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International Alert of Architectonic Heritage in Danger in Donostia

By Eneko Tuduri

This past 9th of April, the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS, a branch of the UNESCO) launched the second international alert of architectonic heritage in danger for the Bellas Artes Palace in Donostia/San Sebastian, Gipuzkoa (Basque Country).

The Palacio Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Palace), built in 1914 by the donostiarra architect Ramon Cortázar Urruzola (1867-1945), is “one of the earliest extant examples of a purpose-built movie palace left in the Basque Country and in all of Spain”[1]. Furthermore, the Bellas is a unique innovative building built before the First World War; it follows the French typology of a Palace du Cinéma (movie palace), an eclectic type of monumental buildings, ranging between the Art Noveau and Art Decó styles.

In the first years of cinema films were shown in cafes, regular theaters and street pavilions[2]. It is only after 1907 that cinema theaters were built specifically for their purpose, such as the Gaumont-Palace cinema in Paris[3]. The Bellas Artes is clearly inspired by this cinema theater, but also receives influences from the Viennese Secession architectural style, ancient Egyptian temples and eastern pagodas[4]. Structurally, it is one of the first buildings in Spain using reinforced concrete cast in place, making it a very resistant structure and a more significant building.

The architect, Ramon Cortázar, and his father Antonio Cortazar are part of the most important architect saga in Gipuzkoa´s capital.  Antonio was the designer of the city center, the so-called Ensanche Cortázar. Ramon crowned his father’s decades long work with this building, marking the end of the expansion area of the Donostia 100 years after its destruction by Anglo-Portuguese troops in 1813.

In 2015, the Bellas Artes went from the highest protection category to the destruction of the dome, the most important architectural feature of the building.

On the same day of its 100th anniversary, good news arrived to the defenders of the palace that was already threatened[5]; the building got the highest rate of protection from the Basque Government after a request by ANCORA, the citizen platform formed to defend the monument[6]. However, shortly after this, SADE, the company that owns the building, presented an appeal against this order. In a turn of the events, the government decided to dismiss the protection order. Just after the removal of this protection, SADE informed the city council of the appearance of a crack in the dome and proposed to demolish it, alleging danger of collapse.

Between October 20 and 30 of 2015, SADE demolished the dome of the Bellas Artes building and covered the building with a protective mesh – as a shroud -” to give a sense of decrepitude”[7]. Not only was the dome lost but by this time decorative elements, such as the zinc masks of fantastical creatures in the corners of the dome, were already lost. An order to rebuild the dome was given by the city council to SADE, but without any date or condition.

Today the actual condition of the building is the same as at the end of 2015, without a dome and with the clear intention by the owner to let it deteriorate, declare it a ruin, and demolish it. For these reasons, ICOMOS launched the second international alert. As the dossier about the building declares: “The recovery of its former glory would be desirable” and the ” The Bellas Artes can be and should be protected and fully restored”[8].

 

The Bellas Artes short after the inauguration.

The monument today, after the destruction of the dome.

[1] Dossier of international alert of the ICOMOS about the building. March 30, 2019. p. 2.

[2] Ibidem. p. 2.

[3] Nowadays demolished. Ibidem. p. 5.

[4] Ibidem. p. 14.

[5] September 12, 2014. By May 2015 a first international alert was launch by the ICOMOS warning the local authorities.

[6] This group has defended this monument, but also many other historical buildings in Donostia and the surroundings. Formed by architects and art historians, Ancora received the medal of the city this year because of the task of protecting and disseminating the architectonical heritage of the city. It is not the only citizen group in San Sebastian created in the last years to protect its heritage, showing the high level of destruction of heritage perpetrated in the last decades.

[7] Ibidem. p 4.

[8] Ibidem. p. 15.

April 13, 1965: Death of Matilde Huici

The devastation wrought by the Civil War in Spain in the 1930s and beyond led to countless individual stories of exile and the forging of new lives on the other side of the Atlantic, where, as you will all be aware, Basques of the diaspora made significant contributions to their new host countries. One such story concerns Matilde Huici Navaz.

Matilde Huici (1890-1965). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Matilde Huici (1890-1965). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Born into a middle-class liberal family in Pamplona-Iruñea  on August 3, 1890, she obtained a teaching certificate at age seventeen and entered into the world of education taking up a position initially in Donostia-San Sebastián. She later relocated to Madrid where she worked in the Residencia de Señoritas, the first official center in Spain established to promote university education for women as well as co-founding  the Association of Spanish University Women in 1928. She also studied for a law degree in the 1920s.

