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News and comments and events relating to Granada, 'the city where anything is possible, Granada, 'la bella y la bestia, and Federico Garcia Lorca's complicated love-hate relationship with the city, etc

Cante Jondo Competition

Historic GranadaPosted by Simon Sat, February 02, 2019 17:21:38

Clockwise from top left

1. A young Manolo Caracol (b 1909) also won a prize

2. a photo of the event

3. Manuel de Falla, portrait by Ignacio Zuloaga;

4. publicity for a recording of the event

5. the Plaza del Aljibe, the event’s venue, today

6. López Sancho’s famous caricature of El Tenazas and his select audience

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Emilia Llanos Medina

Historic GranadaPosted by Simon Fri, January 25, 2019 17:32:15
At the end of calle Elvira where it joins Plaza Nueva, on the second floor, the last four windows in calle Elvira and the first three in Plaza Nueva, was the home of Emilia Llanos Medina, a life-long and intimate friend of poet Federico García Lorca. She was quite a lot older than him, born in 1885, and they were introduced by the painter Ismael de la Serna at the end of August 1918. Lorca was very impressed by Emilia Llanos, as de la Serna expected him to be. He gave her a copy of his first book Impressions and Landscapes (for which de la Serna had done the cover) and dated it 29th August 1918 with the dedication "To the marvellous Emilia Llanos, spiritual treasure among the women of Granada; divine emblem of the 20th Century; with all my fervour and admiration.” - - The marvellous Emilia Llanos

From then on, Lorca was a frequent visitor to this flat, Dolores Cebrián, Emilia's maid, informs us. He came and went with a degree of familiarity; it was a sort of home from home for him.

Llanos maintained a life-long friendship with Ismael de la Serna, mostly by correspondence, as the painter spent most of the 20s and 30s in Paris. She was also a close friend of Manuel de Falla's, and of his sister Carmen.

On one occasion, Falla urged Emilia to use her influence to persuade Lorca to break off his contact with a certain ‘wretched group of young men’ whose company he was known to enjoy. He was of course referring to a certain section of the city’s semi-submerged homosexual milieu. It was her duty as a friend, he argued, to lead the poet onto the path of righteousness. Emilia’s response was indeed marvellous. “Federico is a wonderful person and we should love him as he is, with his virtues and with his defects.” It wasn't for them to judge him.

Who did judge him were the gentlemen of the Tribunal of Political Responsibilites who in July 1941 reached the verdict that Lorca’s public life had been ‘questionable’ (dudosa) and that he had been ‘free’ in his choice of friendships (amistades libres). He was assumed to be a homosexual, although for obvious reasons it was impossible to present concrete evidence for this assertion.

17 August 1936, the day after the poet’s arrest: his mother begged Emilia to go and ask Falla to intervene on her son's behalf, as his life was clearly in danger. Emilia set off but in the Cuesta de Gomérez she met Antonio Gallego Burín, who advised her: "Don't go, don't go. Federico is already dead. You'll only get Falla into trouble." "I swear," relates Emilia, "that if I had suspected there was a chance that Federico was still alive I would have gone myself, on my own, to the Civil Government." (Evidence suggests Lorca was held overnight in the Civil Government building in calle Duquesa before being transferred to Víznar.) When later Emilia told this to Falla, he made an enormous scene. "He made me cry. Your duty was to have come immediately with the message, no matter what anyone told you." The day after news of Lorca's death got out, she went to a friend's house (Cristina Gómez Contreras), terribly upset, pale, and crying bitterly.

She never got over the death of the poet, for whom she harboured intense feelings of affection all her life. She was also convinced that she had not done enough among her influential social contacts to prevent it. In the last years of her life she talked to him as if he were present, on one of his once customary visits, and would insist a place was laid out for ‘the boy’ at mealtimes. She died on 29 August at the age of 82.

Leer más, en español: Lola Manjón. Emilia Llanos Medina. Una mujer en la Granada de Federico García Lorca. Comares 2017.
To my charming Emilia Llanos . With affection and admiration from your devoted Federico 1931

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Palacio de los Vargas

Historic GranadaPosted by Simon Thu, February 21, 2013 14:55:47

If you think my warning in #blog30 about the inability of the Direccion de Bienes de Interés Cultural, the body entrusted with safeguarding Granada’s historical and cultural patrimony, to guarantee the survival of some of the catalogued Lorca sites is exaggerated, let the following be a lesson to you.

In a narrow little street known as Horno de Marina, off San Jeronimo Street, a stone’s throw from the cathedral, there is a sixteenth century building that was the home to the aristocratic Vargas family, the Palacio de los Vargas, catalogued, it could hardly be otherwise, as a Bien de Interés Cultural – a cultural asset.

