The shaping of our waterways goes hand in hand with the shaping of our cities is the argument of John Vidal`s Guardian article referred to in the previous blog. According to this account, many waterways (rivers, streams, canals) were condemned to neglect and oblivion and buried underground, so the business of overground traffic could flow better through the city. But in more recent times, the hegemony of the motor car has come to an end, and there is a trend to recover – to ‘daylight’ subterranean waterways as part of a gentrifying process which prioritises a greener and more human-friendly, car-free and pedestrianised environment. The Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul is a classic example of this trend. (https://blog.granadalabella.eu/?p=116)

Here, let’s place our own River Darro within this process. The river goes underground by the church San Gil y Santa Ana and it remains underground all the way until it joins the Genil, following the entire course of the roads Reyes Católicos and Acera de Darro, a stretch of well over one kilometre.

The Darro disappears underground. Agencia Albaicín Granada.
The Darro Underground

However, we cannot directly blame the demise of the River Darro on the rise of the motorcar. It was buried long before the popularising of the automobile, in the 1880s, and the reasons given for it were environmental and hygienic rather than anything else. From Arabic times (prior to 1492), the Zacatín and the Alcaicería, on the left bank of the river, had been home to a number of small workshops for a variety of craftsmen. The Revés del Zacatín, the Back of the Zacatin, looked onto the part of the river that now runs under the street Reyes Católicos,  and all the waste from these small workshops was dumped from here directly into the river. A similar situation can still be seen today in Fez, Morocco. 

So it seems to keep the river clean, they buried it!

A secondary reason for covering the river was to try to control the problem of flooding and this involved extending it beyond Puerta Real. There the river swings quite sharply left and this gave rise to the clumsy solution of the Embovedado, or Vaulted Way, because, in order to span the width of the river here, the surface of the road had to be vaulted, to such an extent that they say you could only see the heads of the people walking on the other side of the road.

The Darro, Puerta Real, 19th Century
Work on the Vaulting, between Puerta Real and the River Genil

The covering up of the river was ridiculed and criticised in powerful terms by Angel Ganivet (1865 – 1898), such an important influence on the thinking and attitudes of the forward-looking sectors of subsequent generations, though not influential enough, or well enough understood, to affect the decision-making of local politicians and town planners.

Ganivet argued strongly against the project of the Embovedado. If this part of the river was covered over, he said, it would cause a lot of harm without bringing about any real improvement. The width of the river here made up for the lack of trees to give shade, because it created a kind of mini-climate, cooler and fresher than in the street. The covering of the river would give rise to a wide street, sacrificing the freshness and charm of the river. The street would be nothing more than a prolongation of the Reyes Católicos, vulgar in itself and out-of-character in the context of the shady and narrow streets that lead off it.

[Si para facilitar la circulación se continuara la boveda hasta el extremo de la Carrera se causarían muchos daños sin ninguna seria compensación. El río suple allí con ventaja la falta de árboles y siendo grande la distancia entre las casas el efecto es si la calle fuera estrecha. Con el Embovedado la calle sería más ancha, perdida su frescura y su gracia, vendría a ser como una prolongación de la calle Méndez Núñez (Reyes Católicos), vulgar en sí y ridícula en relación con las calles tortuosas, obscuras que hasta ella descienden. Yo conozco muchas ciudades … Granada la bella.]

 And this criticism was followed by his famous observation that there were many famous cities with rivers running through them, but only in Granada had they hit upon the perverse idea of covering theirs over. The idea, he mocks, could only have been conceived at the depths of the darkest night. Ganivet was not entirely right, though, for, as we have seen, covering over waterways was part of a trend that prioritised overground motorised traffic, which only in the last couple of decades is being reversed.

It wasn’t really until the 1940s that the definitive re-shaping of Granada’s city centre took place, during which time the mayor’s office was occupied by Antonio Gallego Burín. Possibly Gallego Burín’s greatest achievement in his tenure was the provision of safe drinking tap water for the city, but what we want to focus on here is the re-modelling of the area around Puerta Real.

While claiming to be working in the spirit of Angel Ganivet, his urban development plans set about demolishing the crooked, narrow, shady streets emblematic of the old Granada, whose values Ganivet espoused, with the main intention of getting rid once and for all of the low-life Manigua neighbourhood with its brothels and street-corner prostitution, and incidentally erasing part of the old Jewish Quarter, making way instead for the imposing and modern calle Ángel Ganivet (!), inaugurated in 1943 by General Francisco Franco himself.

Calle Ángel Ganivet. Today. Granada Hoy.

Gallego Burín’s Ángel Ganivet Street is uncompromisingly broad and straight, demonstrating little of the old Granada values, though in all fairness it must be said that the project did tackle the problem of the intense summer heat by means of the covered arcaded walkways flanking the street, somewhat in the Italian city portico style. Nevertheless, in spite of its name, the street is more in the spirit of the fin de siècle Gran Vía – that smashes its way through the network of medieval streets that characterised the old Granada – than in the spirit of Ganivet’s urbanistic manifesto (Granada la bella, 1896). Nor did the mayor heed Ganivet’s fierce criticism of the Embovedado,for although its excessive vaulting was now flattened, the widening of the paved area would inevitably diminish any respite from the scorching high summer sun. The street here did indeed become little more than a prolongation of the ‘vulgar’ Reyes Católicos.

With the implementation of Gallego Burín’s reform project, any attempt at recuperating the freshness and charm of the river was abandoned forever. Or at least until today. And the ground was laid for the urban planners’ abject deference to the motor car whose rise and rise would remain unresisted until, by the end of the century, Granada was virtually choked by the uncontrolled access of private traffic. Now, happily, this tendency is being rolled back and as it is we see a chance emerging that the Darro will itself one day be daylighted, returned to the surface, not only in its Reyes Católicos stretch, but all the way from Santa Ana to the River Genil.

Puerta Real. No room for a river here?