Tag: Donostia (page 1 of 2)

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.

August 27, 1893: The Night of Sagasta’s Shots

On the night of August 27-28, 1893, there was spontaneous public outcry in Donostia-San Sebastián at the refusal of the municipal band to play the politically-charged Basque hymn “Gernikako Arbola” (The tree of Gernika), due to the presence in the city of both the queen regent of Spain and the prime minister, Práxedes Sagasta. The resulting protest was met with force by the authorities and by the morning of August 28 three protesters had been killed and many injured.

The resort city of Donostia-San Sebastián was full of people that Sunday, August 27. As the municipal band was entertaining a large crowd, there were requests to play “Gernikako Arbola” but, on the prior orders of city hall, the band’s conductor declined to do so. The song was considered too political by the authorities due to is defense of the Basque fueros, the specific rights on which a form of Basque home rule had existed for centuries, until their abolition in 1876. With both the queen regent and prime minster of Spain summering in the city, the public authorities took the decision to ban any rendition of the song for fear of causing offense to the illustrious visitors.

Tempers rose among many of those attending the concert and some young people set off firecrackers in protest. A demonstration was quickly organized, with shouts of “Long live the fueros!” and “Death to Sagasta!” as it passed by the Londres Hotel, at which the prime minister was staying. The atmosphere grew tenser as more people joined in the protest, and stones were thrown at the hotel. Some people even tried to get over the barriers outside and enter the premises, which resulted around midnight in the appearance of a squad of civil guards that opened fire on the public. Three people were killed: Vicente Urcelay, Rufino Aspiazu, and Justo Perez.

In the days that followed there were more demonstrations and more confrontations between protesters and the security forces. Meanwhile, other demonstrations were taking place throughout the Basque Country in sympathy with the people in Donostia-San Sebastián. At this moment, the city hall intervened, calling on the central authorities to withdraw their security forces and promising to take the initiative to quell the unrest, which, ultimately, it did; although not without leaving a simmering resentment among certain sections of the Basque population. The issue of the abolition of the fueros was, then, still very important even nearly twenty years later.

In Basque Nationalism and Political Violence (p.67), Cameron J. Watson comments on the events:

The violence of the event certainly brought public attention not only to the level of social protest within the Basque provinces, but also to the actions of the Civil Guard, an organization associated with the institutionalization of the liberal state in Spain. Indeed, it was the raison d’être of the organization to serve the Spanish government, whatever its political complexion, against any opposition. The incident also reflected that although a liberal state had been institutionalized, traditional recourse to force, a staple tactic of Spanish government throughout the century, had not been relinquished. The evidence suggests, then, that the liberal state in Spain was not as tolerant as may have been perceived. That same day, a strong military presence had been posted to Bilbao in order to offset republican demonstrations in the city. It was clear from the level of social protest of varying political persuasions that Spain was suffering a grave domestic crisis. However, what was perhaps most significant about the Donostia–San Sebastián disturbance was the scene of these events itself, a place of liberal tradition and the summer residence of the monarchy.

Check out some other posts on the significance of “Gernikako Arbola” here, here, and here.

October 1, 1910: Pioneering Basque aviator Benito Loygorri crash-lands in Donostia-San Sebastián

Benito Loygorri Pimentel (1885-1976)

