Ricardo Soriano and Marbella

The little fishing village of Marbella had never been important during Spain’s turbulent history. It was just one of a dozen or so fishing villages scattered along the south coast. It was always a poor sister to Málaga, which had been used by the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors over the centuries and still is a busy international port for Mediterranean trade. Marbella had an old Moorish castle dating back to the 9th Century and there are Roman ruins throughout the municipality. La Concha Mountain towers in the background, diverting winds and giving Marbella the best weather of any village on the coast.

 

Ricardo Soriano with the scooter that he designed, and put into production. Predating the the phenomenal success of Italian scooters like  Vespa and Lambretta.

During the 1830’s there had been quite extensive iron ore and graphite mining in the area, and for a while, Marbella produced 75% of Spain’s cast iron. With the decline of iron smelting and the onset of a blight that affected the local vineyards, the local population was reduced to starvation levels. At that time, the population of Marbella was only 900, most of whom were farmers or fishermen with just five families owning most of the farmland. Marbella’s fortune changed for the worse with the start of the Spanish Civil War. Several religious buildings in the city, including the Church the Incarnation and the Church of San Pedro, were set on fire after the failed uprising which led into the Civil War. With the aid of troops from fascist Italy, Andalucía was overrun, and Marbella was seized by Nationalists in the first few months of the war. The anti-clerical violence in Marbella was amongst the worst in the province of Málaga. Southern Spain in the years after the civil war was utterly devastated, and the people in the countryside were living in abject poverty. 

 

Ricardo Soriano (Marquis of Ivanrey) first visited Marbella in 1943 and saw its potential for vacations. His mother was a native of Málaga, and Ricardo had lived in his aunt’s home, the Palacio del Rey Moro in Ronda. He had been invited to stay in Marbella by one of his landowner friends, and was impressed enough to buy a nearby estate in San Pedro de Alcántara, comprising of Rodeo Alto and Rodeo Bajo for 110,000 Pesatas (160 Euros, unadjusted for 1943 values.)  Ricardo was an eccentric aristocrat, but also a businessman, politician, great inventor, sportsman, and adventurer. His plan was to build accommodation next to his house, so that rich French travellers on their way to Algeciras and  the French protectorate of Morocco could stay overnight. For their entertainment, Ricardo even built the first cinema in the province to be equipped sound. 

 It was Ricardo who in 1946 invited his nephew, Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe, and Alfonso’s father, Prince Maximilian Egon von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, to see and experience the south coast and Marbella first hand. Prince Maximilian drove from Gibraltar to Málaga in his Rolls-Royce with Prince Alfonso. They passed through Marbella, and stopped for a picnic in the shade beneath the umbrella pines. A crumbling farmhouse was for sale close to where they had stopped, and Soriano decided to buy it. The old house came with 24 acres of land and, charmed by its beauty, he bought it for 150,000 pesetas. (900 Euros) 

 Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe outside the Marbella Club Hotel which he founded in 1954. 

 

You could say that Prince Alfonso was well connected.

Prince Alfonso Maximiliano Victorio Eugenio Alexandro Maria Pablo de la Santisima Trinidad y todo los Santos, was born in Madrid. He was baptised at the royal palace, with King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia standing as godparents. His father was Prince Max Egon Maria Erwin Paul von Hohenlohe-Langenburg. His mother was Dona Maria de la Piedad Iturbe y Scholtz, and was the Marquesa de Belvis de las Navas in her own right, a title which came from her Basque grandfather, who had made a fortune in Mexico. His uncle married Margarita, the sister of our Queen’s husband, Prince Philip. The Marquesa had been invited to the coronation of the last Russian Tsar, and her property at the time of her marriage to Alfonso's father included a castle in Madrid, a hotel in Malaga, and vast estates in Portugal and Mexico. 

Unfortunately, the Second World War had been unkind to the Hohenlohe family. With the post-war partition of Germany, their estates in the east were trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Worse, the Mexican revolution took away all their assets in that country. They were on the lookout for opportunities to build up their finances again. Alfonso saw the potential of the bay and its beaches.

