Tag Archives: Pedro Zaragoza Orts

Pedro Zaragoza Orts, Skyscrapers and Bikinis

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.  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 (born 15th May 1922) was nominated as town Alcalde, or Mayor 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.

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 has 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 modest by comparison, the tallest reaching only a modest ten floors or so.

If Pedro Zaragoza Orts is remembered for the Beni-York skyscraper he is even more famous for the so called ‘War of the Bikini’.  In the later years of the 1950s the icon of holiday liberty was the saucy two piece swimsuit but in staunchly religious Spain, still held in the firm two-handed grip of church and state, this scanty garment was seen as a threat to the very basis of Catholic society.

Although occasionally allowable on the sandy beaches, it had to be covered up in all other areas; on the promenades and in the plazas and in the shops and the bars and cafés for fear of causing any offence.  In one famous incident, a British tourist, sitting in a bar opposite a beach wearing only a bikini, was told by a Guardia Civil officer that she wasn’t allowed to wear it there.  After an argument she hit him, and her strike for social justice cost her a hefty fine of forty thousand pesetas.  Zaragoza needed tourists and tourists wanted the bikini and with more northern European tourists arriving each year in search of an all over suntan the Mayor knew that the banning of the two piece swimsuit simply couldn’t be sustained or allowed to threaten his ambitious plans.

Zaragoza took a gamble and signed a municipal order which permitted the wearing of the bikini in public areas and in this single act he effectively jump started the Spanish tourist industry.  Zaragoza said: “People had to feel free to be able to wear what they wanted, within reason, if it helped them to enjoy themselves as they would come back and tell their friends about the place.”  In deeply religious Catholic Spain not everyone was so understanding or welcoming of the bikini however and in retaliation the Archbishop of Valencia began the excommunication process against him.

Excommunication was a serious matter in 1959 and his political supporters began to abandon him so one day he got up early and drove for nine hours on a little Vespa scooter to Madrid to lobby Franco himself.  The Generalissimo was suitably impressed with his determination and gave him his support, Zaragoza returned to Benidorm and the Church backed down and the approval of the bikini became a defining moment in the history of modern Spain ultimately changing the course of Spanish tourism and causing a social revolution in an austere country groaning under the yoke of the National Catholic regime.  Zaragoza went on to become Franco’s Director of Tourism and a Parliamentary Deputy.

Not many people would have described Franco as a liberalising social reformer and perhaps he just liked to look at ladies breasts but not long after this lots of women on holiday in Benidorm dispensed with the bikini bra altogether and brazenly sunbathed topless and Benidorm postcards had pictures of partially clothed ladies on them to prove it.

A Life in a Year, 15th May, Pedro Zaragoza Orts, Skyscrapers and Bikinis

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.  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 (born 15th May 1922) was nominated as town Alcalde, or Mayor 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.

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 has 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 modest by comparison, the tallest reaching only a modest ten floors or so.

If Pedro Zaragoza Orts is remembered for the Beni-York skyscraper he is even more famous for the so called ‘War of the Bikini’.  In the later years of the 1950s the icon of holiday liberty was the saucy two piece swimsuit but in staunchly religious Spain, still held in the firm two-handed grip of church and state, this scanty garment was seen as a threat to the very basis of Catholic society.

Although occasionally allowable on the sandy beaches, it had to be covered up in all other areas; on the promenades and in the plazas and in the shops and the bars and cafés for fear of causing any offence.  In one famous incident, a British tourist, sitting in a bar opposite a beach wearing only a bikini, was told by a Guardia Civil officer that she wasn’t allowed to wear it there.  After an argument she hit him, and her strike for social justice cost her a hefty fine of forty thousand pesetas.  Zaragoza needed tourists and tourists wanted the bikini and with more northern European tourists arriving each year in search of an all over suntan the Mayor knew that the banning of the two piece swimsuit simply couldn’t be sustained or allowed to threaten his ambitious plans.

Zaragoza took a gamble and signed a municipal order which permitted the wearing of the bikini in public areas and in this single act he effectively jump started the Spanish tourist industry.  Zaragoza said: “People had to feel free to be able to wear what they wanted, within reason, if it helped them to enjoy themselves as they would come back and tell their friends about the place.”  In deeply religious Catholic Spain not everyone was so understanding or welcoming of the bikini however and in retaliation the Archbishop of Valencia began the excommunication process against him.

Excommunication was a serious matter in 1959 and his political supporters began to abandon him so one day he got up early and drove for nine hours on a little Vespa scooter to Madrid to lobby Franco himself.  The Generalissimo was suitably impressed with his determination and gave him his support, Zaragoza returned to Benidorm and the Church backed down and the approval of the bikini became a defining moment in the history of modern Spain ultimately changing the course of Spanish tourism and causing a social revolution in an austere country groaning under the yoke of the National Catholic regime.  Zaragoza went on to become Franco’s Director of Tourism and a Parliamentary Deputy.

Not many people would have described Franco as a liberalising social reformer and perhaps he just liked to look at ladies breasts but not long after this lots of women on holiday in Benidorm dispensed with the bikini bra altogether and brazenly sunbathed topless and Benidorm postcards had pictures of partially clothed ladies on them to prove it.

