José Monje Cruz, Camarón de la Isla, is the character who best represents the city of San Fernando internationally, and for this reason, preserving the honor of the world flamenco myth, a route has been designed in his hometown that shows where he was born and grew up in his early years.
He was raised in the poor neighbourhood of Las Callejuelas, whose streets were an extension of the houses, a safe space where children would freely play and run around. This modest neighbourhood, of sailor tradition, is structured into slightly steep cobblestone parallel streets that descend from the Church of Our Lady of Carmen to the marshes and the salt marshes of Sancti Petri tributary.
Its inhabitants, mainly salt farmers, fishermen or seafood pickers lived in modest and simple houses. There were also old warehouses and storerooms, small workshops (ironworkers, dockside carpenters, rope makers,…) and “güichis”, bars in which the men would meet at the end of their working day.
The limestone facades of his native house hid a universe shared by six families. The house was made up of several rooms around a courtyard used by neighbours. They shared the common amenities situated in the courtyard: kitchen, well and latrine.
Today, the native house of Camarón tries to recreate a little known period of his childhood and youth, stages that influenced the formation of the person who would come to be a universal legend of flamenco.
Camarón heard the first saetas and fandangos as a newborn. His father, Juan Luis Monje Núñez, a fan of cante jondo, earned a living as an ironworker, a job well regarded by the traveller community.
Camarón de la Isla was born at number 29 Calle del Carmen, in the Barrio de las Callejuelas. There you can see the humble origins, with the architecture typical of a simple area, of this artist, the son of a gypsy blacksmith.
Las Callejuelas, is a popular island neighborhood born under the protection of the primitive Convento del Carmen. From the top of its steep streets you can see unique views of the marshes and salt pans of the Caño de Sancti Petri, where the people of the neighborhood traditionally fished and shellfished. In this neighbourhood, with a seafaring tradition, neighbors’ patios abound.
In his birthplace, an attempt has been made to recreate a little-known period of time in José’s life, his childhood and youth, stages that influenced the formation of the man who became a universal myth of flamenco.
Today the singer’s hometown has the Camarón de La Isla Interpretation Center, a landmark architectural building with an attractive exhibition space: modern, innovative and interactive.
In it we review the artistic and personal career of José Monje with more than 5 hours of audiovisual content available to the visitor, divided into three sections: Origin, Legend and Revolution.
This center has an audiovisual museum collection of more than 30 hours of video, which will serve to keep alive the study of Camarón de la Isla and the revolution that his figure meant for flamenco singing.
“I was born on the Island, I grew up at the foot of a forge. My mother’s name is Juana, my father’s name is Luís and he used to play gypsy alcayatitas”
Camarón heard the first saetas and fandangos as soon as he was born. His father, Juan Luís Monje Núñez, was a first-class fan of cante jondo. He made a living as a blacksmith, a job well regarded by the gypsy community.
Every day he went to his forge, first on Orlando Street in the Las Callejuelas area, where he lived, and then on Amargura Street. And it is that little José had to go from a very young age to the blacksmith shop “to give the bellows and stoke the fire” and later accompany his parents to sell the product of the forge through the villages, especially the gypsy spikes, authentic filigrees of iron that decorate so many Andalusian patios.
La Venta de Vargas is an obligatory place where all those who, coming from abroad, wish to discover San Fernando in its most typical and genuine culinary aspects, as well as in its curiosities and essences, come to, since La Venta de Vargas is a place that, far of all sophistication, it houses within its walls, its ceramics and half points authentic island flavor…
In 1959, in La Venta, Niña de los Peines and Manolo Caracol, listen to Camarón sing when he was only 8 years old. It was here that Camarón forged his early years listening to Caracol, his brother Manuel de él, Niño de la Calzá and the owner, María Picardo. From those moments and from many others, many photographs are preserved in the sale, which in addition to being a food business, can be considered without fear of exaggeration as an authentic museum of Flemish art.