During the time of Spain’s Second Republic in the 1930s she joined the Spanish Socialist Party together with her husband and through that decade became involved in various educational and legal initiatives of the republic.  This culminated in her appointment as  Spain’s delegate to the Commission for the Protection of Children and Youth at the League of Nations in Geneva in 1935. Following the victory of Franco in 1939, she emigrated to Chile, where she established the School for the Education of Children of the University of Chile, which she directed between 1944 and 1962.

Matilde Huici died on April 13, 1965, aged seventy-four.

Dr. Ott’s “Evelyne’s Story: A Jewish Basque Infant Heiress versus the General Commissariat for Jewish Affairs”

Last Thursday, as part of the CBS’ Spring 2019 Lecture Series, Dr. Sandy Ott presented a new and fascinating paper, fruit of her archival research last summer in France. There’s no need for fiction with the trove of documents she has found throughout her years rummaging through piles of dossiers.

Dr. Ott began by telling us that her next step in research on the Nazi occupation of Iparralde is to explore more Jewish cases, which she has done with Evelyne Lang’s incredible story of inheritance.

Evelyne’s grandfather, Adolph Lang, was a wealthy land owner with properties throughout France. When transfers of Jewish property to “Aryans” began in occupied France, Lang did his best to circumvent the laws. His son, Robert, had married a Basque heiress, Eliane Etxeberry and together had baby Evelyne. Lang decided to transfer his property to his granddaughter who was just four months old at the time. Casteig, the provisional administrator for the transfer of this property, requested just that from Xavier Vallat, head of the General Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, who granted the deed of inheritance. The question is, what motivated them to make this exception?

Within the case, Basque inheritance traditions play a major role. When Robert and Eliane married, they signed a deed of separation of goods, making Eliane the sole owner of her household. According to the Jewish statutes of the time, Evelyne was considered 3/4 Aryan, and since her mother was full Aryan, Eliane could administer the property. Casteig therefore argued that a legal transaction had occurred, aryanizing this Jewish property by putting it in the hands of baby Evelyne.  Vallant never tried to stop the process, even though he was known as a raging anti-semite. Although we may never know what else went on between the Langs, Casteig, and Vallant, Evelyne’s story provides a glimpse into some of the strategies Jewish families carried out to maintain what belonged to them.

As usual, I can’t wait to hear more about Dr. Ott’s research. For those of you interested, make sure to check out Living with the Enemy, her latest book.

 

April 7, 2011: Korrika kicks off in…. Burgos?

Street sign in Basque and Spanish in Trebiñu-Treviño, Burgos. Picture by Assar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Street sign in Basque and Spanish in Trebiñu-Treviño, Burgos. Picture by Assar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I hope everyone has gotten their running shoes on because we’re coming to the exciting finale of Korrika 21 right now in the Basque Country. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, check out our posts on Korrika, in 2015, in 2017, and even the 2017 edition in Reno. But did you know that, on April 7, 2011 Korrika 17 started Trebiñu-Treviño, an enclave of Burgos entirely surrounded by Araba? While many people in this enclave would like to become a formal part of the Basque Country, to date it remains officially part of the province of Burgos in the autonomous community of Castile and Leon. To the best of our knowledge, then, this is the only time Korrika has started (or indeed finished) outside of Euskal Herria. Now there’s a good fact to impress your friends with the next time you play Basque trivia!

April 2, 1984: Death of Bilbao poet Angela Figuera

The so-called rootless poetry was a genre of lyric poetry that, insofar as it was able to during the Franco dictatorship in Spain, attempted the counteract the more classical version of lyric poetry that received the official support of the regime. One of the principal exponents of this poetry was a Basque, Angela Figuera Aymerich.

Born in Bilbao in 1902, she was a brilliant student who managed, against the social conventions of the time and despite spending much of her childhood raising her siblings on account of her mother’s poor health, to earn a university degree and, by the early 1930s, she qualified to become a public high school teacher. After marrying in 1933 she relocated to Madrid, but following the Spanish Civil War, on which her sympathies were on the losing side, she was stripped of her job and degree. Despite the repression suffered by her family, she managed to develop an incipient career as a writer.Simultaneously, in the 1950s she began working in mobile libraries that served the peripheral neighborhoods of Madrid.  She published sporadically and much of her work was aimed, where possible given conditions of censorship, against the Franco regime, from a feminist, existentialist, and social conscience perspective. During this time, she developed especially close relationships with fellow Basques writing social poetry in Spanish, Gabriel Celaya and Blas de Otero, together with who  she formed was termed the so-called Basque postwar triumvirate. Following Franco’s death in 1975, she was critical of the flaws she saw in the transition to democracy in Spain.

After a short illness, she died on April 2, 1984. In English, see Jo Evans, Moving Reflections: Gender, Faith and Aesthetics in the Work of Angela Figuera Aymerich (London: Tamesis, 1996).