Hohenlohe persuaded his father to sell off his wine cellars in Malaga whilst he returned to the village to build the first new houses in Marbella. Prince Alfonso spread the word amongst his rich friends and family that quiet sleepy Marbella would be a better place to spend the summer than rainy San Sebastian or Biarritz. Guests were culled from the Alamanach de Gotha, the royal houses of the Middle East and Hollywood’s new “jet set”. He still had land to spare, and sold plots to his Rothschild and Thyssen friends. His own residence, Finca Santa Margarita, became so popular with visitors that he turned it into the Marbella Club in 1954, making it the Costa del Sol's first luxury hotel.

Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier used to stay at the club on what's now called the Golden Mile. The club boasted a piano player by the name of Don Jaime de Mora y Aragon, who was directly descended from 56 kings, and also happened to be the brother of the Queen of the Belgians. The reputation of the club grew amongst the Prince’s Spanish nobleman friends.

Soon there was a disco, with rave-ups on Tuesday and Friday; the Horcher family, the great restaurateurs of the Third Reich, came out of exile to open La Fonda. Photographs from the time showed everyone from Sophia Loren to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor having the time of their lives; there was James Hunt in his bell-bottomed trousers playing golf, and Patrick Lichfield cradling his camera.

Prince Hohenlohe took a close interest in every aspect of his creation from the architecture and the layout of gardens, to the decor of the bedrooms and the food on the menu. Marbella’s hillsides became studded with new pueblos, hotels, restaurants and sports clubs and  the Prince’s rich and famous connections, ensured that his projects were immune from planning permission or labour laws.

 In 1966 a businessman by the name of José Banus, who had bought farmland to the west of Marbella to breed bulls for the bullring came to speak with Prince Alfonso. Hohenlohe introduced him to two architects, Noldi Schreck, who had helped design and build Beverley Hills, and Marcos Sainz,. They were both there to design the Hotel Marbella Club. Banus wanted to build tower blocks for holidaymakers on his land, but the two architects steered him away from his original designs  in favour of more traditional Mediterranean architectural style. What they eventually came up with was a glamorous marina that still had the quaint feel of an Andalucian fishing village.

Puerto Banus today 

Banus approved, and the port facilities and part of the apartments and service areas were officially opened in May 1970 in a lavish ceremony attended by a host of stars including film director Roman Polanski, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco. A young Julio Iglesias was also hired to sing for the 1700 guests. Puerto Banus quickly became a favourite with the jet-set, and businesses were soon vying to set up here. Banus became the largest developer of residential tourism complexes on the Costa del Sol. Film stars came here to buy properties and just walking along the streets you could bump into the likes of Deborah Kerr, Jimmy Stewart, Teddy Kennedy, Jean Negelesco, Prince Rainer of Monaco with Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier, Sean Connery or Guy de Rothschild. Many brought their private yachts which were arrayed at their moorings like floating palaces. 

As head of the Costa del Sol Promoters’ Co-operative, Hohenlohe lobbied successfully for improvements in roads, airports and water supply. His conference and exhibition centre spurred the growth of Torremolinos as a mass market holiday destination.

Possessed of considerable charm and once described as having "the moustachioed good looks of a South American taxi driver," Hohenlohe early established a reputation as a ladies' man. In 1955 he scandalised European high society by marrying Princess Ira Furstenberg (the Fiat heiress and niece of Gianni Agnelli) when she was just 15.  Four hundred people attended the 16-day wedding party and the Pope had granted devoutly Catholic Alfonso a papal dispensation for the marriage. Five years later, he asked the Pope for a further dispensation for divorce; Ira left him for another notorious 1950's playboy, "Baby" Pignatari.

