Tag Archives: Mediterranean Sea

A Life in a Year – 7th April, Spain Relenquishes Morocco (almost)

The State of Spain consists of a number of autonomous communities established in accordance to the second article of the Spanish Constitution which recognises the rights of regions and nationalities to self-government whilst also acknowledging the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’.

Currently, Spain comprises seventeen autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, both of which are on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.

Ceuta remains an autonomous city of Spain and an exclave located on the north coast of North Africa and separated from the Iberian peninsula by the Strait of Gibraltar, it lies on the border of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and  along with the other Spanish exclave Melilla are the only Spanish territories located in mainland Africa.

This is a legacy of the Spanish Protectorate system that was established in 1912 over the northern provinces of Morocco. This made some sense and a legal argument because many people lived there who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492 and 1497 respectively after the end of the Reconquista.

The Spanish Civil War started in 1936 with the uprising of the Spanish troops stationed in África (as the Protectorate was informally known in the Spanish military parlance) under the command of Francisco Franco against the Republican Government and these troops became the core of the Nationalist Army.  Because the local Muslim troops had been among Franco’s earliest supporters, the protectorate enjoyed more political freedom than Franco-era Spain proper after his victory, with competing political parties and a Moroccan nationalist press often criticizing the Spanish government and getting away with it.

In 1956, when French Morocco became independent, Spain discontinued the Protectorate and surrendered the territory to the newly independent kingdom on 7th April while retaining the plazas de soberanía, Ifni and other colonies outside Morocco, such as Spanish Sahara.

Unwilling to accept this, the Moroccan Army of Liberation waged war against the Spanish forces in the Ifni War of 1958.  Today Morocco continues to object to Spanish possessions on mainland Africa and claims Ceuta and Melilla as integral parts of the country, considering them to be under foreign occupation, comparing their status to that of Gibraltar and they have probably got a good case.

Gibraltar Postcard

Unsurprisingly, the government of Morocco has repeatedly called for Spain to transfer the sovereignty of Ceuta and Melilla, along with uninhabited islets such as the islands of Alhuceima, Velez and the Perejil island.

Interestingly, although Spain is a member of NATO it allows frequent port facilities to the Russian navy in Cueta.  Both Spanish and Russian officials have dismissed the criticism, saying that providing supplies and recreation to a foreign nation’s military is common practice. Ceuta benefits financially from the Russian visit. Money talks of course and it is claimed that Russian sailors and officers each spend an average of €450  in port restaurants and shops during their three-day leave, which translates into over €1 million annually.

In economics as well as politics hypocrisy has no boundaries!

As in the Anglo/Spanish dispute over Gibraltar the national governments and local populations of the disputed territories reject these claims by a large majority.  The Spanish position makes a delicate and tenuous case that both Ceuta and Melilla are integral parts of the Spanish state and have been since the fifteenth century, many years prior to Morocco’s independence from Spain in 1956, whereas Gibraltar, being a British Overseas Territory, is not and never has been part of the United Kingdom.

Morocco disputes these claims and maintains that the Spanish presence in Ceuta and the other presidios on its coast is a remnant of the colonial past which should be ended.

However, the United Nations list of ‘Non-Self-Governing Territories’ do not consider those Spanish territories to be colonies, whereas it does declare Gibraltar to be a non-decolonised territory.

Confusing isn’t it?

Personally, I’d hand these territories over to Morocco and at the same time give Gibraltar back to Spain.

Cueta

Benidorm c 1960, Plan General de Ordenación

“By the end…it was clear that Spain’s spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms.  Spain became the most visited tourist country in the World, and slowly, as the foreigners poured in, its identity was submerged, its life-style altered more in a single decade than in the previous century.”                      Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.