CBS Conference on the Work of Basque American Author Frank Bergon

The Center for Basque Studies and the Basque Library organized an extremely successful conference on March 13-14 honoring the work of Basque American author Frank Bergon.

How does the work of a Basque-Nevadan author and professor relate to both his Basque heritage and Western American literature? How has his writing changed over time, confronted the struggle between fact and fiction, and dealt with the nuclear apocalypse? The title of the conference was “Visions of a Basque American Westerner.”

     

The conference gathered ten scholars and writers from the United States and Europe to discuss Frank Bergon’s novels, essays, and critical works from multiple perspectives. Participants included William Heath (Mount Saint Mary’s University), Monika Madinabeitia (Mondragon University), Joseba Zulaika (UNR), Sylvan Goldberg (Colorado College), Zeese Papanikolas (San Francisco Art Institute), Iñaki Arrieta Baro (UNR), David Rio (University of the Basque Country), Nancy Cook (University of Montana), David Means (Vassar College).

The two-day event also featured book presentations, music recitals and dance performances, all open to the general public.

    

March 24, 1980: Death of Pierre Etchebaster, greatest real tennis player in history

If you haven’t heard of real tennis or court tennis, then check it out . Not only is it the forerunner of modern or “lawn” tennis, but it has a long and important history. Evolving out of hand ball games not unlike the Basques’ very own pelota, it was the sport of the royal houses of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the famous 1789 Tennis Court Oath in the French Revolution was taken in a real tennis court. And real tennis reputedly has the longest line of consecutive word champions in any sport, dating back to 1760.

Pierre Etchebaster in 1928, wearing his customary txapela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Pierre Etchebaster in 1928, wearing his customary txapela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Arguably the greatest real tennis player of all time, at least in the modern age, was a Basque, Pierre Etchebaster. Born in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) on the coast of Lapurdi, in 1893, he naturally grew up playing several of the different types of pelota. Aged eighteen, he was already champion of France in the chistera/xistera variety, the equivalent of what we know today as jai alai or zesta punta. After serving in the French army in World War I he returned to the Basque Country where he continued to excel at pelota.

In 1922 he took up real tennis and became head professional at the Paris court club after auditioning for the post the first time he picked up a racquet! In 1928, already in this thirties, he won his first world championship, wearing his customary blue txapela or beret as a sign of his strong Basque identity. This began a remarkable run of world championship victories, winning his last title in 1954 aged sixty years old! In the meantime, he also spent the 1930s in the United States, where he was a resident professional at the prestigious Racquet and Tennis Club in New York City, where he resided until his retirement in the 1950s.

An excellent athlete, he enjoyed a full and active retirement. He was awarded France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor, in 1955, and went on to publish a coaching manual about the game in 1971. In 1978 he was inducted into the tennis hall of fame. Etchebaster died in the town of his birth, Donibane Lohizune, aged eighty-seven.

Check out this fascinating article on Etcebaster by the New Yorker in 1953.

See also the fascinating book by Olatz González Abrisketa, Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic.

CBS Graduate Student Eneko Tuduri Discusses Medieval Art at Lecture Series

 

Eneko presented his talk titled International and Political Influences in the Kingdom of Navarre 1194-1425 through Art.

Since its formation, the kingdom of Pamplona (824) has had a lot of  international influences. By the end of the 12th century, this kingdom turned into the kingdom of Navarre after conquering Tudela (the most important Muslim city in the north after Saragossa). It was then when real “international” connections started. They were especially remarkable with the French territories and with the English crown.

The Church of San Zoilo de Caseda, Navarre, 14th century.

It was through the Saint James way that the Romanesque art entered the north of the Iberian Peninsula. European styles also spread from French settlements in the kingdom of Navarre, or through the dynastic marriages with Basque and English royal families.

A good example of how cultural influences were coming down the Saint James Way was the “Viking” or Northern European symbol on the facade of the church of Santa Maria de Sangüesa. The story of Sigfrid was sculpted in stone, with two scenes depicting how the hero gets the magic sword from the dwarf smith, and how the hero kills the dragon. This representation is typical of northern European countries, as we can see in the carvings from Hylestad stavekirkein Norway.

The dynastic marriages allowed that the high-quality art of Europe would reach Navarre to all the different fields. The Lemoges enamel art or the “champlevé” was already in Navarre for the marriage between Richard the Lionheart and the princess Berengela of Navarre. The magnified altar piece of the monastery of San Miguel de Aralar (end of the 12th century) is one of the most impressing examples of Lemoges enamel art. According to some experts, the altarpiece was the present for this weeding.