One of the jet-set personalities that spent time in the growing Marbella was a young Saudi-born dilettante called Adnan Kashoggi. Adnan had a lavish lifestyle and his party-going appetite was to become the stuff of legend over the years. He made his money from arms deals and by 1980, he could afford Nabila, named after his daughter. At 281ft (86.6 metres) long, it was the largest private yacht in the world at the time.  It had a sundeck with bullet-proof glass, solid gold sink in the master suite, with hand carved onyx, sculpted by “the finest craftsman from the hills of Italy,” as described by the next owner, Donald Trump, who bought her in 1987 for nearly $30m.

Kashoggi was the ultimate showman and he allowed the Nabila be used for the 1983 Bond film Never Say Never Again.  It appeared as the floating HQ of international super-villain, SPECTRE agent Maximillian Largo. He was never far away from the probing eyes of various security and international lawyers, to say nothing of the world’s paparazzi. Some of his offshore parties were nothing more than orgies meant to smooth the way for lucrative deals. In 1989 Vanity Fair magazine bluntly described Khashoggi as “One of the greatest whoremongers in the world.”  Very few of his business associates ever complained.

Adnan Kashoggi

Romantically, Khashoggi did not always have everything his own way. In 1961 he married Sandra Daly, half his age, double his height, who grew up on a Leicester council estate and who met him while visiting Paris with her mother. The new Mrs Khashoggi, now converted to Islam and renamed Soraya, divorced him in 1974, receiving a divorce settlement of $875 million, which at the time was the largest ever.

Worse was to follow, during another investigation in 1999, it was revealed that Kashoggi was not the biological father of Soraya’s daughter Petrina.  The real father was Jonathan Aitken, ex-Conservative minister for Defence Procurement, who was at the time awaiting court proceedings that would lead to him being jailed for perjury.      

However, Kashoggi’s biggest Marbella coup was when he persuaded Prince Fahd to cancel a planned visit to Monte Carlo and visit Marbella instead. The problem was that Hohenlohe’s Marbella Club didn’t have the 32 rooms required by Fahd and his retinue.

A phone call to Prince Alfonso solved the problem. Alfonso knew that the Incosol clinic had just finished work on a second story, and asked Ignacio Coca if he could spare 32 rooms. The reply was yes. Fahd landed in Marbella, and moved into the clinic, which had now become an extension of the Marbella Club. The following day, Alfonso’s son appeared at lunch weeping because he had lost his beloved falcon. Prince Fahd, touched by the boy’s tears sent his private plane back to Saudi Arabia to bring the boy not one, but two of his own falcons. 

Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz

Fahd must have enjoyed his stay, because shortly after the Saudi consul requested permission to build a home for the Prince. He built a palace and several other properties on a 48,000-hectare chunk of prime real estate called Las Lomas, a hillside overlooking the Golden Mile.  

Meanwhile, others of the royal family bought several large properties in Marbella and the Prince had a mosque built in 1981, followed by another, for his family’s use, a few years later. He also funded a number of low-cost housing units, as well as a hemodynamic plant at the local hospital. And, of course, he converted Marbella into the summer residence of his extensive family, many of whom have since built their own palaces.

In 1995 Fahd constructed a mosque 60 kilometres down the coast at Europa point in Gibralter. It was a present for the Muslims of the town, who make up 4% of the largely British population and cost £5 million to build.

King Fahd ruled Saudi Arabia between 1982 and 2005 had his annual vacations in Marbella, later building a number of luxury properties. Now the Mediterranean resort is celebrating the ascent to the throne of Salman bin Abdulaziz, known locally as amigo Salman, and no stranger to Marbella. Salman funds the Marbella mosque, which has a Moroccan imam named Allal Bachar El Hosri, an affable and calm man who has lived in Spain for almost 40 years, and now has Spanish citizenship. Bachar says Salman made sure that he held on to his job, despite pressure to appoint an imam with more radical views. When asked about his post he says, “I am a Maliki [the predominant Sunni school of Islam in North Africa] and am here thanks to Salman.”

