlights the importance of women's access to education, dignifies the role of teachers and praises public education in the second half of the 18th century as a unique advance in a Spain that only looked to the capital."

A statue of Bernardo de Gálvez by the Malaga sculptor Jaime Pimentel was unveiled in Macharaviaya in 2014 / sur