Sunday, June 12, 2016

Spain In Palma: The Pueblo Español

On 23 September, 1964 the first stone was laid for a project that wasn't to be officially opened until the late winter of 1967. The actual work didn't start for five months after that stone was laid. The developers were still waiting on a line of credit - 40 million pesetas worth of credit (some 240,000 euros). When it did open, there was a promotional film. Its style is reminiscent of the British Pathé News reports, though the music has a more militaristic, almost sinister quality to it. The narrator set the context: spring in Palma de Mallorca (yes, Palma de Mallorca), a time and place for the international tourist. It wasn't in fact spring, as the date was 10 March, 1967. It was also raining. Several umbrellas can be observed.

This was all the creation of one of Spain's most prestigious architects, Fernando Chueca Goitia. Its scale and scope was seemingly fantastic, its design was derivative, its conception rather grand. Here were re-creations of Cordoba's Cristo de los Faroles crucifix, Seville's Torre del Oro and Toledo's Puerta del Sol. There were elements of Extremadura, more elements of Andalusia, a Roman amphitheatre, a Palacio de Congresos convention hall. This was the Pueblo Español.

The architect said that it represented the magnificent "plurality" of Spain. With a nod in the direction of Catalonia, a troupe was on hand to provide some entertainment. Otherwise, this was a plurality of a rather specific type. Spanish. The developers, Conextur, explained that it was a project to attract and retain universal tourism for the benefit of Mallorca and Spain.

There were others who considered it to be a monstrosity. In political terms, one can understand why. This was a display of Spain's culture, one developed at a time when tourism was first booming and when the culture of Spain was what tourists were served. Visitors were able in those days to find some distinctly Mallorcan/Catalan culture, but it did rather take a back seat to that of Spain.

The emphasis on Andalusia was not surprising. The Franco regime saw great merit in that region's culture: it contained essences of Spanishness, such as the bullfight and flamenco. Tourists were sold both, they were defining images of the promotion of tourism whether to Mallorca or the Costa Brava, parts of the former crown that had been dismantled by the Spanish king in the early eighteenth century.

On the day of the inauguration, several thousand people are said to have turned up. Among the dignitaries was the minister of tourism, Manuel Fraga, to be seen in the film with a cigarette in his hand: those were the days. The Bishop of Mallorca, Rafael Álvarez Lara, gave the Pueblo Español his blessing. But did the blessing succeed?

It's questionable whether the Pueblo Español lived up to its billing. It was and still is a tourist attraction, though again one has to ask if it ever created the levels of tourist interest that might have been hoped for. One aspect of it, the Palacio de Congresos, was almost certainly under exploited. At the time, it could, along with the auditorium, have made Palma a major destination for conferences and exhibitions. Spain was not exactly well off for such centres in the 1960s. Indeed the only one of any consequence was in Barcelona: the Pueblo Español of Barcelona, a name given to it by the then dictator Primo de Rivera in 1929. Palma's Pueblo Español was considered to be the Nuevo Pueblo Español.

Rather than a monstrosity, a description which is hard not to believe reflects a political sentiment, it would be kinder to describe it as a weird set of follies, a museum collection of Spain in reproduction. Nowadays, it plays host to all sorts of events. The last time that the Association of British Travel Agents held its annual conference, it did so at the Pueblo Español. But conferences are certainly not the only events. There is one taking place today (it started on Friday) and it is the "Enruédate" festival, an event all to do with wheels, be there two or four of them.

It is a curious place, one for which the greatest interest lies perhaps in the philosophy of the time that it was created.

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