Despite the legends about its excesses, the life of the Saudi royal family in Marbella has been characterized by discretion. Its members have largely kept themselves to themselves, preferring to hire the same suppliers over the years. For example, the first gardeners they hired have in turn recommended other gardeners, and the same goes for their trusted butchers, florists and drivers. They rarely use service companies, instead preferring a personal network. The Saudi Arabian consul in Málaga takes care of any other details, with the usual discretion. The life of the Saudi royal family in Marbella is largely nocturnal, consisting of all-night private parties in their palaces or yachts. They spend the mornings sleeping, and the afternoons shopping. The Saudi king’s yacht, Shaf London, is moored permanently in Puerto Banus. He has also had a palace built in Tangiers, and spent more time there last summer than in Marbella. The 79-year-old’s health is fragile, and he has early-stage Alzheimer’s.

King Fahd and that of his son Salman’s patronage is said to have boosted the local economy to the tune of 40-80 million euros per year With those kind of numbers, it is no exaggeration to say that he single-handedly transformed the economic fortunes of Marbella and the surrounding Costa del Sol. His son, King Salman bin Abdulaziz , visits the town each summer, as he has every year for the last three decades. But the Saudi reign in Marbellla might be over now.

In August 2017, armed police officers stormed two luxury restaurants where Prince Abdullah, was eating with his wife and family. They then swooped on a second eatery where his daughter, Princess Susu, was celebrating her 17th birthday.

Prince Abdullah has complained to the Spanish Interior Ministry, describing “the humiliating treatment by police to my family.” A Saudi Royal House member since the 1980’s he said he had never seen police behaviour like it.

“They treated us as if we were terrorists, pointing weapons at us, and Princess Susu, the king’s granddaughter, cried in terror. King Salman no longer wants to come to Spain and will make sure that his children don’t want to visit Marbella either. These people spend an average of €15- 20,000 per day when they are in Marbella. This is the type of tourism that they should be taking care of.” A council spokesman said.

The police action came after a probe revealed four royal family security team members did not have professional qualifications. The National Police press department said both operations were carried out “without violence or intimidation… the Territorial Security Unit was pursuing an irregularity in terms of false security guards.” But this was denied by the entourage member who said the police acted unreasonably.

“They asked for our passports and documentation without letting us explain while pointing machine guns at us.” The prince was dining under the watch of the security they have used for years, which include an ex-soldier and two police officers. If the Prince carries out his threat, it would be a sad ending to a lucrative royal patronage.

We can’t leave Marbella without mentioning one of its most famous mayors. Jesus Gil was elected mayor of Marbella in 1999 and he served until 2002. I say served, but a better description of his activities during office would be self-served. He was a friend of General Franco, and so many of his scams went unpunished and unpublished.

He started his career with a bang in the 60’s when he ran a construction company building gated communities, a kind of enclosed living complex containing mixed flats and houses. He built a block of flats in Segovia which collapsed in 1969, killing 58 people and injuring many others. A subsequent investigation showed that the concrete in the new building had never set, and the whole project had been completed without the use of architects, surveyors, or plans. Gil was sentenced to five years in prison, but was pardoned after 18 months by General Franco. His career progressed undaunted by this little setback, and in 1987 he was elected president of Atlético Madrid where he instituted a regime of authority that alienated him from fans, reporters, players and head coaches. In 1992, he shut down Atlético's youth academy, which saw talented young players move to other teams.

Gil was at that time re-inventing himself as a politician, and since no party would have him, he invented his own. In 1991, he founded and led the Grupo Independiente Liberal (GIL) as his political vehicle, and was elected as mayor of Marbella the same year. One of his first changes was to place a bust of former dictator, Franco, in the town hall and was known for walking the streets of the town shouting abuse at prostitutes and homeless people. Perversely, his mayorship was popular enough for him to be re-elected three times.

Most of Marbella's local police were recruited indirectly by Gil from legionnaires and members of other elite military forces throughout southern Spain and northern Africa. During the 1980s/90s, some of these officers comprised Gil's own private garde de corps.

