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.

The
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
accompli
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
avail.

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

http://1000-reinogranada.blogspot.com.es/2012/06/palacio-de-los-vargas.html