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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

The Fall of Granada

la bestiaPosted by Simon Fri, January 06, 2017 20:03:24

Once again, in 2017 a political-cultural controversy has flared up around the commemoration of the Fall of Granada on 2 January 1492 to the army of Isabel and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs, which opened the way to national unification. The Fall of Granada plays an important role in the ideology of the arch-conservative and national-catholic sections of Spanish society. The controversy this time was sparked by the unfortunate intervention of Esperanza Aguirre, right-wing leader of the Madrid City Council, who chose to celebrate the 525th anniversary of the event via her Twitter account as a day of glory for Spain and the Spanish people. Aguirre’s glory tweet was accompanied by an emoticon of the Spanish flag and a copy of Francisco Pradilla’s 1882 painting The Surrender of Granada portraying an abject and defeated Moslem Sultan Boabdil handing over the keys of the city to an imperious and victorious Catholic Queen Isabel.

It was a day of glory for Spain, Aguirre went on, in her tweet, because Spain would never have been free under Islam.

Such a naked national-catholic and crude Islamophobic reaction as Aguirre’s has been relatively rare among the country’s leading politicians in response to recent celebrations of the Fall. A more common defence of the celebration is to depict it as an innocent tradition which has deep roots and is much loved among the city’s population. The representatives of this view are careful to describe it as a commemoration and not as a celebration. Indeed, some go so far as to present it as an essentially local celebration of Granada, playing down its national political implication: that the Unification of Catholic Spain followed the Fall of Moslem Granada. The ritual that takes place on the town hall balcony every year is for them an enjoyable pantomime, and the only possible objections to it must come from outsiders - intellectuals, communists, Islamists, political extremists and such. Leave us true granadinos in peace and let us celebrate our harmless traditions and our popular history with due pride, they argue.

This defence doesn’t hold water, of course. First of all, the event has long ceased to be the social magnet it once was, and as many commentators observed the only reason that the streets were not as deserted as usual this year was that the shops were open. The rituals continue to lose substance and for the younger generation in particular they are an anachronism. The rituals, furthermore, have a clearly militaristic as well as religious content, with the Army and this year even the Spanish Legion taking part, and this militaristic-religious content is understandably not to everybody’s taste. At the same time, this accolade to the Catholic Monarchs’ great achievement does not bear historical examination. The Catholic Monarchs may sure enough be the founders of Modern Spain, but this modern Spain was built on deceit over the terms of the capitulation, religious persecution and the Inquisition, book burning, repressive legislation, ethnic cleansing and ultimately, in 1609, the definitive expulsion of the remaining visible descendents of Al-Andalus. This repression was followed by a long period of decadence and decline in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, culminating in civil war and dictatorship in the middle of the twentieth. Esperanza Aguirre nimbly skips over this inconvenient history of post-Moslem Spain.

Thus in the end we have to agree with Antonio Cambril (Hay Toma para rato, Granada Hoy, 04 January 2017) who argued vigorously that there is no such thing as innocent ritual.

In fact, in my very first blog, dated 15 August 2010, I made thge point that the evaluation of the cultural inheritance of Islam in Spain tends to be seen in political terms, with the liberal left seeing in vestiges of the Moslem past some of the greatest cultural expressions of Spanish history, while the conservative right prefers to champion the achievements of the renaissance and post-renaissance.

As a consequence of this state of affairs, what we have each year on 2 January (following Cambril again) is a city celebrating the defeat of its own population and culture, from which we inherited among other things the splendour of the Alhambra, a contemporary tourist shrine from which the city is profiting today very nicely and without which it would be little more than a half-forgotten backwater.

Previous posts on the Toma de Granada and the ethnic cleansing of its Moslem population: 29 Jan 2013 (post 28); 2 Jan 2011 (post14); 19 Dec 2010 (post 11); 7 November

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Falange Eyesore

la bestiaPosted by Simon Sat, October 15, 2016 13:57:15

I saw on Facebook that left-wing members of the Barcelona City Council were calling for the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue at the bottom of the Ramblas. I had no objections, but was more concerned with getting rid of the memorial to José Antonio Primo de Rivera and the Falange in Plaza Bib Taubin. I blogged about it twice back in 2010 and 2011: in the first one ( I mentioned how the sculpture offended both my political and artistic sensibilities; the second one ( was about a laudable initiative of leftist artists and intellectuals to replace it with a statue in honour of the then recently deceased flamenco singer Enrique Morente.

