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Decades of unfettered construction had blighted La Manga del Mar Menor, in Spain. Source: Wikipedia.
Decades of unfettered construction has blighted La Manga del Mar Menor, in Spain. Photo: Wikipedia.

'Spain is ugly': How uncontrolled construction has spoiled the landscape in Spain

El País editor Andrés Rubio published a book to denounce how speculation and urban ugliness have damaged the beauty of Spanish towns and miles of coastline.

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Concrete blocks, mega-tourist complexes, hotels... For almost two decades, Andrés Rubio, director of the travel section of El País, has been taking note of how the construction fever that began after the fall of Franco's regime in the late 1970s has wreaked havoc on the Spanish landscape, especially the coast. 

His conclusion is resounding, despite the millions of tourists who visit the country every year: Spain is ugly. 

These words are the ones he has used to title his new book, España fea. El caos urbano, el mayor fracaso de la democracia, (Spain ugly. Urban chaos, the worst failure of democracy) recently published by Penguin Random House/Debate. The book is a study of the barbarities committed on the Spanish heritage from the end of Franco's dictatorship to today. 

Based on numerous interviews, and combining journalistic chronicles, travel books and political essays, Rubio describes with rigor and sensitivity the absurdities carried out from the Mediterranean coasts to those of the north, passing through the "emptied Spain" and the urban disaster of Madrid. It also analyzes the causes that have led to this unprecedented cultural catastrophe. 

It reveals the strategy hatched by ignorant and corrupt politicians and developers, with the complicit silence of a demobilized guild, that of architecture, plus the indifference and ignorance of the intellectual world and media. 

In spite of everything, the book also analyzes in detail some examples of work done well, linking with the best European tradition, in cities like Barcelona or Santiago de Compostela, or towns like Albarracín or Vejer de la Frontera, where urban development has been in balance with the landscape.

"In Spain, the cases of bad practices in the real estate market overlap with the tens of thousands of inartistic constructions by architects taken hostage, or immoral," he writes in an article for El País. In the book's prologue, architect Luis Feduchi speaks of his guild's Stockholm syndrome: "To put it bluntly, our complicity in the destruction of the territory and our refusal to denounce it."

Rubio also criticizes Spanish politicians for not having followed any kind of plan at the national level on how to expand cities and towns in a way that protects the historical past, respects the landscape and considers the public good.

spain ugly

This "laissez-faire" approach by Spanish politicians contrasts with the model adopted by France, where in 1976, former President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing called on the country to fight the "ugliness of France" in a letter to then Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.

"France was the only country where the state took the reins and tried to control development, in a way," Rubio said in an interview with The Guardian. "If you destroy a landscape, you end up destroying part of our memory."

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