Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Garden of delights

Spain’s ‘modern ruins’ will serve as reminder of human folly on a gigantic scale for decades to come

Hard to choose among so many fossils of Paradise. Highways that lead nowhere, ski slopes amid barren plains, desolate aerodromes used only by crows... Such are the modern Spanish ruins enumerated in the book Ruinas modernas, by the German architect Julia Schulz-Dornburg. Some of them bear comparison with Piranesi's Imaginary Prisons. Schulz-Dornburg has done a thorough job of archeology. But the constructive and destructive voracity of our own time has created a "recent antiquity," where ruins overlap with new foundations. The cycle studied in the book extends approximately from 1992 to 2012. The collection of disasters, each more spectacular than the last, is so huge that the question arises: how could these things even be conceived, when they were so obviously doomed to failure?

Schulz-Dornburg's study is implacable, thanks to her cool handling of data, reminiscent of the methodology of autopsy, the corpses being tracts of land built over and abandoned, and haunted by the ghosts of swindlers and their victims. The author traces their topography, eschewing rhetoric, using only texts that proceed from the real estate promoters themselves, or municipal archives: a chronicle of deception and abuse, where the reader intuits permanent contempt for any law, on the part of obviously corrupt political authorities. The archeologist has put birth and death dates to each one of her ruins. She dissects them visually by means of bird's eye views which zoom down into detail, showing disaster close up. The splendid photos show the extremes attained in our garden of delights.

The crooks behind these creations were poets in their way"

The crooks behind these creations were poets in their way. The phrases in their brochures are little treasures. "The villas offer excellent value for the money, with vast amounts of living space," says the brochure of Fortuna Hill Nature and Residential Golf Resort in Murcia, a monster born in 2004 and deceased in 2010. But my favorites are three. The first is Complejo de Aventuras Meseta Ski, a vision which was to bring 70,000 visitors a year to a tiny village on a plain near Valladolid. To this end a snowless, all-season ski slope was built, descending a hill into the village itself. The present appearance of the place is that of a village menaced by a huge white snake -- a dirty and broken one. The phrase: "Live the adventure experience all year round."

The second proof that we never tire of stumbling on the same stone is El Reino de Don Quijote, a EuroVegas avant la lettre, on the barren steppe of La Mancha, undertaken with the usual breezy mockery of Cervantes and the blessing of the authorities. The heart of the complex was a big hotel-casino, called Caesar's España, surrounded by other buildings with room for 44,000 inhabitants. Death by bankruptcy in 2011. Nothing visible now of the big hotel or the artificial lake on the steppe, let alone the light train that was to connect it with the ghost airport in Ciudad Real. Phrase: "Leisure with gambling, business, homes and a golf course."

The third, Campo de Vuelo Residential (Residential Air Field) is the one that I think ought to take the prize. I cannot leave the slogan to the end, for it defines the project: "What pilot has never dreamed of landing on his neighborhood airfield, and parking his plane in his own back yard?" Indeed, what could be more natural? So someone in the region of Murcia, also with the blessing of the authorities, took it upon themselves to realize this dream for 3,600 inhabitants, who could keep 166 planes -- in their back yards. The bankruptcy of the company in 2009 has left the Murcian countryside adorned with a solitary aerodrome now growing a robust crop of weeds, a few hangers and a scattering of villas on a stony plain.

All these ruins bear witness to two decades of building rackets which our country has been cowardly enough to permit. They will be around for at least a few decades more.

Rafael Argullol is a writer.

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