This inn was founded in 1921, then it was called “Venta Eritaña” and has been operating under the name of Venta de Vargas since 1935. With this name, in honor of its founder Don Juan Vargas, it acquired fame and prestige through the years. Behind him, Dña María, his wife, knew how to give La Venta that traditional and old character, – with elf included – and pass the baton to his nephews José and Lolo Picado, who doing good the motto that “no one is strange here” , have given continuity to that mood and gastronomic sense, “in the purest Andalusian style”
In the square in front of the sale you can see the monument that the city pays to its favorite son.
Monument made by the islander Antonio Aparicio Mota when he was 27 years old. Author of other works exhibited on the island.
On a pedestal more than two meters high, covered with oyster stone, stands the bronze figure of Camarón. It measures about 1.75 meters tall and weighs about 500 kilos. It is a single sculptural block that fuses the seat with the person, leaving the chair to become a sculpture as well.
It represents the famous island singer José Monge Cruz, with a calm attitude, with a lost and concentrated gaze, thus avoiding the typical representation of the outstretched arm. Sitting on a bulrush chair with his head slightly turned to the left. He shows serene and meditative countenance. One hand rests on his leg while the other hangs on his left knee.
The chair is an abstraction of suggestive forms where expressionist and figurative textures are found, an amalgam of forms that synthesize the city of San Fernando, showing shells, oysters, cane, etc…, which act as worthy bearers of the genius of flamenco.
The bronze of the boy, 1.35 meters tall and weighing about 60 kilos, is plastically a warmer and softer image. It contrasts with the hard gesture of the cantaor.
Its production began in June 1991. In 1992 it was completed, coinciding with the death of Camarón. It is permanently placed in his location on the first anniversary of his death in July 1993.
This sculpture was made in the author’s studio at the time in the city of Seville at Calle Torneo, 68. The work was transported and taken to the Universal Exhibition of 1992, which was then held in the city of Seville.
Camarón has always been devoted to the Nazarene, whose image is venerated in the Main Church. “CAMARON went there just after the wedding to get married alone – explains Manuel Ruíz who accompanied him that day – he came to tell the Nazarene and spoke to him: I’ve got married, do you think it’s okay? I’m here to give me your blessing and he’ll He commented that the Nazarene had given it to him….”
Finally, José Monge Cruz sadly passed away on July 2, 1992. “I would like to be buried in San Fernando” the cantaor had declared and his wish came true.
In the municipal cemetery is the mausoleum that always gathers thousands of followers and is always perfumed by the flowers that its unconditional ones carry.
The general design of the work together with the relief of the Catafalque, which represents a panoramic view of the city, is the work of the island artist Manuel Correa Forero. The sculpture of Camarón was entrusted to Alfonso Berraquero García, also from the Island, and the iron forging works to Francisco Fernández de Jerez. The work done in stone, tuba grape green granite, is the work of Mármoles Aillon de Cádiz and the bronze foundry of Salteras Sevilla.
Finally, the Peña Camarón de la Isla, which was inaugurated after his death in 1995.
The construction of this place began in October 1991, two months after Camarón laid the first stone.
It is a two-story building, the nerve center that becomes the cathedral of the figure of Camarón, a museum with hundreds of photos and memorabilia where you can also enjoy the Andalusian cuisine of the bay and the song and dance of disciples of the genius of shrimp.
Annually, the “Camarón de la Isla Memorial Cante Contest” is held from September to December.
The Camarón de la Isla
The Cultural Meridian is based on the singular history of the city of San Fernando, which is the military history of Spain, the constitutional history, the history of the great flamenco singer, the history of sailing and of the study of the stars.
San Fernando, Cradle of Modern Constitutionalism, played an important role during the War of Independence, specifically in 1810. The then Villa de la Real Isla de León and its neighbour the city of Cádiz were the only territory free from the French invader.
La Isla de León was born in the 18th century thanks to merchants who invested their profits from trade with the Indies and to the centralisation of the modern facilities of the Navy in the area, both because of its privileged geographical location and because of its traditional ship repair and supply activities.