I came across the splendid but neglected building by chance several years ago, taking a short cut through the centre of the city, and noted with dismay its lamentable state of disrepair, with rats scurrying among the rubbish piled up against the dilapidated facade.

So it was with relief that a few years later I heard about project to convert it into another luxury hotel, rather like what had happened to the Convent of Saint Paula nearby in the Gran Via. What state would that have been in today if AC Hotels had not stepped in to halt its decline? They have done hideous things to the ground floor facade but the upper floors facade has been tastefully restored and there is no doubt that there is much within that has been saved – for their five-star guests, if not for us.

In 2007 a company called Hoteles Casas y Palacios de España, with a track record of making posh hotels out of historical buildings, including two notable cases in the Jewish Quarters of Sevilla and Córdoba respectively, presented a proposal to the Granada city council to build a 70-room hotel complex, the centrepiece of which would be the rehabilitated Vargas Palace. The council must have bent over backwards to oblige, for bureaucratic hurdles were overcome with unusual ease and permission was granted for the protected palace along with deteriorating neighbouring residences to be incorporated into the new hotel. Within a year the project got the go-ahead and work could begin on clearing up the debris and restoring the palace to something of its former glory.

I noted the improvement with satisfaction. But then, as the crisis wore on, the hotel company lost interest in this project. After getting building permission nothing much happened. The owners did not bother to pursue the irksome paperwork inevitable in such cases. Deadlines passed and now the premises have been taken over by the Municipal Register, a first step towards an impending compulsory purchase order.

The abandonment and deterioration of all the adjoining properties involved became more and more apparent until, almost predictably, over Christmas, the building caught fire. Squatters, who it seems had little difficulty getting into the Palace through a hole round the back of the building, are being blamed for the fire.

The fire has visibly affected the iron forgings on the first floor, the carved wooden roofing over the galleries in the central patio, and the double doors to the room where the fire started.

Now the Council has issued a decree (bravo!) ordering the owners to adopt urgent measures to prevent any further deterioration to the renaissance building – such as ”shoring up the affected structures” and "closing all the holes to stop squatters getting in": ordering the stable doors to be closed after the horse has bolted, in other words.

The owners say that they are abandoning their plans to convert the palace into a luxury hotel ‘for now’ – lack of economic resources, they say. What is apparent is that they are happy to let the unique renaissance palace decay, risking that the final ruin of the building become a fait accompli and so justifying its final abandonment.

It has been the tactic of property developers in Granada since the nineteenth century whenever the task of protecting the city’s cultural heritage comes into conflict with their private interests (making money). Historic buildings have been left to rot until their deteriation is such that they are no longer considered worth salvaging. This was the case of the Arco de las Orejas, a medieval gateway that led into Plaza Bib Rambla. It was knocked down in 1884 despite protests and initiatives to preserve it, including declaring it a national monument in 1881. All to no avail.

The factual info comes from Lola Quero Granada 13.02.2013 but the cynical inferences are all mine.

Blogger Granadino has written a very fine appreciation of the Vargas Palace in his highly recommendable series “El Reino de Granada en la Edad Moderna” (in Spanish, of course), available at

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GRAN VIA de Colon

Historic GranadaPosted by Simon Thu, February 21, 2013 14:38:45

Granada’s Gran Via was the street that did more than any other ‘to deform the character of the people of Granada’. So wrote the poet Federico Garcia Lorca in his lead contribution to gallo, the local cultural magazine that he nurtured and published in 1926.

His opinion was neither original nor unique. It was a view shared by all like-minded intellectuals and artists living in the city in those years.

Its origins go back to the strongly worded criticism of Angel Ganivet, local guru for Lorca’s generation, published in his influential essay Granada la bella published in 1896, two years before its author’s suicide.

Ganivet’s views on contemporary urban development in Granada were scathing in their contemptuous sarcasm. Fortunately in Granada, he said, there was normally no money for grandiose urban projects and in that way the greatest calamities that might have befallen the city had been avoided. But sometimes, alas!, money was available.

This was the case in the development of the Gran Via. Popularly known as “Sugar Avenue” – la Gran Via del Azucar – this strident thoroughfare came to express the dominance and self-confidence of the sugar bourgeoisie, those who made their fortune via the sugar beet industry that became so economically important after the loss, in 1898, of the colonies in Cuba and the Philippines and sugar cane imports. (Historia de Granada, 344.) Lorca’s father belonged to this bourgeoisie and indeed he moved into a flat at number 34 for one year in 1916. One surmises that Federico Garcia Senior did not feel at home among these people, who were considerably less liberal and progressive than he.