To my surprise I got a reply from Facebook friend Mike, saying “We are rid of it, last time I looked it had been changed into a statue extolling the virtues of childhood or something akin”. Of course I had to go and see for myself, and sure enough, there it was – gone! And in its place, a statue of a sweet girl-child kneeling on a plinth surely too big and heavy for such a slight and light figure.

It turns out that as a sort of compromise solution – the Right wanted to keep the original statue, the Left, as indicated, wanted it replaced – a new less offensive work by the same sculptor, Francisco López Burgos, was found to put in the place of the fascist eyesore.

It is well known that López Burgos was a favourite with the Franco regime, maybe because of his predilection for sculpting virgins, religious ones let me hasten to add, and in fact he won the National Sculpture Prize in 1954. His, by the way, is the Virgen de las Nieves, at Los Tajos, just below the peak of La Veleta.* Maybe not many people know that.

His replacement work, titled – not quite sure why – ‘La Soledad’, was put in place on 3 August 2014. On 19 November same year, International Children’s Day was celebrated here. The sculptor’s daughter hoped the work would be a symbol of peace and integration. But the following day, 20 November, date on which both Franco and José Antonio died, one in his bed and the other in prison, members of the Falange placed a laurel wreath at the foot of López Burgos’s little girl, ‘La Soledad’, just as they had been doing for four decades at the foot of her predecesor.

So. Things do change in Granada, even if a number of people don’t want them to.

*I thank David R Jiménez-Muriel for this interestingdetail which I discovered in his blog ‘La alcena de las ideas’. Other stuff I got from Ángeles Huertas and a Facebook post by María Antonia López-Burgos del Barrio, daughter of the sculptor in question.

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Celebrating the Conquest of Granada: a “gesture of universal magnitude”?

la bestiaPosted by Simon Tue, January 29, 2013 15:37:54

The fall of Moslem Granada on 2 January 1492 to the victorious armies of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile (sound like characters from “Lord of the Rings” don’t they?), otherwise known as the Catholic Monarchs, should be recognised for its great historical importance and declared a national cultural asset.

This proposal has been made by the municipal and provincial governments of Granada, both controlled by the right-wing Popular Party. To support their proposal, they argue that the celebration has taken place annually since 1493 “without any known-of interruption”. That day in 1492, they go on, ad nauseum, when the royal standard of Castile was unfurled above the city from the Alhambra’s Torre de la Vela de la Alhambra, the (Christian) Reconquest of (Moslem) Spain came to an end and with it the end of the Middle Ages in Spain.

The promoters of the proposal intend to strengthen this popular tradition “without wanting to enter into polemics with other sectors of society”, calling it a “commemoration” rather than a celebration. In today’s free tolerant democratic and pluralistic Spain, there’s room to promote such a unique and transcendental historic event which the Fall of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs undoubtedly is, they claim.
Besides, argue its promoters, the tradition of celebrating the Fall of Granada is supported by more than 90% of the city’s inhabitants and has been actively celebrated for years as a matter of course, it being seen as a symbol of the national unification of Spain.

Arguments against celebrating The Fall of Granada in 1492

The claim that the celebration has taken place annually since 1493 without any known interruptions sounds a bit dubious, if not to say far-fetched. Referring to its continuity, it is certainly true that dictator General Franco restored the 2 January celebration in favour of one on 26 May in honour of the local nineteenth century liberal heroine, Mariana Pineda, which was popular during the Second Republic (1931-1939). For some time now, an initiative, Granada Abierta, has been campaigning to get the 2 January local public holiday substituted by a holiday on 26 May (a much better time of year for a day off, surely).

Overwhelmingly popular and celebrated as “a matter of course”? A spokesperson of the city council said of the 2013 celebrations: it had been “a bit noisy”, with groups of the extreme right and extreme left confronting each other, but there had been “no problems”. In fact, recent years have shown how the celebration nurtures neo-nazis and neo-fascist groups, with fascist symbols and xenophobic and racist slogans merging in with the existing folklore. A placard reading “Por una nueva reconquista” (for a new re-conquest) has appeared year after year at the event, while an afternoon rally of neofascists at the statue of Isabel La Católica at the end of the Gran Via was given permission to go ahead. By way of contrast, the Platform against 2 January say at the previous year’s celebration, 17 fines of 301 € were handed out to antifascists and their banner that read “NO to racism, no to fascism, and no to the Toma (Fall)” was confiscated.

