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granada la bella blog

About this blog

Here you will find my personal view about selected events relating to Granada, 'the city where anything is possible', Granada, 'la bella y la bestia', and particularly about the city's uneasy relationship with its greatest son, Federico Garcia Lorca, who alternatively loved and loathed it.

Palacio de los Vargas

Historic Granada Posted on Thu, February 21, 2013 14:55:47

If you think my warning in #blog30 about the
inability of the Direccion de Bienes de
Interés Cultural
, the body entrusted with safeguarding Granada’s historical
and cultural patrimony, to guarantee the survival of some of the catalogued
Lorca sites is exaggerated, let the following be a lesson to you.

In a narrow little street known as Horno de
Marina, off San Jeronimo Street, a stone’s throw from the cathedral, there is a
sixteenth century building that was the home to the aristocratic Vargas family,
the Palacio de los Vargas, catalogued, it could hardly be otherwise, as a Bien
de Interés Cultural – a cultural asset.

I came across the splendid but neglected
building by chance several years ago, taking a short cut through the centre of
the city, and noted with dismay its lamentable state of disrepair, with rats
scurrying among the rubbish piled up against the dilapidated facade.

So it was with relief that a few years later
I heard about project to convert it into another luxury hotel, rather like what
had happened to the Convent of Saint Paula nearby in the Gran Via. What state
would that have been in today if AC Hotels had not stepped in to halt its
decline? They have done hideous things to the ground floor facade but the upper
floors facade has been tastefully restored and there is no doubt that there is
much within that has been saved – for their five-star guests, if not for us.

In 2007 a company called Hoteles Casas y
Palacios de España, with a track record of making posh hotels out of historical
buildings, including two notable cases in the Jewish Quarters of Sevilla and
Córdoba respectively, presented a proposal to the Granada city council to build
a 70-room hotel complex, the centrepiece of which would be the rehabilitated
Vargas Palace. The council must have bent over backwards to oblige, for
bureaucratic hurdles were overcome with unusual ease and permission was granted
for the protected palace along with deteriorating neighbouring residences to be
incorporated into the new hotel. Within a year the project got the go-ahead and
work could begin on clearing up the debris and restoring the palace to
something of its former glory.

I noted the improvement with satisfaction.
But then, as the crisis wore on, the hotel company lost interest in this
project. After getting building permission nothing much happened. The owners
did not bother to pursue the irksome paperwork inevitable in such cases.
Deadlines passed and now the premises have been taken over by the Municipal
Register, a first step towards an impending compulsory purchase order.

The abandonment and deterioration of all the
adjoining properties involved became more and more apparent until, almost
predictably, over Christmas, the building caught fire. Squatters, who it seems
had little difficulty getting into the Palace through a hole round the back of
the building, are being blamed for the fire.

The fire has visibly affected the iron
forgings on the first floor, the carved wooden roofing over the galleries in
the central patio, and the double doors to the room where the fire started.

Now the
Council has issued a decree (bravo!) ordering the owners to adopt urgent
measures to prevent any further deterioration to the renaissance building –
such as ”shoring up the affected structures” and “closing all the holes to
stop squatters getting in”: ordering the stable doors to be closed
after the horse has bolted, in other words.

owners say that they are abandoning their plans to convert the palace into a
luxury hotel ‘for now’ – lack of economic resources, they say. What is apparent
is that they are happy to let the unique renaissance palace decay, risking that
the final ruin of the building become a fait
and so justifying its final abandonment.

It has been the tactic of property developers
in Granada since the nineteenth century whenever the task of protecting the
city’s cultural heritage comes into conflict with their private interests
(making money). Historic buildings have been left to rot until their
deteriation is such that they are no longer considered worth salvaging. This
was the case of the Arco de las Orejas, a medieval gateway that led into Plaza
Bib Rambla. It was knocked down in 1884 despite protests and initiatives to
preserve it, including declaring it a national monument in 1881. All to no

The factual info comes from Lola Quero Granada 13.02.2013 but the
cynical inferences are all mine.

Blogger Granadino
has written a very
fine appreciation of the Vargas Palace in his highly recommendable series “El Reino de Granada en la
Edad Moderna” (in Spanish, of course), available at

GRAN VIA de Colon

Historic Granada Posted on Thu, February 21, 2013 14:38:45

Granada’s Gran Via
was the street that did more than any other ‘to deform the character of the
people of Granada’. So wrote the poet Federico Garcia Lorca in his lead
contribution to gallo, the local
cultural magazine that he nurtured and published in 1926.

His opinion was neither original nor unique. It was a view
shared by all like-minded intellectuals and artists living in the city in those

Its origins go back to the strongly worded criticism of
Angel Ganivet, local guru for Lorca’s generation, published in his influential
essay Granada la bella published in
1896, two years before its author’s suicide.

Ganivet’s views on contemporary urban development in Granada
were scathing in their contemptuous sarcasm. Fortunately in Granada, he said,
there was normally no money for grandiose urban projects and in that way the
greatest calamities that might have befallen the city had been avoided. But
sometimes, alas!, money was available.

This was the case in the development of the Gran Via. Popularly
known as “Sugar Avenue” – la Gran Via del Azucar – this strident thoroughfare
came to express the dominance and self-confidence of the sugar bourgeoisie,
those who made their fortune via the sugar beet industry that became so economically
important after the loss, in 1898, of the colonies in Cuba and the Philippines
and sugar cane imports. (Historia de Granada, 344.) Lorca’s father belonged to
this bourgeoisie and indeed he moved into a flat at number 34 for one year in
1916. One surmises that Federico Garcia Senior did not feel at home among these
people, who were considerably less liberal and progressive than he.

But it’s not just that this street was the vulgar expression
of a rather vulgar bourgeoisie. In order to construct the Gran Via, a whole
neighbourhood was ruthlessly demolished, a neighbourhood with its roots in
pre-Christian times, with its inimitable style of buildings and urban layout;
it was a deliberate and abrupt break in a historical tradition that the sugar
bourgeoisie felt nothing but disdain for. (Historia de Granada 347.)

This is what Lorca and his ilk objected to so vehemently
with regard to the radical urban project that had just, alas!, been brought to
fruition. And as we said, it was not just his personal opinion. A couple of
years earlier, in 1923, Leopoldo Torres Balbas, architect who headed the
conservation work on the Alhambra in those years, voiced the anger of his
fellows in a professional Madrid publication writing about “Granada, the
disappearing city”. Here he lamented bitterly the loss of the aesthetic and
historical spirit of the city through the loss of its historical buildings ‘as
if memories were being methodically wiped out’. The Gran Via was at the centre
of his scorn, for the way in which it cut through the old city with ‘an
extraordinary lack of understanding and respect’, ignoring the special nature
of the city’s inhabitants, its history, its climate, its beauty. It had become,
he said, a monotonous street, tiring to walk down, lined by high buildings with
cement and plaster decoration, where the sun burns relentlessly in summer and
in winter it is swept by icy cold winds. (Quoted from an article in the Ideal
newspaper, 9.2.97)

Ganivet experienced the beginning of the demolition of the
old city in the 1990s. By the 1920s the disaster was complete. By 1918 the last
of the grand houses on the Gran Via had been handed over to its proud owner. (H
de G 347.)

In July 1936 the residents of these fine new houses,
conscious of being the legitimate target of the ‘reds’ (working class), would
be quaking in their boots for 48 hours until the troops were finally marched
out of their barracks in support of Franco’s nationalistic uprising. The ‘reds’
had already burnt down a number of buildings that symbolised their exploitation
and oppression, very much as these grand houses in the heart of the new city