Dark Valencia will be a series where we will uncover stories linked with places that are seldom explained in a typical tourist guide of Valencia. You’ve probably walked past many of these places without realising that once upon a time all that was heard in that spot was the bone chilling screams of people and cheers from the bloodthirsty crowd. The physical scars of these events have mainly been erased but there are still a few tell-tale signs; you just need a local to tell you where to look.
To kick off this series let’s start with Margarida Borràs, an unfortunate victim publically executed in Plaza del Mercado (Market Square) where countless people were either hung, strangled by garrote or burned alive at the stake. As the Central Market is now located on this square, the once macabre nature of this area has been forgotten. Well, that is unless you are a vegan who cries at the sight of countless hams hanging in the market… Margarida was assigned male at birth and christened Miquel but throughout her life she identified as female and used to openly act and dress accordingly to her gender identity. Her father was a wealthy notary from Mallorca and therefore she mingled with the upper crust of the Valencian elite. However, not even her high social status could prevent the terrible fate she would ultimately have to face.
The execution of Margarida is included in a ledger belonging to a priest by the name of Melcior Miralles and it is the only tangible evidence we have of this execution. The entry for Margarida is rare because it is in much more detail than what was normally recorded; most probably because she was well known in Valencia and didn’t hide her identity. Margarida was imprisoned, tortured and charged with “inappropriate activities” and sodomy after being discovered dressed in female clothing in at least 10 different homes. A few men, most likely her lovers, were also apprehended and tortured but their names and fate shall forever remain a mystery. On 28th July 1460, Margarida was taken to the Plaza del Mercado where she was half-dressed in men’s clothing with her genitals exposed in an effort to shame her and hanged to death while bloodthirsty people watched as some sort of macabre spectacle. After her death, her lifeless body was humiliated and disposed of like trash into a mass grave.
Margarida has not been forgotten in Valencia, at least in the LGBT Community. There is an award in her name granted to those who stand out in their fight for equality regardless of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This award has been given out annually to individuals and entities since 1995 by one of Valencia’s LGBT+ Groups known as Lambda.
Her memory will live on further as on 17th May 2017 a plaque dedicated to Margarida Borràs was put up on the façade of the Mercado Central (Valencian Central Market) located in the same square where she was shamelessly executed. This date is especially significant because it is also the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia. The plaque reads:
“In memory of Margarida Borràs, executed in this Square on 28th July 1460 because of her gender identity, and all other victims of homophobia, transphobia & biphobia. Valencia 17th May 2017”
Time can not be turned back but it is up to us nowadays to fight against injustice and hopefully learn from our past mistakes so that we do not turn into the savages of Valencia’s, and the world’s, dark past. We have come a long way since 1460 in terms of equality but there are still, even in our day and age, many ignorant people who vilify the LGBT+ Community. This needs to stop regardless of one’s personal and/or religious beliefs; respect for our fellow human beings should be paramount.