Gil was famous and controversial for his extreme right-wing political views, often displayed in his foulmouthed, low-brow behaviour. His swaggering self-aggrandizing attitude was punctuated by sexist, racist, homophobic outbursts. He revelled in the fascist past of Spain and idolized Franco.

The Málaga coastline effectively came under the area of economic and political influence of the Gil family and became a popular residence for British, Italian, and Russian gangsters while he was mayor, as well as a haven for former Nazis either awaiting or avoiding extradition. At the same time, Gil instigated several crackdowns on drug users and prostitutes. Crime rates and street poverty decreased dramatically during the first years of his administration, but this apparent success was obtained at the expense of civil liberties, including the beatings of delinquents and prostitutes, deportation of foreigners with low incomes and handouts of money to homeless people in exchange for leaving town. The subsequent apparent improvement in the lifestyle of a segment of the population was cited as a main reason for his re-election.  

In 1999, Marbella found out that it was funding Atlético to the tune of £2m a year. Gil was cleared of corruption and embezzlement charges, but he was found guilty of lesser offences. In 2002 he was given a sentence of six months, which he never served, and recieved a three-and-a-half year sentence for financial offences in connection with Atlético. Finally, he resigned the club presidency which he had held since 1987. In April 2002, he was banned for 28 years from holding public office, forced to stand down as mayor and briefly imprisoned.

Gil has been compared in the Spanish news media to Donald Trump, because of some parallels in their lives and character, but the epic story of his life did not close when he died in 2004. 

Gil has been compared in the Spanish news media to Donald Trump, because of some parallels in their lives and character, but the epic story of his life did not close when he died in 2004.

His death opened one of the largest corruption trials Spain has ever seen. 95 people, including two former mayors, 15 town councillors and a German aristocrat, were brought to the dock of the courthouse, accused of involvement in corruption on an unbelievable scale.

The defendants are alleged to have run Marbella on a cash-for-votes system operated at town hall meetings. Between them they allegedly took €670m (£569m) in bribes, and from municipal funds, over three years.

Juan Antonio Roca, the alleged "Mr Big" who ran Marbella from his private offices for more than a decade, faces fines of some €800m and 35 years in prison sentences. Roca partially financed his business dealings with money obtained from businessmen on trial in this case which they gave in exchange for favourable town hall planning decisions.

The former mayors Julián Muñoz and Marisol Yagüe are among those said to have been on Roca's payroll, which extended across all parties and covered more than half of the town's councillors. They were allegedly paid for each vote where they approved planning permits or contracts to run municipal services, such as the coach station or the town's breakdown lorries. Planning laws, as a consequence, were widely flouted.

"Roca is a man with total control over the Town Hall, the councillors are subordinate to him. He is the person who all developers go to in order to see their wishes satisfied," the local magistrate Miguel Ángel Torres said during the preparatory investigation. "Over 15 years he has gone from being on the dole to amassing tens of millions of euros."

Senior town hall staff are also included with those who allegedly received regular payouts, with the municipal police chief Rafael del Pozo and town hall secretary Leopoldo Barrantes among the accused.

Evidence showed details of regular pay-outs to councillors in multiples of €6,000, according to court documents. Envelopes full of cash were allegedly handed out holding up to €84,000. The man whom many blame for Marbella's rampant corruption was the former mayor Jesús Gil and was blamed by many for corrupting the town. Roca, who was Gil's right-hand man, is serving a six-year sentence for a corruption case dating back to his mentor's time. The Marbella case has spawned dozens of other investigations into corruption on the Costa del Sol. In all, 30 separate cases have spun off from the main case and it will be years before the corruption is finally rooted out. 

Benidorm

At about the same time that  Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe was drawing his plans for the Marbella Club Hotel, a young Spaniard by the name of Pedro Zaragoza Orts was drawing another set of plans, but his road to success would be much harder than Prince Alfonso's.