The following images give an idea of how the Fall of Granada was celebrated as "a matter of course" and with "no problems".

Is there not room for an innocent celebration of a unique colourful historical event? Well, the ethnic-religious cleansing of Jews and Moslems can hardly be considered a harmless, historical fact. Besides, celebrating the Fall of Granada is a bit like celebrating the victory of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, but with a fervour and bipartisan enthusiasm at odds with the neutral historical facts. Ferdinand and Isabel the Conquerors have an ideological dimension that is being kept alive today, one that William of Normandy clearly doesn’t.

It was a historic event: the end of the Middle Ages, and a great day in the history of Granada. The local poet, Lorca, in 1936, countered this at that time conventional school-book view, saying “it was a dreadful day, a day when a wonderful civilisation was lost to us, and with it its poetry, its science, its art and architecture, to give way to an impoverished and oppressed city where today the worst bourgeoisie in Spain holds sway”. And a day that was to lead in the Spanish Inquisition, he might have added.

The Popular Party proposal did not prosper, by the way.

Sources: E. Press Granada Granada Hoy 15.01.2013; Plataforma Contra el 2 de Enero Press Release 30.12.12; Valme Cortes Granada El Pais 2.1.13 Lorca interview 10.7.1936, six weeks before he was murdered in Granada – by “the worst bourgeoisie in Spain”.

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la bestiaPosted by Simon Sun, June 12, 2011 00:29:51

This is a follow-up to my blog about the the statue dedicated to Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera in front of the Palacio Bibtaubin ( The Right want to keep it; the Left want to scrap it. The Right say it’s a work of art and politics doesn’t matter. The Left say it’s a monstrosity and an insult to the victims of Franco’s fascist regime.

Well, in their strategy of eulogising the statue as a work of art, and so being worthy of preservation, the right-wing PP (Partido Popular)-controlled city council decided in favour of naming a public square in the city after its creator, the sculptor Francisco López Burgos, winner of the 1954 National Sculpture Prize, so evidently a great artist. The aim of the city council is to rehabilitate the name of said sculptor and to rescue him from the ostracism he has suffered in modern (post-Franco) times, thus giving official recognition to his artistic work as being “above” politics. That would include this piece, dedicated as we said to Jose Antonio.

The council picked on a square called ‘Plaza del Rocio’ for Lopez Burgos’s rehabilitation but this quickly met with neighbourhood opposition. They didn’t have anything against Mr Lopez Burgos, they said, but they rather preferred the traditional name Rocio, which the Square had been called for 40 years. Thwarted, the PP Mayor now hopes to find a not-yet-named square in a new part of town, but with the crisis and construction stop, this is likely to be problematic for a while.

Meanwhile an initiative of leftist artists and intellectuals has come up with the idea of erecting a statue in honour of the recently deceased flamenco singer Enrique Morente in place of the one dedicated to the founder of the Falange, Jose Antonio de Rivera. The initiative is supported by flamenco artists, actors, writers, journalists, and politicians, who argue that Morente is a symbol of the struggle for freedom and civic harmony, which of course could never be said of Jose Antonio, whose anti-democratic ideas divided Spanish society.

This puts the PP on the spot, because although everyone knows Morente was a leftie, he was also undeniably one of the greatest artists in Granada’s recent history, maybe the greatest, with an international reputation for his innovative contributions to that so Andalusian of art forms, el flamenco. And though they may have more sympathy with Jose Antonio for his right-wing politics, - this Lopez Burgos, well, in spite of his 1954 sculpture prize, he just doesn’t have remotely comparable artistic credentials. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with, and if the Morente proposal prospers.

Images. 1: Granada la bella. 2: La bestia.

Source: Granada Hoy, 27.02.2011

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The Fall of Granada

la bestiaPosted by Simon Sun, January 02, 2011 00:42:40

2 January 1492. After a long period of bitter warfare and a lengthy siege, Muslim Granada finally fell into the hands of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel. Muslim it had been for three quarters of a millennium. Now it had fallen, been ‘taken’ in battle, ‘re-conquered’ and ‘returned’ to Christianity. The day has been celebrated in Granada for centuries. For centuries it was an innocuous popular celebration of what it meant to be ‘granadino’, - from Granada.

