Mina square was created in the mid-nineteenth century, from the urbanisation of the primitive garden and nursing building of the San Francisco Convent, once converted into a public space after the Disentailment of Mendizábal. It was built in 1838 and the town councils of 1841 and 1842 verified the decorative works, which they carried out with such diligence and care, that according to the accounts, which were published on 25th November, had only cost 178,272 reales de vellón with 20 maravedíes.”
The project was started by the prestigious Porto-born architect Torcuato Benjumeda. The works continued later under the direction and plans of Juan Daura, leaving the square structured in a square shape with four diagonal streets that crossed in the centre, forming an arbour. The aim was to use the space between each of these streets as gardens.
Due to a lack of municipal money, the work had to be financed with funds raised from the materials of the demolished former public infirmary and also from the contribution of the residents of the square. Once finished, the Municipal Corporation decided to place a statue of General Espoz y Mina, hero of the War of Independence, in the centre, but which no longer exists.
Francisco Espoz y Mina, was born in 1781 and died in 1836. He was a brave guerrilla fighter of the war of independence. After the war in 1814 with the withdrawal of the French army and the return of Fernando II, he opposed the dissolution of the guerrillas, placing himself on the side of the liberal cause. Thus, he led a conspiracy in Pamplona (1814), in a failed attempt to proclaim the Constitution of 1812.
After the failed attempt, he had to take refuge in France. He was one of the few generals that faced the Duke of Angouleme, when he entered Spain at the head of the “One Hundred Thousand Sons of San Luis” to restore the absolutist regime of Fernando VII. He was forced to surrender in November 1823, fleeing to England, and later settling in Paris.
Princess Maria Christina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies recognised his military rank, and appointed him Viceroy of Navarre during the Carlist wars, subsequently renouncing this position and taking over the captaincy general of Catalonia where he would contain several Carlist outbreaks until his death in Barcelona in 1836 .
The name of the square comes from this general, since it was always called <em>General Espoz y Mina Square</em>, but with time, the first part of the name was lost and became known as <em>Plaza de Mina (Mina Square)</em>. In 1937, the City Council of Cadiz agreed to name it “<em>Plaza del Generalísimo Franco” (General Franco Square)</em>, although it is still known today as “Plaza de Mina”.
The original square, whose outer perimeter is the same as the current one, had three rows of trees, which formed two tiled streets, edged by material seats with cast iron backs, which were brought from Seville. In addition, throughout its interior there was a wide iron arbour, leaving the centre of the walk with a stone pavement.
Over the years, the square has undergone slight remodelling, adapting to the tastes of each era. A good example of this are the benches. Initially they were made of cast iron; Later, marble ones were installed, and nowadays, you will find them made of stone.
In 1861, two gardens were made, with a platform or stage for music and the arbours were removed. Later on, the platform was also removed and a fountain with a wide basin was built, which was later on replaced by a flowerbed with a large Bunya Pine tree in its centre.
In 1897, when Sir Benito Arroyo was mayor, another transformation of the square was made, to give it a more modern look and feel, in keeping with the era.
The centre of the square has been the one that has experienced the most changes. A bandstand was built for music and was remodelled over time. The concrete slab that covered it was removed and a dome was put in its place. After a while, the bandstand was abandoned, then removed. Now, there is a central flowerbed with a large lamppost. Earlier, a candelabra had been placed there, which was later moved to Loreto Square (today known as San Francisco square) and then to Merced Square, and the gardens were enclosed by iron railings. Also at times, the streets were closed off by lightweight gates during the night.
Also taking advantage of spaces which were allocated to the Franciscans, in the wing of a cloister, the architect Juan Daura raised the building that until recently hosted the Academy of Fine Arts, part of the Provincial Museum of Cadiz and the School of Applied Arts and Artistic Trades. With its trademark horizontal façade, the Museum of Cadiz occupies one whole side of the square, offering an ordered and symmetrical set of bays while at the same time emphasising the scarce adornment to the access door. Owing to its neoclassic style, it was inaugurated as Academy of Fine Arts in 1838.