Sixty years ago Benidorm, although not a fishing village as such, was still a modest beach side community, a place of sailors, fishermen and farmers who patiently tended almond, olive, carob and citrus trees.  Early visitors would have marvelled at the double crescent of virgin golden sand and rolling dunes that stretched out in both directions from a rocky outcrop that divided the two beaches where Benidorm castle is believed to have once stood.  Small fishing boats, the tarrafes, each with four large lanterns to attract fish at night bobbed in the water or lay drawn up resting on the sand.  In 1950, Benidorm didn’t attract many visitors and life was difficult, it had no water supply or sewage disposal system and waste was tipped in the sea or simply buried in the earth.

The watershed year was 1954 when the Franco loyalist, Pedro Zaragoza Orts was nominated as town Alcalde, or Mayor, by the Civil Governor of the province, Don Jesús Aramboru and he threw himself into his work and set himself an objective of improving the quality of life in the small town.  In terms of economic potential there wasn’t a lot to work with so he decided to concentrate on tourism and he imagined a dream of creating a bourgeois pan-European holiday utopia.  Benidorm had sun, it had beaches, it had sea but what it didn’t have was visitors.  Few people in Spain enjoyed the sort of standard of living to be able to take holidays in the 1950s, so he needed to attract overseas visitors.

The town had always been popular with veraneos, people who took a few days break to be by the sea, but by the 1950′s, visitors from northern Europe were beginning to arrive in greater numbers and staying for a full week at a time, sometimes two!  Zaragoza recognised the potential of increased numbers of visitors and quickly created the Plan General de Ordenación, or city building plan, that would exploit that potential.  The plan ensured that every building would have an area of leisure land, guaranteeing a future free of the excesses of cramped construction seen in other areas of Spain and it is the only city in the country that still adheres to this rigid rule.  This vision for the future took six years to come to reality, while he waited he piped in domestic water from Polop, fifteen kilometres to the north in the mountains on the road to Guadalest and he ignited the building boom that followed and the flying start that Benidorm achieved in the package tour boom of the 1960s and 70s.

The vision for Benidorm was simultaneously brilliant and exciting and it gave the modern city its modern unique landscape because Zaragoza encouraged vertical construction of dozens of sky scrapers in a deliberate plan to make efficient use of land and to keep the city at ground level spacious and airy with green parks and open spaces and all of the accommodation relatively close to the beaches.  He explained his plan like this; ‘If you build low, you occupy all the space and have a long walk to the beach. If you build high, you can face the sea, and leave room for gardens, pools and tennis courts’.  This was in contrast to nearby Torrevieja and on the Costa Del Sol in the south, Marbella where excessive horizontal development led to great sprawling ugly urbanisations that have practically destroyed the coast by burying it under concrete and tarmac.  Zaragoza called this urban concentration instead of urban sprawl.

The first developments started at the centre at the rocky outcrop in the twisting narrow streets hemmed in by claustrophobic whitewashed houses, the San Jaime church with its distinctive blue tiled hat roofs, the old town promontory with the Balcon Del Mediterraneo, and pretty Mal Pas beach below and quickly spread east and west along the splendid beaches.  Today Benidorm has some of the tallest buildings not only in Spain but all of Europe but the first were fairly unassuming by comparison, the tallest reaching only a modest ten floors or so.

My grandparents were used to living higher up than most people because they lived in a first floor flat but I imagine that they found a high rise hotel in Benidorm really exciting.  In the early hotels there was a lot of utilitarian concrete and steel and I am certain that we would consider them quite basic affairs now but they had something that Nan and Grandad were not accustomed to – an en-suite bathroom, because they didn’t have the luxury of any sort of bathroom in their Catford flat.  The first hotels have mostly been demolished and replaced now but I imagine they enjoyed sitting on the balcony of their room and looking out over the inviting Mediterranean Sea because this was a thousand miles and a hundred thousand years away from reality.  They were certainly very relaxed because feet on the table like this would never have been permitted at home.  We were only allowed into the best front room once a year at Christmas and we weren’t allowed to touch anything so I am surprised by this.