Born in Biarritz, Lapurdi, but raised in Gipuzkoa, Benito Loygorri Pimentel was an engineer and a pioneering Basque aviator. At the age of 18 he witnessed one of the early flights by the Wright brothers in France, specifically in Pau, near the Basque Country, and Le Mans, and was captivated by the idea of flying. He subsequently became the first person in Spain to achieve an international pilot’s license in August 1910. Shortly after this, on October 1, 1910, he set off from Biarritz airport to give a flying exhibition above the city of Donostia-San Sebastián. Some 35 minutes after taking off, and with his girlfriend by his side, he entered the city and circled the bay.  Conflicting accounts exist on what happened next, but whatever the case, he landed the aircraft right there in the middle of the city on Ondarreta Beach, either intentionally or not. In “Benito Loygorri, primer piloto español,” Alejandro Polanco Masa quotes an article in the journal of the time Vida Marítima that stated: “he landed without any incident at all.” A contrasting report is given by José Delfín Val in “Un aviador pionero y su hermano, el ilustrador de novelas ‘picantes‘,” who writes that the plane, “crashed into the water on account of the engine cutting out near Ondarreta Beach.” Loygorri went on to have a long and eventful life, abandoning the burgeoning world of aviation in the 1920s to concentrate on a career in industry, most notably becoming the head of General Motors in Spain and Portugal. He died at age 90 and a commemorative stamp was issue in his honor in Spain.

 

September 13, 1936: Fall of Donostia-San Sebastián in Spanish Civil War

On September 13, 1936, five columns of Navarrese troops marched into Donostia-San Sebastián, meeting with no resistance, to take the city in the name of the military rebels who had risen up two months earlier against the democratically elected government of the Second Spanish Republic.

Map showing the frontline in Gipuzkoa until October 1936 in one-week intervals, as of late evening every Sunday, by Dd1495, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

That previous July, the garrison of Spanish troops stationed in Donostia had actually joined in the military uprising but it was put down by socialist and anarchist militiamen loyal to the republic. In August, however, Navarrese troops (the requetés or Carlist militias who sided with the military rebels during the war), aided by some Gipuzkoan Carlists, began a campaign to seal off the border at Irun, thereby cutting off a potential arms supply from France for the pro-Republic forces. After laying siege to the town, and with aerial support, the rebels took Irun on September 5,  effectively paving the way to march on toward Donostia. With the fall of Irun, a westward drift of refugees (those that did not manage to cross the border into Iparralde) began that would define much of the civilian experience of the civil war in the Basque Country.

Rebel troops entering Donostia

Having suffered bombardment from sea, and with rebel troops advancing into the city from both the east and inland Gipuzkoa, Donostia ultimately fell without resistance.

Be sure to check out War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, a key work that among other themes examines the effects of war on ordinary people in the Basque Country. This book is available free to download here.

The Center has also recently published David Lyon’s Bitter Justice, an important study based on a wealth of primary material that examines the fate of Basque prisoners during the Spanish Civil War.

 

August 31, 1813: Burning of Donostia-San Sebastián

“The Storming of San Sebastian” by Denis Dighton (c) The National Trust for Scotland, Leith Hall Garden & Estate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

August 31 is a key date in the history of Donostia-San Sebastián. It marks the day on which, during the Peninsular War (1807-1814), victorious British and Portuguese troops that had been involved in laying siege to the (French-controlled) city that summer ran amok, razing Donostia-San Sebastián to the ground.

Donostia stood as the last major outpost of French control and the prize target for the combined allied powers of Britain, Spain, and Portugal in their attempts to crush Napoleonic French influence in the Iberian Peninsula. It was, however, well fortified and the siege of the city by the advancing troops under British command had lasted all summer.

When, finally, the allied troops did break through the main lines of defence on August 31, they ran amok, looting and pillaging from the innocent inhabitants of the city, which had been occupied by French forces for the previous five years. Most of the city was razed to the ground as a result, kept burning for several days thereafter, and had to be built again, practically from scratch.

The awful events of are remembered annually in Donostia with a nighttime torchlight procession taking place along August 31 street on this date.

The Basque Country “is basically paradise”!

“What is Basque Country?” … Just in case anyone out there didn’t see this great introduction to visiting the Basque Country then check it it out here.

So the Basque Country “is basically paradise”? We couldn’t agree more!

*Image: Gaztelugatxe, Bizkaia, at dusk. Photo by Euskalduna, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Basques get ready for San Sebastian Day

Tomorrow, January 20, is a key date on the calendar for some Basques at least: San Sebastian Day, celebrated above all in Donostia-San Sebastián and Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa. The central event in this exuberant, 24-hour party is the danborrada, a loud and proud drum festival in which everyone who can takes part. The festival kicks off at exactly midnight on January 20 and goes on for the next 24 hours, nonstop.

