Antonio Armenta’s ‘Social Utopia’ Uncovered

Rosario Pérez · Photos: Manuel Tapia / Fran Montes

Antonio Armenta’s ‘Social Utopia’ in El Bujeo, Tarifa Uncovered | Lecture by Historian Manuel Tapia Ledesma | Campo de Gibraltar

Historian Manuel Tapia Ledesma sheds light on this misunderstood intellectual who founded a ‘positivist colony’ in El Bujeo during the late nineteenth century.

“Who was Antonio Armenta?” In the cultural circles of Algeciras, many people are asking themselves this very question due to the establishment of a new association, the Antonio Armenta cultural gathering, which bears the name of the man who, in his day, was a significant intellectual in the city, although these days he is practically unknown.

El Bujeo Antonio Armenta

Determined to continue throw light on the “Stories of Algeciras”, both through social media, the mainstream media and, through books (he recently presented the 5th volume, published to raise funds for charity), historian and researcher Manuel Tapia Ledesma hosted a ceremony in the Association of Municipalities of the Campo de Gibraltar HQ as a tribute to Armenta and his ambition to build a society governed by the principles of positivist philosophy in the late nineteenth century – a concept that proved to be fleeting and too advanced for that time.

As a professional teacher, intellectual and student of French philosopher Auguste Comte, Antonio Armenta spread his ideas from the ground floor of the old Salmerón Street (or Calle del Río) number 10, where he gave private lessons and where he had a respectable following in the city including figures such as Manuel Cabezas, Sebastián Sánchez, Domingo Andrés, Rafael Pagüe, Francisco Broto and Juan Morejón.

“This man finished his evening classes, and after tidying up, saying his goodbyes to his students and two assistant teachers, his son Melchor Armenta and Angelio Benítez, he would go up to the upper part of the house where he lived. There, together with his wife, Margarita Moreno, he recovered his strength and waited for the arrival of his colleagues, among whom he vehemently promoted during his discussions his conviction that the solution to the problems of their society lay in the principles of positivist philosophy.”

Determined to rescue Armenta and other local personalities from oblivion, Tapia Ledesma explains that, “like Pérez Galdós, in the national sphere, or Emilio Santacana, to mention another intellectual from Algeciras, Antonio Armenta was a man who was ahead of his time, defending ideals which were thought unsuitable for that time, such as equality between men and women. A dreamer who sought to change society by using altruism, order and progress as tools, and therefore, a man misunderstood by the majority of a society governed by religious and military rules.”

El Bujeo Antonio Armenta

Even so, Armenta and his disciples recorded their thoughts, “baked in long and intense hours of reflections and speeches,” and tried to put the theory into practice on lands between Algeciras and Tarifa, in the area of Dehesa del Bujeo, popularly known as Venta El Bujeo.

Tapia Ledesma has tried to throw some light on this “social utopia”, which was called Colonia Armenta, and which was set in motion on May 21st, 1894, when the so called “seven elected” signed a document through which they were incorporated to found and establish a self-sufficient colony.

Armenta was 54 at that time. The purchase of the land was formalized on June 20th of the same year, for the price of 1,500 pesetas, and the construction of the settlement was endorsed – in their presence and signature as witnesses – by two other well-known figures: the industrialist and merchant José Soto and Manuel Sanguineti Sambuceti, administrator of the Civil Hospital and a very respected man in the city.

“There are few documents and many things that remain unknown, and it is inevitable to wonder how, in a city as hierarchical as Algeciras at the time (in which morality was dictated from the pulpit and the military hierarchy controlled everything) the implantation of what this group called “colony” was possible, but there is no evidence to prove that there were any attempts at repressing this project or that there were altercations,” the historian explains. As per the fact that the experiment lasted only three years – until 1897, specifically, shortly before the crisis of 98 (the Spanish American War)– he blames possible financial causes (since it was bound to be an expensive project), coupled with the uncertainty caused by the international political situation.

“What exactly happened between May 21st, 1894 and October 27th, 1897, to make this dream come to an end?” Tapia Ledesma asks… But this question will probably lead to another book.

Antonio Armenta’s ‘Social Utopia’ in El Bujeo, Tarifa Uncovered | Lecture by Historian Manuel Tapia Ledesma | Campo de Gibraltar

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