__________________________________________

Related posts:

Benidorm – The Anticipation

Benidorm 1977 – First impressions and the Hotel Don Juan

Benidorm 1977- Beaches, the Old Town and Peacock Island

Benidorm 1977 – Food Poisoning and Guadalest

World Heritage Sites

Benidorm, The War of the Bikini

“It was not only in Farol that brusque changes were taking place…they were happening at a breakneck pace all over Spain…. Roads, the radio, the telephone and now the arrival of tourists… were putting an end to the Spain of old.  And for those who wanted to see it as it had been, there was not a moment to be lost.”                                                                                                                                           Norman Lewis ‘Voices of the Old Sea’

If Pedro Zaragoza Orts is remembered for the Beni-York skyscraper he is even more famous for the so called ‘War of the Bikini’.  In the later years of the 1950s the icon of holiday liberty was the saucy two piece swimsuit but in staunchly religious Spain, still held in the firm two-handed grip of church and state, this scanty garment was seen as a threat to the very basis of Catholic society.   According to the official version a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim invented the swimsuit that was a little more than a provocative brassiere front with a tiny g-string back.  It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of nuclear weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion.  Plenty of fallout and very hot!

And it certainly had this effect in Spain and although occasionally allowable on the sandy beaches, it had to be covered up in all other areas; on the promenades and in the plazas and in the shops and the bars and cafés for fear of causing any offence.  In one famous incident, a British tourist, sitting in a bar opposite a beach wearing only a bikini, was told by a Guardia Civil officer that she wasn’t allowed to wear it there.  After an argument she hit him, and her strike for social justice cost her a hefty fine of forty thousand pesetas.  Zaragoza needed tourists and tourists wanted the bikini and with more northern European tourists arriving each year in search of an all over suntan the Mayor knew that the banning of the two piece swimsuit simply couldn’t be sustained or allowed to threaten his ambitious plans.

Zaragoza took a gamble and signed a municipal order which permitted the wearing of the bikini in public areas and in this single act he effectively jump started the Spanish tourist industry.  Zaragoza said: “People had to feel free to be able to wear what they wanted, within reason, if it helped them to enjoy themselves as they would come back and tell their friends about the place.”  In deeply religious Catholic Spain not everyone was so understanding or welcoming of the bikini however and in retaliation the Archbishop of Valencia began the excommunication process against him.

Excommunication was a serious matter in 1959 and his political supporters began to abandon him so one day he got up early and drove for nine hours on a little Vespa scooter to Madrid to lobby Franco himself.  The Generalissimo was suitably impressed with his determination and gave him his support, Zaragoza returned to Benidorm and the Church backed down and the approval of the bikini became a defining moment in the history of modern Spain ultimately changing the course of Spanish tourism and causing a social revolution in an austere country groaning under the yoke of the National Catholic regime.  Zaragoza went on to become Franco’s Director of Tourism and a Parliamentary Deputy.

Not many people would have described Franco as a liberalising social reformer and perhaps he just liked to look at ladies breasts but not long after this lots of women on holiday in Benidorm dispensed with the bikini bra altogether and brazenly sunbathed topless and Benidorm postcards had pictures of naked ladies on them to prove it.

One thing I am certain of is that this wouldn’t have made a great deal of difference to my Nan because I am not sure that she ever possessed a swimming costume, never mind a two-piece!  She was a bit old-fashioned and the human body in the naked form was only permitted behind closed doors with the curtains closed and preferably after dark.  If she ever went in the sea I imagine it would have been in one of those Victorian one piece bathing costumes of the previous century.  Grandad too wasn’t one for showing bits of his body normally kept under his bus conductor’s dark blue uniform and didn’t even concede to a pair of shorts, preferring instead to wear his colonial style slacks even during the day.  When he came home his impressive suntan stopped at the line of his open neck shirt and his rolled up sleeves.

For people who had never been abroad before Benidorm must have been an exciting place in the early 1960s.  Palm fringed boulevards, Sangria by the jug full and, unrestrained by optics, generous measures of whiskey and gin, rum and vodka.  Eating outside at a pavement café and ordering drinks and not paying for them until leaving and scattering unfamiliar coins on the table as a tip for the waiter.  There was permanent sunshine, a delightful warm sea and unfamiliar food, although actually I seem to doubt that they would be introduced to traditional Spanish food on these holidays because to be fair anything remotely ethnic may have come as shock because like most English people they weren’t really ready for tortilla and gazpacho, tapas or paella.  They certainly didn’t return home to experiment with any new Iberian gastronomic ideas and I suspect they probably kept as close as they could to food they were familiar with.

Benidorm is a fascinating place, often unfairly maligned or sneered at but my grandparents liked it and I have been there myself in 1977 for a fortnight’s holiday and then again on a day trip in 2008 just out of curiosity.  It has grown into a mature and unique high rise resort with blue flag beaches and an ambition to achieve UNESCO World Heritage Status and I hope it achieves it.  You can read about those trips at:

Benidorm 1977 – First impressions and the Hotel Don Juan

Benidorm 1977- Beaches, the Old Town and Peacock Island

Benidorm 1977 – Food Poisoning and Guadalest

Benidorm – The Anticipation

Benidorm – The Surprise

Thanks to http://www.realbenidorm.net/ for the use of the postcard image

 

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

 

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.