Finally, during the 13th and 14th centuries, the new French artistic style gothic art spread in Navarre thanks in part to the French origin of the kings of Navarre. One of the best examples is the Barbazana chapel in the Cathedral of Iruña-Pamplona, the burial place of the bishop Arnauld of Barbazan in power from 1318 to 1355. The chapel is covered with a star shaped-vault, which has an origin in England, most specifically in the Cathedral of Southwell, according to some experts. This is something not very surprising because in the construction site of the cloister, just where this chapel is located, we can find the trace of several European master builders as Guillermo Inglés (William the English).

The Pyrenaic kingdom will stay for the next century as an important European kingdom, in some cases with art at the same level of the best European capitals.

 

The Greenman of San Juan Bautista de Eristain, Navarre, locally known in Basque as Basajaun (“the lord of the forest”).

March 21, 1941: Birth of composer Sara Soto

Most of you reading this will be aware of the importance of music in Basque culture and we could quite easily dedicate an entire blog to Basque music alone. Today’s Flashback Friday story concerns an interesting figure in the world of Basque music that is sometimes overlooked in studies of the topic. Sara Soto Gabiola was born in Gorliz, Bizkaia, on March 21, 1941, although her family moved to Irun, Gipuzkoa, when she was very young.

Sara Soto Gabiola (1941-1999).

Sara Soto Gabiola (1941-1999).

She suffered from a muscular illness as a child, which limited her ability to move around easily, and she found an escape from the physical limitation imposed on her by developing a keen appreciation for the arts: she drew and painted and was an avid reader. But in was in music that she found her true métier. Although she did undertakle some formal studies of harmony, she was largeñy self-taught.

Her first compositions, influenced strongly by the Basque artistic collective Ez Dok Amairu and in particular Lourdes Iriondo and Xabier Lete (with whom she established a lasting friendship), she started composing songs for accompaniment by the guitar. Lete wrote the lyrics for several of her compositions, including the popular “Kanta Kanta,” recorded by Maria Ostiz in the late 1960s, and Iriondo recorded her song “Maitasun honek zugan dirudi” in the mid-1970s.

In the late 1970s the renowned sculptor, artist, and all-round Basque renaissance figure Nestor Basterretxea commissioned her to compose an accompanying soundtrack for what would become arguably his most famous work, the Serie Cosmogonica Vasca (Basque Cosmogonic Series), today housed in the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum.  The result was the choral work “Karraxis,” based on verses by Basterretxea, which premiered in 1979 in Donostia-San Sebastián with the Ametsa Choir from Irun and some members of the Orfeón Donostiarra choir as well. In the mid-1980s she worked with Basterretxea again to create the “Cripta,” a piece for the organ inspired by the artist’s murals for the crypt in the Sanctuary of Arantzazu.  Although these were her best known works, she composed many more choral and organ pieces and left a profound mark on Basque music. She died in Irun in June 1999.

CBS Welcomes New Graduate Student Nerea Aizagirre

Meet new CBS graduate student Nerea Eizagirre Telleria!

Nerea was born in 1992 in Zumaia, Gipuzkoa. She studied in the Public School of her hometown until she finished High School. She got an “academic excellence” competitive award for her high school transcripts and her performance at the standardized competitive tests. Due to the award, the Basque Government financed her university studies. During high school, Nerea won literary prizes for young writers: Azkue Saria(Euzkaltzaindia) and Urruzuno Saria(Basque Government). In 2009, she moved to Barcelona to start her undergraduate studies in Literature at the Universitat de Barcelona. After finishing her BA, she moved back to the Basque Country again. She studied for an MA in the Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea EHU-UPV (University of Basque Country), at the faculty of Sarriko, Bilbao. She earned an MA in Globalization and Development, focusing on international conflicts and peace building processes. She wrote her MA thesis about the Syrian war, focusing on Kurdish women. While she was studying her MA in Bilbao, the City Hall of Bilbao selected her for the “Solidary Youth” program. The City Hall of Bilbao provided Nerea an apartment to live in during a year in the multicultural neighborhood of San Francisco in Bilbao. Her role was to volunteer in the neighborhood, participate in different forums, and teach Basque to children in the Public School called Miribilla Eskola. Next year, she moved back to her hometown Zumaia, and studied for an MA in Teacher Training for Secondary Educationat in the EHU-UPV Donostia. Between the periods of 2017-2019, she worked as a High School Language teacher (Basque, Spanish and English). She served as a teacher in the Basque Public Secondary Education System in the localities of Leioa, Azpeitia, Barakaldo and Berriz. She left her last job in Berriz just a couple of weeks before coming to Reno.

Nerea just started her PhD in Basque Studies in World Languages and Literatures. The following years she will write a dissertation about Basque literature and exile, analyzing the literary work of Joseba Sarrionaindia. Her academic fields are Basque Literature, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies and Multicultural Studies.

    

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