But it’s not just that this street was the vulgar expression of a rather vulgar bourgeoisie. In order to construct the Gran Via, a whole neighbourhood was ruthlessly demolished, a neighbourhood with its roots in pre-Christian times, with its inimitable style of buildings and urban layout; it was a deliberate and abrupt break in a historical tradition that the sugar bourgeoisie felt nothing but disdain for. (Historia de Granada 347.)

This is what Lorca and his ilk objected to so vehemently with regard to the radical urban project that had just, alas!, been brought to fruition. And as we said, it was not just his personal opinion. A couple of years earlier, in 1923, Leopoldo Torres Balbas, architect who headed the conservation work on the Alhambra in those years, voiced the anger of his fellows in a professional Madrid publication writing about “Granada, the disappearing city”. Here he lamented bitterly the loss of the aesthetic and historical spirit of the city through the loss of its historical buildings ‘as if memories were being methodically wiped out’. The Gran Via was at the centre of his scorn, for the way in which it cut through the old city with ‘an extraordinary lack of understanding and respect’, ignoring the special nature of the city’s inhabitants, its history, its climate, its beauty. It had become, he said, a monotonous street, tiring to walk down, lined by high buildings with cement and plaster decoration, where the sun burns relentlessly in summer and in winter it is swept by icy cold winds. (Quoted from an article in the Ideal newspaper, 9.2.97)

Ganivet experienced the beginning of the demolition of the old city in the 1990s. By the 1920s the disaster was complete. By 1918 the last of the grand houses on the Gran Via had been handed over to its proud owner. (H de G 347.)

In July 1936 the residents of these fine new houses, conscious of being the legitimate target of the ‘reds’ (working class), would be quaking in their boots for 48 hours until the troops were finally marched out of their barracks in support of Franco’s nationalistic uprising. The ‘reds’ had already burnt down a number of buildings that symbolised their exploitation and oppression, very much as these grand houses in the heart of the new city did.

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Historic GranadaPosted by Simon Wed, February 13, 2013 10:19:42

This is the view from the back window of my house in El Fargue, a few kilometres to the north of Granada. We’re looking west and in the middle of the mountain range that forms the horizon we can discern the place where Puerto Lope – the Lope Pass – permits the passage through the mountains of the road to Cordoba. This was where in days of old highwaymen lay in wait for those who made the journey between the two Andalusian cities.

Reflected in the morning sunshine we can also just about discern the church on the hill above the village of Moclin. Above the church was a fortress of which only ruins remain today. This was where Ferndinand and Isabel established their court as they lay siege to Granada, leading up to the fall of the city on 2 January 1492.

Ferdinand and Isabel captured the fortress on 26 July 1486. To give it some historical perspective, that’s the year after Richard III’s defeat and death at the battle of Bosworth and so the start of the Tudor dynasty in England. It might have been the year Sandro Boticello painted ‘The Birth of Venus’. Constantinople had recently been integrated into the Ottoman Empire and the city state of Venice was the centre of European civilisation, thanks to its trade routes to the East.

The fortress had long been a military goal for Christian armies but its position made it close to invincible. The determination with which they now fought was a sign that the campaign to capture Granada was not simply another skirmish between Christians and Moslems, of the kind that had been going on for centuries. The aim was to drive all non-Christians once and for all from the Iberian peninsula. Fernando and Isabel began their siege in the spring of 1486 and once victorious they made a great investment in terms of men and materials to make sure they hung on to it.

Moclin was the perfect vantage point for the siege of Granada. Once Malaga in the west had been taken, in 1487, and Baza and Almeria in the east, in 1489, the city found itself completely isolated. The Catholic Monarchs now moved their troops down onto the Vega and set up camp at Santa Fe, barely ten kilometres across the plain from their final objective. The camp was converted into a walled city in the course of 1491 – and for Granada, the writing was on the wall. Boabdil, the last head of the Nazrid dynasty, formally capitulated on 25 November 1491 and handed over the keys to his capital city on 2 January 1492, an event whose repercussions have echoed down to the present day.

The church at Moclin was built on the site of the mosque that had stood there for centuries and was raised to the ground immediately after its capture. The church was designed by Diego de Siloé, favourite architect of the Catholic Monarchs, one of the first in Spain who built in the Renaissance style.

In acknowledgement of their gratitude to the people of Moclin for their hospitality (forced hospitality, I imagine, as the town had been Moslem for several centuries), Ferdinand and Isabel left the painting Cristo del Paño (sackcloth). But this is another story.

