The largest square in A Coruna is surrounded by busy cafes and bars, protected by arched porticoes, and overlooked by the monumental town hall. In the centre stands a statue of its namesake, Maria Pita who, up until 1589, was an insignificant wife of a butcher.
A few years before she became the heroine of the city, King Philip II of Spain decided to try and force England to revert to its Catholic faith. Queen Elizabeth I had recently beheaded Mary Queen of Scots, who Philip had hoped would claim the English throne, and in retaliation, Philip decided to assemble the largest fleet of warships in Spanish history with the main objective of invading England. However, Francis Drake heard about this plan and launched a counter-attack, sailing into Cadiz in 1587 and burning the parked fleet. Undeterred, a Spanish Armada of 130 ships set sail from A Coruna in July 1588 with 10,000 sailors and 19,000 soldiers on board. Following a fierce battle in the English Channel, the defeated Spanish had to circumnavigate the British Isles in order to return home to Spain. When they finally limped back into port they had lost half their ships and most of their soldiers.
However, for Drake the fight was not yet over and he sailed 30 ships into A Coruna one night in 1589. Maria Pita spotted the fleet and raised the alarm, enabling the local citizens to resist the attack. She also, supposedly, captured Drakes flag and soon became the symbol of heroism in the city. Who says “girl power” is a 21st century invention?