Gran Via

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LA GRAN VIA DE COLON

The Gran Vía: the street that according to Lorca “contributed so much to the deformation of the character of the people of Granada”. He was by no means alone in his condemnation of this modern thoroughfare. One of his contemporaries who shared this point of view was Leopoldo Torres Balbás, the Madrid architect who held the post of conservation architect for the Alhambra.

In 1923 Torres Balbás, published a long article in the Madrid Architectural Magazine called "Granada, the disappearing city". In it he attacked the loss of "the historic memory" of the city, saying it was as if memories of the past were being systematically wiped out, and he complained about the disappearance of the city's aesthetic and historic spirit. This is what he said about the Gran Vía: "La Gran Vía de Colón is a straight street, 822 metres long and 20 metres wide. Today it is an ugly, modern street, without any form of perspective or personality, tiring to walk down, in which the only thing to distract the eye is an erect cypress left in one of the pavements as a memory to the convent of Santa Paula. The old city was cut through by the said Gran Vía with extraordinary ignorance and contempt, without any respect for the character of the town, nor for its history, its climate, or its beauty. This monotonous street, so tiring to walk down, edged by tall buildings with decorations of plaster and cement, is scorched by the sun in summer and swept by icy winds in winter."

 

In the first decades of the twentieth century, the Gran Vía became a fashionable residential area for the new bourgeoisie. As if aknowledging his own social status, Lorca's father brought his family to live here, at nº34, for a year in 1916, opposite the convent of Santa Paula, where the lonely cypress stood. We can suppose that Lorca's liberal-minded father didn't feel at his ease in this ambient, among "the worst bourgeoisie of Spain" as Lorca was to put it in an interview in 1936, only a few months before he was murdered at the hands of this same bourgeois class that he despised.

 

In Lorca's day, nobody would dream of walking down the Gran Vía. They caught the tram. The solitary cypress is long gone and it looked as if the Convent of Santa Paula would go the same way, until a hotel chain bought it and converted it into the city's first five-star hotel. The compromise solution of the facade is of dubious sucess but we cannot but feel relieved that elements of the medieval convent has been preserved.

Angel Ganivet, whose aesthetic view of Granada Lorca inherited, had been a coherent critic of the barbaric disregard city planners had for the invaluable historic memory of the old city. Ganivet had sought comfort in the observation that many of the urban projects that so horrified him never saw the light of day because of lack of money. If we had had enough money, he commented, we would have left our descendents with more than enough reasons to despise us. But, he lamented, sometimes there is enough money and the damage is done.

 

Ganivet's were prophetic words, for a few years later, at the turn of the century, about the time of his suicide, the bourgeoisie of Granada, backed by a brilliant economic situation brought about by the boom in the local sugar industry, felt powerful enough to consider themselves on a par with the bourgeoisies of other Spanish and European cities. They, too, wanted a boulevard as in Baron Hausmann's Paris. Like other major Spanish cities, Granada, too, clamoured for its own Gran Vía. That the Gran Vía of Granada swept away a whole neighbourhood that dated from Arabic times and with it irreplacable buildings and a good part of the history of the city itself did not bother them in the slightest. Demolition started in 1895 and by 1901 the first house in the proud new city arterey had been errected.

 

[It is symptomatic of the provinciality of the local bourgeoisie that the street's most prestigous building, which today houses the Caja Rural, is the exact copy of a Parisian original. This is a far cry from the flamboyant and adventurous avantgard architecture that Gaudí was designing in harmony with the euphoria of the dynamic Barcelona entrepreneuring classes.]

It was along this arid street that Franco's rebels marched into the city centre after having taken control of the city's garrison on a hot summer afternoon on 20th July, 1936. One resident, F. Pérez de Sevilla y Ayala, who lived at nº 46, described the jubilation that broke out when they saw the troops approach. One can easily imagine the relief they felt reading his account of the events. "From mid-afternoon, Saturday, July 18th, until the same time on Monday, 20th, Granada suffered two whole days of anxiety that surpassed in intensity any that had gone before. There was a coin in the air, and there was no knowing which way it was going to land. The door to our flat was bolted and we took turns to stand guard, armed with a pistol and a revolver. It was said that the miners of Alquife were coming to Granada to blow up the Gran Vía, whose buildings, to the revolutionaries, stood for the bourgeois way of life in the city." This day which brought such relief to the residents of the Gran Vía marked the beginning of a calvary, of course, for Lorca and thousands of other lberal-minded citizens of Granada.