Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Gone Missing: Santiago's City of Culture

Santiago de Compostela is one of Spain's grand cities. It was designated as a World Heritage Site many years before UNESCO had ever even heard of Mallorca's Tramuntana mountains. It is the destination for 100,000 pilgrims who visit the shrine of Saint James, Spain's patron saint, whose remains are supposedly in the shrine. A city with centuries of history, culture and fine architecture, a decision was taken in 2001 to bring that architecture a bit more up to date. A project to build a "city of culture" was embarked upon. Twelve years and almost 300 million euros later, there are two ruddy great holes in the ground, and two of six buildings originally conceived as comprising this "city" are missing. They are going to stay missing, while the holes may well remain holes. The plug has been pulled on the project.

Before one gets all self-righteous about this being yet another example of a profligate vanity project in the name of a Spanish regional government, which it is, there is a distinct whiff of a dome about it all. When the first two of the six, now only four buildings were opened in 2011, so a mere ten years after work had started, it would seem that no one knew what to put in them. As it is, they have become a library and an archive, which should both get the pulses racing of tourists. Two more have since also opened, one of them the building that houses the services to run the damn project. What were going to be an arts centre and a theatre are not now going to be either, as they won't be built.

The city of culture, a title that is an affront to what genuinely is a city of culture, Santiago that is, was a project dreamt up by Manuel Fraga. Remember him? You should do. He was Franco's tourism minister.

Fraga was president of Galicia from 1990 to 2005. The city of culture was to have been one of his great legacies to the region. It was, though, a legacy conceived partly out of jealousy of what the Basques had achieved with the building of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Galicia wasn't going to be outdone. It has been and it has been left with considerable egg on its face. Far from creating a project to show off Galicia to the world and to be one of great prestige, the region has been made to look something of a laughing-stock. At least some of the other grand vanity projects that cost absolute fortunes, such as Valencia's fabulous City of Arts and Sciences, have actually been finished, though this does of course bring us to the small matter of a project in Palma that hasn't been finished either. Perhaps they could demolish the Palacio de Congresos after all, ship the wreckage to Santiago and use it to fill in the two enormous holes in the ground where holes shouldn't be.

The decision to definitively and once for all put the remaining part of the project out of its misery has been taken by the now president of Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijóo. Being Galician, it is small surprise that he is seen as a potential successor to fellow Galician Rajoy; there's nothing like having a regional dynasty to run a political party. But Feijóo, who might have been expecting only nods of approval because of the decision to ditch the cultural city, finds that there are nods of disapproval because of an apparently unrelated matter. Photographs of him on the yacht of a convicted drug trafficker that were taken in the 1990s have suddenly come into the public domain. Feijóo has known of their existence for years, as have members of the PP hierarchy, including Rajoy. Calls have been made for him to resign, but he says he won't, as he hasn't done anything wrong. He may have been less than assiduous in checking the background of Marcel Dorado, said to be a central figure in a Galician smuggling mafia and currently in nick, but there isn't any reason to believe that he has done anything wrong. Or that he needs to resign.

Feijóo has made an ambiguous statement about attempts to intimidate him. There is a good question to be asked about why the photos have come out now. What does he mean by intimidation? Who is he referring to? Perhaps there is some link to the city of culture after all. Who knows. But there is a definite feel of something fishy in Galicia, of something that's missing, and it isn't just two buildings at Santiago's city of culture.

Any comments to please.

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