You have probably heard a lot of things about Benidorm that, maybe, are not very encouraging to make you come all the way here, depending on how you like spending your holidays. Families with fifteen children, screaming and messing with the sand, a fellow with a huge inflatable or some pensioners guarding their little spot of the beach as if they were Germans defending the beaches of Normandy.
But do not be scared! There are many other reasons to visit Benidorm. It is not Toledo, nor Santiago, nor Salamanca … It is just something different, and that is the reason why you have to see it. It is a mixture of a New York neighbourhood with its huge skyscrapers and with its endless parties like in Las Vegas, all nicely framed between the sea and the Mediterranean climate. In here young and old people, foreigners and natives, beautiful and ugly coexist in perfect harmony.
But the Benidorm that we have before us today didn’t exist a little more than half a century ago. It had always been a tiny fishing village full of charm and tranquillity. But making a living just fishing was very hard, and the population, which for a long time had been receiving holidaymakers, decided to become something different at the time when to the prudish Spain of Franco were starting to arrive the SEAT six hundred, the foreign tourists and a bit of fresh air.
The change was not going to be easy: some of those foreign visitors dared to wear bikinis, a garment as revolutionary as it was diabolical, and it turned out that the ancient political and religious authorities of that Spain of ours were not having it. It was the fifties and Pedro Zaragoza, mayor of Benidorm and a guy with initiative, got on his Vespa motorbike and went to Madrid to discuss the matter with the dictator himself.
The move went well. The bikini was authorised, and the seaside village started its rapid transformation into a city of sun, beach and paella designed by and for the enormous masses of tourists. New streets were laid out, space was filled with places for leisure services, and they planted nearly as many skyscrapers as in Manhattan. An urban idea that, like it or not was audacious and pioneer in Spain.
As you can imagine, it is rare for Benidorm to receive visitors interested in its history. But that history does exist, don’t think that it doesn’t, and it has its Iberians, its Romans and its Arabs. It also has its reconquest by Jaime I, and its terrible attacks by Berber pirates who, in the fifteenth century, didn’t leave a living soul in the place. That is why there are still remains of defensive works like the Torre Punta del Cavall.
And talking about vestiges from other eras, there is nothing like La Cruz (The Cross); a monument erected in 1962, at the top of the mountain, in order to redeem the city from the use of the bikinis and other terrible sins that were committed in it. And that is because Benidorm, in truth, is indeed a small symbol of freedom.