 

The south-eastern coast of Spain is one of the driest, dustiest places on the peninsula. The forbidding landscape inland is softened at the coast by Umbrella Pines, firs and palmitos, a form of dwarf palm. In the rocky soil grow a host of aromatic herbs amidst the hardy grasses. Many of the names of towns still carry the unmistakable flavor of Arabic. A few kilometers north from the old Moorish port of Al-acant (Alicante.) is another port which used to be called by its original Arab name of Beni-Darhim, meaning son or followers of Darhim. Now it’s better known as Benidorm. A hundred years ago, Benidorm was a small fishing village perched on a promontory dividing two bays, Poniente and Levante,  (West and East.) each with of golden sand This part of the coast here had been called La Marina before a tourist department later renamed it the Costa Blanca (White coast.) In those days, small fishing boats or Tarrafes would sail at night with four lanterns hanging over the water to attract the fish. Whilst the men fished, their women tended the groves of olive, almonds, lemons and orange trees. Once a year the fishermen would work on the almadraba, an annual event requiring a complicated system of nets to trap migrating tuna. The almadraba required more than a hundred kilometers of cable and netting fixed to the sea bed by hundreds of anchors, rings and gates covering six square kilometers of sea. The sailors of Benidorm were renowned for their expertise in this form of fishing and were often called from as far away as Sicily and Tunisia to trap tuna there. There were few visitors to Benidorm. The Spanish called their holidays at the coast summering or veraneo, but few of the inland population of Spain could afford to take holidays. The little pueblo did not even have a water supply. Drinking water was sold by a man who brought it in a huge cask on wheels pulled by a mule. In the fields, the watering system dated from the time of the Moors, who used water wheels to fill the irrigation channels. Daily waste from the houses was tipped into the sea or put on the land. Then in 1950 Benidorm got a new mayor, Pedro Zaragoza Orts. In his early twenties, Zaragoza was a rebel with vision. He knew the future was not agriculture, but tourism. He began to plan wide boulevards and skyscraper hotels with gardens, swimming pools and ample car parking. He intended to lead a new invasion of Spain; an invasion of tourists.

In his first year, Zaragoza began to invent a new town. He organized a pipeline to bring water from Polop, a village fifteen kilometers away, where there was an estate for sale with a good well. Fifty seven villagers put money in to pay the loan needed to buy the estate and build a pipeline. By 1960 Benidorm had running water, and Zaragoza had approval for the plans for his dream boulevards, along with permission for the hotels. 

At the same time, fifteen hundred miles away in 1950’s London, a man called Vladimir Raiz began a travel company in Fleet Street called Horizon, and took a group of tourists to Calvi in Corsica in an aircraft fitted out for solely for carrying holidaymakers. Post war Dakotas were parked all over England, unwanted and unused. The pilots who flew them and the engineers who maintained them were trying to fit into dull civilian lives after being part of a huge military wartime machine. During the summer of 1953 Horizon brought 1,700 ‘package tourists’ to the coasts of Spain, and the tourism industry had begun. Within a few years, both the aircraft and the people who could keep them flying were all employed in the booming new tourism business.

By 1959 the first of Pedro Zaragoza’s hotels were finished, and package holiday flights began to arrive at Valencia airport, bringing tall blond northern European people desperate for blue skies and wide beaches. In all his planning, Pedro had omitted to take account of the culture shock that the new invaders would bring to severely conservative Spain. 

The old 50's airport at Málaga now preserved as a museum. 

 

The Spanish clergy had already decided that tourism and a beach culture would be a moral danger to the nation, and when Zaragoza signed a municipal order to allow bikinis to be worn on Benidorm’s beaches he had no idea how serious the consequences would be. After several heated debates, the clergy realised that Pedro had no intention of rescinding the order. The war of standards escalated, and the Catholic Church began an excommunication process against Zaragoza.

Excommunication was a serious undertaking for the church. For Zaragoza it would be a disaster, making him a leper in society. His friends in high places turned away when he took on the church, especially when two government ministers backed the excommunication campaign. He became one of the few Spaniards alive who had had an excommunication process started against them.