But as we have observed ( views on the Moorish-Moslem past of Granada are rarely free of a particular ideological slant and that innocuous popular fiesta of the nineteenth century has become, at least since 1992, the subject of familiar controversially opposing interpretations from the left and the right of the political spectrum. 1992 was the 500th anniversary of the Fall of Granada – and of Columbus’s discovery of America, of course. And it gave rise to serious considerations of what exactly is being celebrated when commemorating such events. This has led numerous celebrity writers, artists and intellectuals - Antonio Gala, Carlos Cano, Amín Maalouf, Roger Garaudy, Juan Goytisolo, Luis García Montero, Miguel Ríos, Yehudi Menuhin and José Saramago among them – to express their opposition to the Granada fiesta in its contemporary form.

The celebration of the Fall of Granada in its present form is an apology for racism they claim and promotes cultural confrontation and conflict. Those who want to see the fiesta continue unchanged, including the local city council, insist on its political innocence, - this in spite of the vociferous presence of extreme right groups. These agitate openly against the new Moslem ‘invasion’ – by which they mean immigration from North Africa and the Middle East – and celebrate the Fall of Granada as the first step towards the ethnic cleansing that took place throughout much of the sixteenth century – and by insinuation needs to be repeated in the twenty-first. (See

The ceremonial proceedings on the 2 January begin with a Catholic mass being held at the Royal Chapel – site of Ferdinand and Isabel’s tomb – followed by a civilian-religious-military (big society?) parade through the city streets behind the royal banner of Castile – the banner that had led the Ferdinand and Isabel’s armies to victory in their battles against the Moors (Moslem inhabitants) of Granada. The climax of the fiesta is at the end of the parade when the banner is taken up to the main balcony of the City Hall and waved three times – for Spain, Castile, and Granada. The local councillors may be thinking more of Granada, but the extreme right definitely have Spain and Castile uppermost in their minds.

[Indeed, the fiesta was blatantly politicised during the Franco period, when celebration of the reconquista of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabel served ideologically to consolidate the legitimacy of the militantly nationalistic regime. For the locals, though, the fiesta was always more about Granada than about Spain.]

As sort of a compromise, the traditional ceremony is followed up these days by a Fiesta de las Culturas in which the supposedly peaceful co-existence of the Moslem, Christian and Jewish communities in Moorish Granada is celebrated. Here the International ‘Granadillo’ Prize bestows a sort of honorary citizenship on an appropriate celebrity. Last year it was awarded to the Pakistani Trotskyite Tariq Ali (read his 1992 reconquista novel In the Shade of the Pomegranate Tree if you get the chance). Ali unequivocally condemned the Fall of Granada fiesta calling it a hangover from the past which is dying a natural death. [Hm. Looks pretty much alive to me!] This year, we are hoping award-winner, left-leaning Spanish journalist and TV personality, Jesús Quintero will make a similar outspoken pronouncement.

Antifascists, meanwhile, have signed a manifesto asking for the Fall of Granada fiesta to be abolished and replaced by one in honour of the city’s liberal heroine Mariana Pineda who was garrotted on 26 May 1831 because of her resistance to King Ferdinand VII’s oppression.

Now there’s a proposal to set the cat among the pigeons.

[Source for much of this blog is an article by ELENA LLOMPART in GRANADA HOY 27.12.2010]

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book burning

la bestiaPosted by Simon Sun, November 07, 2010 18:25:05


The news about the Florida pastor, Terry Jones, threatening to burn copies of the Qur'an outside his church on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre bodes ill for the future, even if in the end he did not go through with it. The threat to burn the Qur'an in Florida was just the most extreme example of growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the USA and around the western world. Across the US there were reports of attacks on Muslim targets and the FBI had to investigate crimes in four different states ranging from windows being smashed at an Islamic centre in California to a fire being set at one in Texas. Sadly, President Obama reacted to this by arguing that the actions of the fanatical pastor would lead to the death of more American soldiers in Afghanistan; and it was playing into the hands of Al Quaida. Would the book burning be acceptable, then, if it did not lead to such retaliation from the Islam world?

