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
years.

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
did.