In Donostia, at midnight the mayor hoists the flag of the city in Constitution Square, a central hub of the city’s old quarter that is jam-packed for the celebrations. Meanwhile, participants dressed up as cooks or in old fashioned military uniforms beat out a nonstop rhythmic (and almost deafening) sound as the city well and truly lets its hair down. With carnival season just around the corner, there is more than just a hint of he carnivalesque in all this. The origins of this unique celebration are said to date back to the military occupation of the city by Napoleon’s troops toward the end of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), when some women, whose daily chores included fetching and carrying water from public fountains, began to mock the French soldiers’ drumming by banging on their water pails. Thereafter, in the 1830s local residents began mocking the daily changing of the guard by soldiers stationed in the city. Probably in connection with the carnival season, a traditional time to mock authority, some locals began a raucous custom–like those women a generation before–of using buckets and hardware to mimic the solemnity of these daily military parades.

With time, various clubs and associations–mot famously, gastronomic societies such as the famous Gaztelube (hence the dressing up as cooks)–began to get involved in the celebrations, and this is the tradition that lasts to this day, with members of these associations taking the event very seriously indeed, practicing their drumming until the big day arrives. And even kids get involved, with school groups performing their own danborrada during the daytime on January 20. A traditional repertoire of musical compositions accompany all this drumming, most famously “The March of San Sebastian” (1861), with music by Raimundo Sarriegui (1838-1913) and lyrics by Serafin Baroja (1840-1912)

Modern Basque version 

Bagera!
gu (e)re bai
gu beti pozez, beti alai!

Sebastian bat bada zeruan
Donosti(a) bat bakarra munduan
hura da santua ta hau da herria
horra zer den gure Donostia!

Irutxuloko, Gaztelupeko
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
kalerik kale danborra joaz
umore ona zabaltzen hor dihoaz
Joxemari!

Gaurtandik gerora penak zokora
Festara! Dantzara!
Donostiarrei oihu egitera gatoz
pozaldiz!
Inauteriak datoz!

English translation

Here we are!
us too
we’re always happy, always cheerful!

There’s a Sebastian in the sky
one unique San Sebastián in the world
that’s the saint and this is the town
That’s what our San Sebastián is!

From Irutxulo, from Gaztelupe
The Joxemaritarras old and young
The Joxemaritarras old and young
from street to street playing the drum
there they go spreading good cheer
Joxemari!

From now on away with any hardships
Let’s party! Dance!
Shouting out to all the people of Donostia
Joyful!
The carnival is coming!

And don’t forget, the great town of Azpeitia also celebrates San Sebastian Day in its own unique way…

Henry Moore sculptures grace seafront promenade in Donostia

As part of the activities being held in conjunction with Donostia-San Sebastián being named European Capital of Culture for 2016, six sculptures by Henry Moore (1898-1986) were installed on Tuesday, June 21 in the city’s Zurriola Promenade in a “Street Art” initiative, and will remain in place, free for all to view, until September 4.

Moore is considered to be one of the great 20th-century sculptors and in bringing the six pieces to Donostia, the organizers–Obra Social “La Caixa” Foundation, the Henry Moore Foundation, and the Donostia City Council–are seeking to encourage a posthumous artistic dialogue between Moore and the equally renowned two towering figures of 20th-century Basque sculpture, Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002) and Jorge Oteiza (1908-2003), whose works also adorn the city.

This is a unique opportunity to see works by these three masters in the same outdoor setting.

See a video report (in Spanish) on the inauguration of these visiting sculptures here.

There are numerous references to Moore’s work in Oteiza’s Selected Writings, edited by Joseba Zulaika.