Souce Wikipedia & Ayuntamiento de Moclin

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Historic GranadaPosted by Simon Sun, December 09, 2012 21:04:21

The typical cobbled streets of Old Granada, and indeed of Old Andalusia, have a surprisingly short history that hardly goes back to much before the twentieth century. 150 years ago the great majority of streets in central and “Moorish” Granada were unsurfaced. And that it how we have to picture the streets of the Granada of the Nazarids; not as the picturesquely paved nooks and alleyways of the romantic imagination.

The surfacing of streets with paving or cobble stones is a relatively modern phenomenon. We know this from both written and pictorial sources, later confirmed by photographic evidence. Chroniclers have left us with graphic descriptions of the puddles and potholes that made winter travel in Granada so difficult, and of the choking clouds of dust in summer. We get the same picture from contemporary artists: an urban environment knee-deep in mud in the winter; obliterated by dust in the summer.

Any doubt that may remain about the veracity of this unromantic view of Old Granada will be dispelled by the photography that began to emerge in the last third of the nineteenth century. The earliest photographic evidence reveals an unpaved urban landscape with the exception of one or two central streets. We see streets full of puddles and potholes, rutted and hoof-marked. From the photographic works of José García Ayola (1863-1900), for example, we see the forecourt of the Cathedral and Puerta Real unsurfaced.

In photographs he took between 1885 and 1890 we do see the beginning of the paving of some of the steeper streets of the Albayzín. Granada Hoy reporter Gabriel Pozo suggests that this was a consequence of the Glorious Revolution of 1868 which prompted the authorities to provide paid work for the poor with the aim of warding off further social unrest and uprisings. Now at last we see the Cuesta de San Cristóbal y Aljibe de Trillo with a primitive form of paving, undertaken where erosion threatened to make the streets completely unpassable.

These early cases of surfacing were, as we said, primitive and had little to do with the paving and cobbling that we think of as typical today. Mud was mixed quite haphazardly with irregular-shaped and -sized stones and pebbles. These were stamped down into the earthen road surface. Lacking any binding element such as mortar, the earth would get washed away with the first serious rainfalls, leaving the streets uneven and potholed.

The meticulously laid stones and pebbles of differing colours forming graceful geometric patterns that are so typical of Andalusian squares and public spaces today were as yet unknown. The paving was crude and uneven and bore little resemblance to the familiar sophistication of modern Andalusian urban spaces.

Sophisticated cobbling in the Alhambra. Fifteenth century? No, twentieth.

If the steeper streets of the Albayzín were given some primitive form of paving from the 1880s, flatter and broader streets were mostly left unpaved. Although we do see the Carrera del Darro paved as early as 1885, the Paseo de los Tristes, by way of contrast, was still mud surfaced till the end of the century.

The generalised paving of the streets of Granada did not really get underway until well into the twentieth century. Now we have the photographs of José Martínez Rioboó (1888-1947) to bear witness to the construction of typical cobblestone streets that gave adequate support to the modern tramlines in Puerta Real, Reyes Católicos, San Jerónimo and a few other major central streets.

Major streets in the Albayzín like the Carril de la Lona, Santa Isabel la Real, or San Juan de los Reyes, on the other hand, were not surfaced until around 1915. Meanwhile, the streets of today’s popular tourist spots, like Plaza de San Miguel Bajo, San Cecilio and even the Mirador de San Nicolás still looked more like pig pens than the tourist attractions they have become.

My source for this blog is an article by Gabriel Pozo in the local daily ‘Granada Hoy’. It reminds me of a photo exhibition I once saw of panoramas of the Albayzín. 150 years ago, the cypresses, which are so characteristic of the Albayzín skyline today, simply did not exist. You can see how they started to get planted towards the end of the nineteenth century and then became more and more popular as the twentieth century progressed.

SOURCE: El empedrado 'no histórico' del Albayzín. Gabriel Pozo. Granada Hoy. 07.12.2012

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Granada, capital of Spain

Historic GranadaPosted by Simon Sun, December 19, 2010 01:10:10

Granada, short-lived capital of Spain ... and the Holy Roman Empire

On the threshold of the sixteenth century Granada was the transitory capital of Spain. Ferdinand and Isabel set up court in Granada towards the end of 1499 while the Mudejar rebellion was being put down. ‘Mudejar’ is the name given to those Moors who remained in Christian Spain after the Fall of Granada in 1492 without converting to Christianity. At first tolerated, by the end of the millennium they were under a lot of pressure to convert. (See the blog on book burning.)