Pedro Zaragoza Orts 

At his wits end, he rose at four in the morning, stuffed newspapers down his shirt to keep warm and set off for Madrid on his Vesper scooter. Nine hours later, he was sitting outside General Franco’s office waiting for an audience with the dictator. He was ushered into the office of the Caudillo, and during the conversation Franco asked him how he had arrived in Madrid. When Zaragoza told him he had ridden all the way on his Vespa Franco was impressed. After explaining his problems and his dreams, Pedro rode all the way back to Benidorm in a much more cheerful frame of mind. Eight days later, Franco’s wife Carmen Polo, and the Minister of Governance and his wife, arrived in Benidorm to stay with Zaragoza in his house. They publicly re-confirmed his appointment as mayor and gave him a pass to wear on his jacket so that he could enter El Prado in Madrid whenever he wanted. In the following years, Franco´s wife would come to stay for eight days in the summer and fifteen days in the autumn. 

The church got the message. The excommunication order was dropped. If Franco had not supported Zaragoza he would have had to back down to the all- powerful church. Legislation on the beaches might have killed the budding tourist industry, and the eager holidaymakers would have gone elsewhere. 

Benidorm now is to package tours as Las Vegas is to gamblers; the undisputed capitol of the world. Zaragoza’s original idea of a middle class holiday utopia did not quite turn out as he expected. Benidorm, for the British tourists anyway, has turned out to be a Skegness or Blackpool on the Med. It’s a homely place with all day cooked breakfasts, fish and chips, pies and English pints. Paella and sangria have stopped being Spanish, and become just another item on an otherwise wholly English menu. Nevertheless, five million people a year come to stay in Benidorm for their allotted two weeks holiday. Many come back year after year to the same hotels. “The comedians in the clubs are great.” One said, referring to the British stand-up comics who come here to work the summer season.

Zaragoza is philosophical about the Benidorm that grew from his dreams. When asked the question that Benidorm was an ugly blight he replied. “ I don´t know if Benidorm is more or less attractive to look at then it was, but we have running water, we have asphalt, we have hospitals. We didn´t have them before.” Most of Benidorm’s critics have never set foot in the town. All of Spain knew of the high society lifestyle and corruption going on in Marbella, and when Pedro heard on the radio that a town councilor from Marbella warned that his town was going to rack and ruin and would end up like Benidorm, Zaragoza rang him up to speak his mind. The rattled councilor would not come to the phone. 

The Hotel Bali, Benidorm. Photo:FDV 

The latest addition to the high rise hotels is the Bali. At 186 meters tall with fifty two floors, the Bali is most spectacular at night and from a distance. Then it looks like a massive silver knife projecting silver beams into the clouds. By day, it is a dull grey concrete and glass giant. The building of the Bali was an epic affair that took fourteen years and was funded by a group of local hotel owners who poured their annual profits into it. No loans were taken out. The Bali was built on the back of a tourism boom.  During good years, it rose steadily upwards; on excellent ones it rose faster. It is a huge vertical container for package tourism. Holidaymakers are cycled in and out in a steady stream, generating work for thousands, and holidays for tens of thousands. Benidorm has become, in the words of one Spanish observer, “The great touropolis.”

The Spanish who remember the 50´s and the fishing village are still here and what they think of the new glitzy Benidorm is a mix of emotions. Some speculated and won the jackpot. Many more thousands more found permanent employment for their families and friends. Nobody can deny that Zaragoza kick started the tourism boom when he kick started his little Vespa scooter at 4am in the morning all those years ago. For better or worse, Zaragoza’s dream brought work for the Spanish and cheap holidays to millions of people. In retrospect, that was not a bad achievement.

Once again, much of the two stories above have been taken from The Ghosts of Spain, by Giles Tremlet. For anybody visiting or living in Spain his book brings an insight into the people and events that have shaped modern Spain. Not always pleasant reading, the book illustrates the many different cultures and battles that have shaped this troubled country.