This book burning threat has an ugly precedent in the history of Granada. In 1499 Cardinal Cisneros at the head of the Spanish Inquisition ordered the burning of all Arabic manuscripts in Granada (except those dealing with medicine, I suppose for pragmatic reasons). At the end of that year the contents of the city’s university library went up in flames on a bonfire in Plaza Bib Rambla. Seven years earlier the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel, had conquered the city from the Moslem Moors, with the promise that its religion and culture would be respected. At first, the new Catholic rulers tried to convert the Moslems through a process of argument and persuasive indoctrination. When this was seen to be ineffective, Cisneros turned to more direct methods to remove any possible subversive elements within Spain. Enforced conversion through compulsory mass baptisms backed up with threats and imprisonment for the more reluctant provoked three years of guerrilla warfare throughout the former kingdom of Granada. The revolt was suppressed and Moslems resistance went underground, one last rebellion being put down in 1568. The Moors (the Islamic inhabitants of Spain), who now were not allowed to practice their religion, wear their normal everyday dress, speak their own language in public, or practice any of their traditional customs, were finally expelled from the country in 1609. In modern terms: the failure to win the hearts and minds of the Moslems by Cisneros led to a long sustained ‘war on terror’.

Book burning, of course, also played a part of the notorious "Reichskristallnacht" in Nazi Germany on the night of 9 November 1938.

On this occasion state sanctioned thugs went on the rampage smashing the shop windows of Jewish businesses, ransacking Jewish homes, and setting fire to synagogues. This date and these events mark the beginning of the holocaust. Unable to expel the Jews in sufficient numbers, the Nazis sought other means to achieve the final solution to their ‘Jewish problem’. In this case, the burning of books and buildings ended in attempted genocide – the burning of human beings.

Granada 1499. Germany 1938. (Almost) Florida 2010. There is something very sinister about book burning, a fact Ray Bradbury skilfully exploited in his sci fi novel Fahrenheit 451.

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Falangist Eyesore

la bestiaPosted by Simon Sun, September 12, 2010 02:27:07

Is the statue dedicated to Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera in front of the Palacio Bibtaubin an eyesore, or a work of art? This question is at the centre of the dispute about whether it should be left where it is, or chucked on the scrapheap of history.

It was put there in 1972, in the dying years of General Franco and his dictatorship. Although it’s in the centre of Granada, just off the Carrera del Genil, close to the Corte Ingles, it’s easy to overlook, being partly hidden by trees and bushes. You have to look for it.

Once again, we find artistic criteria divided along political lines. Sebastian Perez, President of the right wing Partido Popular in Granada, sees in it a work of art by Granada’s ‘best twentieth century sculptor’, Francisco López Burgos. [Sorry? - No, neither had I.] The fact that it’s dedicated to Jose Antonio, founder of the Spanish Falange, is neither here nor there. It’s its artistic quality that counts and those who object to its presence are nothing more than cultureless left-wing taliban. (Says Sr. López. With a touch of polemics.)

In short, the right, who would really like to keep the monstrosity on ideological grounds, dare not admit their adherence to the exaltation of fascism that the statue represents, so they argue for its permanence in the city centre out of respect for its artistic value. The left, meanwhile, justify their demand for its removal on the grounds that it’s a symbol that eulogises the military uprising of 1936 and Franco’s repressive dictatorship. Which, of course, it does, or did.

But that would not be enough to get it removed. In its efforts to reconcile left and right in Spanish society, the state has decreed that official cultural manifestations of the Franco period are acceptable if it can be demonstrated that they have artistic worth. So before ordering to have it removed, after due deliberation, the powers that be have reached their solemn verdict that poor Francisco López Burgos’s statue is of absolutely no artistic or patrimonial importance whatsoever. So it can be got rid of.

This is self deception. There are plenty of eyesores in Granada that ought to be removed on aesthetic grounds, but aren’t. If López Burgos’s statue commemorated the life and works of Federico García Loca or the aspirations of the Second Republic, I would not object to its being there, even though it’s artistically quite grotesque. As it is, it insults my both my political and aesthetic sensibilities. It’s always annoyed me, ever since it was brought to my attention. It’s a sadly hideous monument to a sadly hideous era.

P.S. Incidentally, the main road on the other side of the Corte Ingles, the Acera del Darro, was also named after the Falangist leader. It was re-named Avenida José Antonio Primo de Rivera. But I have it on good authority that the name never stuck. Apparently, the road was re-surfaced, with asphalt instead of the traditional cobblestones. The new surface made for such a smooth ride that the road became popularly known only as ‘la Fili’ after the new Philishave electric razor with the rotating cutters that was marketed globally with great success in the 1950s. As the Philishave razor lost its novelty and Franco and his regime finally died away, in 1979 la Fili went back to being what it was before and is today: the Acera del Darro.

The ‘elemento ornamental en cuestión’. Five poorly shaped arms and hands rise from the plinth and above them hover two sinister heavy wings held in place by crude metal bars.

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