Ten months after eviction of artists’ community, Granada City Hall announces luxury tourist development for “dangerous” caves – Lisa Tilley
IN January this year, Granada council evicted a community of squatters from caves in the city’s historic Sacromonte district, claiming the state of the underground homes posed a danger to the lives of the inhabitants. Fast forward ten months and the ayuntamiento has announced plans to turn the area into a tourist complex, with tablaos de flamenco (flamenco venues) and a hotel.
So was this, as many claimed at the time, the real reason for the evictions?
The San Miguel slope of the Sacromonte was, for decades, a neglected bank of ancient caves, until the spot was reclaimed by those who saw the area’s potential. The caves have been home to Gypsies, Moors and other transient residents at various points in Granada’s history, but were left abandoned after freak flooding in the 1960s.
Gradually, okupas (squatters) from around Spain and Europe began to reclaim the caves and turn them into homes. They were, according to one ex-cave dweller, “working to reform a space forgotten by the authorities”.
The settlers decorated the caves, constructed doors and simple sanitation systems and lived “a way of life and community far from that imposed by the consumer society, looking to reclaim and demonstrate values of communal life and sustainability that are being lost ever more quickly.”
However, a respected member of the Sacromonte community – who requested anonymity – told the Olive Press the residents failed to take care of the caves or the surrounding environment and let their rubbish accumulate in vast quantities – eventually burning it in the caves when too much had mounted up.
The source said the occupants put together a hasty PR campaign in the days before their eviction, which showed them in a better light on Spanish television documentaries and gained them public sympathy.
On January 11 this year, the okupas were delivered a hasty eviction notice when the right-wing Partido Popular mayor of Granada, José Torres Hurtado, signed an order of “cleaning and eviction” of the San Miguel caves.
The reasons cited by the mayor at the time were the “lack of safety” and “the unhealthy condition of many of the caves.”
In the depths of Granada’s freezing winter, the caves’ inhabitants were given just 48 hours to voluntarily abandon their homes.
The cave dwellers protested, pinning signs to their homes reading “because we simply don’t have anywhere else to go.” Fernando, a Portuguese national faced with eviction said he would go freely but he would have no other choice but to sleep on the streets.
Evidently, the occupants were not in possession of escrituras (title deeds) giving them official rights to remain in the caves but, after decades of informal occupation, why did the council serve just 48 hours notice before evacuating the dwellings?
When the deadline came, 100 police officers and council workers with industrial diggers arrived to perform the final evictions and seal off the dwellings.
The council insisted the caves could collapse any day, but a collective of evicted residents issued a statement to say that the moves amounted to “developer speculation.” The non-profit organisation, Adobe, Arquitectura y Compromiso Social (Brick, Architecture and Social Commitment) – which works for sustainable construction and habitat protection – added its voice to the debate, claiming the evictions were really to facilitate new traffic routes and urban plans.
Then, on October 11, the town planning councillor, Isabel Nieto, fulfilled their predictions by announcing the intention to reclassify the Cerro de San Miguel to ‘urbanizable’ – land with permission to build – in the forthcoming PGOU town expansion plan.
The council’s vision of the area will be an ironic tribute to the Sacromonte’s troglodyte heritage and will include flamenco caves for tourists, ‘artisan’ workshops, as well as souvenir shops and a hotel, which the council assures will “respect the harmony of the area.”
The plans need the support of the Junta de Andalucía regional government as well as local neighbours to be approved. Nieto urged people to support the move, saying: “Think how lovely this could be. If this opportunity is not seized the land will be siempre campo (forvere countryside).”
One protester immediately responded by saying: “The Sacromonte is actually a World Heritage Site. The proposal of the ayuntamiento will violate it and turn it into an object of pseudo-cultural consumerism for tourism and will probably achieve the retraction of the distinction from UNESCO.”
Our anonymous source is also worried about the council’s plans and believes that, after 40 years of neglect, the caves should be sympathetically restored. The source also suggested that the area should be rejuvenated as an eco-park, including “restored pathways with information signs and environmental routes planted with indigenous plants, so that the granadinos (local residents) and visitors have somewhere informative to stroll around.”
Without a doubt, the area’s richness comes from its role as a refuge throughout history to those on the fringes of society in Granada. But it is doubtful the proposed “pseudo-cultural” complex will pay tribute to the last ‘outsiders’ to take shelter in the caves, only to be moved on by the council’s mechanical diggers.