A brief history of Spain’s slave trade via Callejón de los Negros, Cádiz

Author: Leah Pattem

We don’t know for sure what the origin of the famous Callejón de los Negros (Alley of the Blacks) is, but from the port, this street is the closest access route into the historic centre of Cádiz, and therefore was perhaps the main street through which slaves would commute.

At the end of the 17th century, one in seven inhabitants of the Cádiz was a slave, and 63% of them were sub-Saharan African. Slaves were a status symbol – they were fashionable among the wealthy. In Spain, most of the enslaved people were in Cádiz. They were typically domestic workers, and, in the case of women, this also implied sexual exploitation.

African slaves also worked unloading merchandise in the port, or even helped disembark ship passengers by carrying them on their shoulders. Slaves also helped build the iconic fortified walls of Cádiz old town.

Even though the last great official slave ship arrived in Cádiz in 1734, the trade would continue even after being outlawed in the 19th century. Following prohibition, the Atlantic routes changed and set course for the Americas. Havana and Brazil were major receiving ports, selling slaves in public auctions as labour for sugar and coffee plantations.

Santander in Cantabria and Cádiz in Andalucía were part of a huge clandestine circuit that used small boats which could land on the Cuban coast. The authorities were involved and profited greatly from this human trafficking – both in Cuba and in Cádiz.

Cádiz, one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Spain still clearly benefits from the ownership and then sales of slaves to Cuba. But today, the only visible trace of the people whose lives and labour gave Cádiz its heritage, legacy, and wealth, is a street named after the colour of their skin.


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