Ferdinand and Isabel stayed in Granada until February 1502. It was their longest and last period of residence in the city. Before leaving, one of their major acts was the issuing of a decree – on 11 February 1502 – demanding the remaining Mudejar Moors to choose between conversion and exile; either they adopt over a period of time Christian beliefs and customs or they leave for Africa and beyond. Almost half the population of Granada chose exile it is said. From the date of that decree there was no room for Moslem Moors in Spain any longer, only for ‘Moriscos’, Moors who had converted to the Christian faith.

The Royal Court returned to Granada for a short time in the summer of 1526, when Emperor Charles V decided to make Granada his place of residence. This was just after his wedding on 10 March in Seville to his first cousin Isabel of Portugal. During his brief stay he ordered the construction of his Royal Palace, more comfortable and more spacious and more majestic than the nearby Nazrid Palaces of the Alhambra. For this, he chose the architect Pedro Machuca, who had worked under Michelangelo in Italy, to design one of the greatest works of the Spanish Renaissance, unprecedented in its architectural language. Symbolising the victory of Christianity over Islam, it was largely paid for by taxes imposed on the Moorish population.

It is clear that in ordering the construction of this emblematic and superbly designed palace, on which work started in the following year, 1527, the Emperor intended to make Granada his main seat of residence, the centre of his Holy Roman Empire. Yet Emperor Charles and his queen abandoned the city in December of 1526. It was too cold for Isabella’s warm Portuguese blood is the explanation popularly given. But I think there was another reason.

In November of 1525, Carlos V had issued a decree ordering the conversion of all the Moors in Spain by the end of January 1526. What? Again? But hadn’t his grandparents, Ferdinand and Isabel, issued practically the same decree in February 1502?

Over time the term ‘morisco’ had come to be used in a pejorative sense, implying that the conversion of Moors to Catholicism was a pretence and that in secret they were continuing to practice the Islam religion. In 1526 Carlos V was complaining that ‘seven and twenty years’ after the mass enforced baptisms undertaken by Cardinal Cisneros (see book burning blog) you would be hard put to find seven and twenty Christian Moors in the city, ‘nor even seven’! The Moorish population that remained in Granada had proved itself highly reluctant to take on the conquerors’ faith.

So, apart from the winter cold, Granada had the added inconvenience for a city that was to be the centre of the Habsburgian Holy Roman Empire of having a population that was largely anti-Christian in its secret sentiment.

The expulsion of the Moors led to the steady cultural decline of Granada, so lamented by Lorca and the core of contemporary ‘progressive’ Spansh opinion. Charles V’s decree was no more successful than his grandparents’ in christianising the Moors left behind on Spanish territory. The repressive legislation was repeated in 1567 and the revolt that began on Christmas Eve of 1568 in Granada, with its last stronghold in the Alpujarras, was suppressed, leading to the final ethnic cleansing of the peninsula. Thousands of Moors died and more than 80,000 were expelled forever.

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Historic GranadaPosted by Simon Sun, September 12, 2010 01:37:06


Are you ready for Granada’s millennium anniversary?

1013 is the year that historians have agreed marks the ‘year zero’ of the Kingdom of Granada, which would reach its greatest splendour a few centuries later with the construction of the Alhambra Palaces, before finally being integrated into the Catholic Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. The Kingdom of Granada arose out of the collapse and fragmentation of the Caliphate of Cordoba, which throughout the tenth century had vied with Baghdad for supremacy in the Islamic World.

It was from 1232, when the Nasrid Dynasty came to power in what was to become the last Moslem enclave in Catholic Spain, that Moorish Granada flourished, but as early as the eleventh century under the rule of the Ziri Berber clan, the city began to take on its familiar medieval shape, with its heart on the Albaicin hill, across the River Darro from the Alhambra. Over a period of almost 500 years, the Kingdom forged its reputation as a tolerant intercultural society, where Christian, Jew, and Moslem co-existed and built a legacy which arouses the admiration of many today, in all parts of the world.

That lauded co-existence of civilisations, cultures and religions came to an end on 2 January 1492 when the Moorish city fell after a long siege to the (also eulogised) Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. Over the following decades, Granada was purged of anyone or anything that did not conform to the ruling Catholic ideology.

In 2013 the city will celebrate the inception of that pre-Catholic period that many see as a glorious and hard-to-emulate epoque in the city's history. Many granadinos will join the celebration whole-heartedly, others grudgingly. Granada, true to its nature as the city of la bella y la bestia, will be divided by events. There will be those who see the event as something of concession to Islamic revanchism and a betrayal of Spain´s great Catholic inheritance.

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