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Angel Ganivet's “dark side” of Granada

One place where Angel Ganivet's idea of the dark side of Granada - Granada la bestia - in reference to the architectural and urbanistic atrocities committed against the old Moorish aesthetics of the city is most apparent is in the construction of the Gran Vía de Colón. Angel Ganivet was a coherent critic of the barbaric disregard city planners had for what he called the invaluable historic memory of the old city and the Gran Vía epitomises this barbarism. As the leading figure in the contemporary cultural scene in Granada at the end of the century he had a huge influence on Lorca's generation.

Page update 11/01/2020

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Page update 11/01/2020

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Lorca’s Generation and the Gran Vía

One member of that generation who echoed the words and ideas expressed by Angel Ganivet in his essay Granada la bella 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 which he complained about the irretrievable loss of the city's historical and aesthetic character. It was as if memories of the past were being systematically and deliberately eliminated from the urban landscape, he wrote, and this is what he said about the Gran Vía in particular:

  • The 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.

Torres Balbás was anything but alone in his condemnation of this modern thoroughfare. Most of his contemporaries shared his point of view. For Lorca, for example, this was simply the street that “contributed so much to the deformation of the character of the people of Granada”.

The aerial photo shows very well the “extraordinary ignorance and contempt” with which this brave new street cuts through the old city with no attempt to blend into the existing urban contours or character. And what is worse, it doesn’t go anywhere. Maybe it was part of a broader city plan which was abandoned. But the fact is the imposing wide, long street ends abruptly at the Plaza Isabel la Católica, as it runs up against the hideous large building that houses the Banco de Santander,  reflecting the Isabela/Columbus statue in its metalised façade.

Be that as it may, in Lorca's day, nobody would dream of walking down the monotonous 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 not so many years ago and converted it into the city's first five-star hotel. The compromise solution of the facade is of dubious success but we cannot but feel relieved that elements of the medieval convent have been preserved, if only for its guests. And what I do like are the streetlights, which do pay their respect to the traditional glass and forged metal lighting of old Granada.

In Ganivet’s classic critique of the barbarism of contemporary urban developers, he sought comfort in the observation that many of the projects that so horrified him never saw the light of day because of lack of money. But, he lamented, ¡oh dolor! sometimes there is enough money and the damage gets done.

Above left: This is where the Gran Vía ends, at the Plaza Isabela la Católica, with the massive Banco Santander bulding blocking its further passage towards Realejo. Above centre and left: the façade of the Hotel AC Palacio de Santa Paula, incorporating the old convent of Santa Paula.

Below we have three of the modern streetlights made in a style that pays respect to the old tradition of lighting streets and public spaces in Granada.

“La Gran Vía del Azúcar”

Ganivet's were prophetic words with reference to the Gran Vía. For just as he was putting his concerns into literary form, the bourgeoisie of Granada, buoyed by the early indications of a boom in the local sugar industry, began to assume a more prominent social and economic role on a par with the bourgeoisies of other Spanish and European cities. And what better way to demonstrate their new status than by building a boulevard along the lines of Baron Hausmann's Paris? The construction of the Gran Vía of Granada swept away the old Moorish neighbourhood along with a number of irreplaceable buildings and a good part of the history of the city itself. But this did not bother the sugar bourgeoisie. Demolition started in 1895 and by 1901 the first house in the proud new city artery, sarcastically dubbed La Gran Vía del Azúcar, had been erected.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, the Gran Vía became a fashionable residential area for this new bourgeoisie. As if acknowledging 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. We can suppose that Lorca's liberal-minded father didn't feel at his ease in this ambient, among one the worst bourgeoisies of Spain, as Lorca was to call it in an interview in 1936, only a few months before he was murdered at the hands of this same class that he despised.

It is, incidentally, symptomatic of the provinciality of the local bourgeoisie that the street's most prestigeous 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 avant-garde architecture that Gaudí was designing in harmony with the euphoria of the dynamic Barcelona entrepreneuring classes.

Gran Vía: 20 July 1936.

It was along this arid street that the Franco-led rebels marched into the city centre after having taken control of the city's garrison on a hot summer afternoon on 20 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 liberal-minded citizens of Granada.

Granada la Bestia. Two links:

GRANADA LA BESTIA 1 The Lorca Centre's missing millions : The sad and somewaht sordid saga of the painful and slow genesis of Granada’s Lorca Centre

GRANADA LA BESTIA 2 The missing corpse : The long and fruitless search for Granada’s universal poet’s mortal remains

Above: art nouveau, Granada. Copy. Below: at nouveau, Barcelona. Original.