Donostia-San Sebastián: European Capital of Culture 2016

European Capital of Culture is a title awarded to a city or cities in the European Union in order to showcase that city during a specific calendar year. After receiving the award, the place in question then organizes a series of cultural events throughout the year to both promote the city itself and European culture more generally. In 2016 Donostia-San Sebastián will be the European Capital of Culture.

482px-Amara,_Donostia._Euskal_Herria

Donostia, the city by the sea. Photo by Mikel Arrazola, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As a result, the city has organized numerous events to coincide with this prestigious title, and here at the Center we will be following these developments with close interest. If you’re planning a trip to the Basque Country (or even elsewhere in Europe) in 2016, don’t forget that Donostia-San Sebastián will be one of the main hot spots to visit in Europe this coming year…

For more information about Donostia-San Sebastián as European Capital of Culture in 2016 (abbreviated to DSS2016) click here.

See also a report by The Guardian on DSS2016 here.

For general tourism information click here.

Check out, too, the video here from our good friends at USAC (the University Studies Abroad Consortium) about US college students who have spent time in Donostia-San Sebastián on the USAC program there.

My Little Part of 50 Years of the Azoka

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My first day of my first Azoka in 2009. I was so excited to be a part of it all.

I am really excited to be preparing to journey to the Durango Azoka again, for the 6th time. And to take part in the 50th anniversary of this great cultural event. Trying to explain the Azoka to people here in the US, and especially my academic friends, can be difficult—we are used to book events being stuffy and sparsely attended affairs. Not so the Durango Azoka, it brings thousands of people from all over the Basque Country into the small town of Durango to celebrate Basque culture and the Basque language, Euskara. For a history of it’s standardization (an essential precursor to an event like the Azoka) see our brand new book, Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque.

In preparation for my trip I’ve put together some of my favorite photos from my previous years at the Azoka.

And this year I will be posting special blog posts from the front lines of the Azoka, so stay tuned all next week for live updates!

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In 2014 author Begoña Echeverria (left) made the trip with me to help promote her book, The Hammer of Witches. One of her highlights was meeting a favorite author of hers, Itxaro Borda (right)

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A bird’s eye view of the controlled chaos that happens every year at Plateruena, the cafe-theatre which serves as meeting place for coffee or drinks, a place to grab some food, and venue for everything from read alongs to concerts to dance classes.

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Of all the fun that I have at the Azoka, the absolutely best thing is seeing people, especially kids, take an interest in our books. Here a family peruses our The Girl Who Swam to Euskadi, by Mark Kurlansky

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On an off-day, in 2009, I was treated to a visit of the famous Puente Colgante (the hanging bridge) over the River Nervión in Bilbao by an incomparable tour guide, our own contributor Katu.

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Taking a break in 2010 I took the stroll from my home away from home in Bizkaia during the Azoka, Elorrio, to stroll to Arrazola, under the shadow of the storied mountain of Anboto

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In 2011 a coworker took me to visit the famous sanctuary of Arantzazu, with its famous Oteiza facade of the apostles.

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The calm before the storm when the door’s open. They are long days, but it is so worth it to help share and spread Basque culture!

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The Liburudenda Donosti, the Donosti Bookstore, another regular stop on my circuit of the Basque Country.

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View from my window at the Hotel Elorrio in San Agustín, a hamlet of Elorrio on a morning before making the about 20-minute bus ride down to the Azoka. It’s not all quite this bucolic however, if I pointed my camera a little to the left, we would see the warehouse for the large Basque grocery store chain Eroski, which is an important piece of industry for Elorrio and is nowhere near as photogenic 😉

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Bilbao’s Gran Vía, alit for Christmas, in 2014

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Given that I don’t usually have a cell phone, it is always an adventure meeting with authors and others. Here, I waited to pick up some books from author Kirmen Uribe, whose children book Garmendia and the Black Rider we just published this year before he and his father-in-law attended an Athletic Bilbao soccer game in San Mamés stadium. Sadly I didn’t get to attend, but it was fun seeing the excitement of fans anticipating a big game.

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