The History of El Cabanyal
The history of El Cabanyal spans 700 years, but has never been at a more crucial stage. In May 2015, Joan Ribo was elected Mayor of Valencia and pledged to revive the fortunes of this often blighted neighbourhood. To the delight of the long suffering local people funds are being raised and invested to restore and rejuvenate the beautiful streets and houses. Personal as well as public projects have now begun to make El Cabanyal into one of the highlights of the city and into a better place to live for its inhabitants.
In 1997, the Mayor of Valencia, Rita Barbera embarked on a personal crusade to destroy the area, by carving it up with a four lane avenue running from the city centre.
Could you imagine this happening in Covent Garden or Greenwich Village? No…of course not. Such a destructive plan would be inconceivable. Here in El Cabanyal, however, were it not for the bravery of the local residents, who for generations have done everything in their power to stop the Mayor in her tracks, this important historic quarter would be largely rubble. No wonder that so many eyes are focused on it, from Unesco to the World Monument Fund.
Beautiful historical houses have already been lost forever.
The local government has bought over 500 properties
through extortion and low level thuggery, of which 125 have been knocked down.
This is a crime against history.
Where once there were houses, now there are Rita’s scars and stripes – plots that have been walled up and painted with ugly bands of brown and fawn.
Some of the demolished houses don’t even form a part of her grand plan for the extension of the Avenida Blasco Ibanez and were destroyed pointlessly.
Vicente Blasco Ibanez, the great writer, political activist and staunch Republican would turn in his grave if he
knew that an avenue named after him would rip
apart the neighbourhood that he loved so much.
El Cabanyal has always had its problems, from the devastating fires of 1796 and 1875 to the cholera epidemic in the 1860’s, from the Spanish Civil War to the major floods of 1957 .
Added to this, over the last 50 odd years it has been totally neglected by the Valencian government.
Even if residents want to reform their homes, Rita Barbera has denied them planning permission. Despite all these obstacles Cabanyal survives and appears to thrive.
The neighbourhood of El Cabanyal and the surrounding Maritim villages date back to the 13th century when they formed an independent municipality separate from the walled city.
The first depiction of the area was provided by Flemish painter Anton van den Wyngaerde in 1563, and in the early 1600’s , Valenciano historian Juan Gaspar Escolano recorded that Cabanyal comprised of just 40 huts and fishing shacks.
By the 1700’s Cabanyal and its neighbourhoods of Canyelamar Capa de Franca and Grao became part of the city of Valencia. Known as the Pueblo Nuevo del
Mar . Grao as the port area began to flourish through world trade.
The neighbourhoods were divided not only by class of people but by the small tributraries / streams that ran from the sea towards the city running east to west. Meanwhile the houses were built on a grid system of streets running north to south.
Cabanyal was mainly populated by local fisherman and boat owners. Canyemelar next to the port of El Grao was home to the wealthier classes and boat captains and Capa de Franca was also a quarter for local fisherman as well as a small community of Gypsies.
The population lived in humble barraques, small one-storey houses built of wood with a thatched roof. Remnants of this style of house can still be seen today, dotted along the original streets of Escalante, Luis Navarro and Baracca.
By the late 1800’s the population of Cabanyal and Canyamelar grew to around 10,000 inhabitants of which 70% of the population were still living in the old style barraques
The first great fire of 1796 wiped out over 250 of these barraques and a decree by the local government promoted the building of stone houses. The second fire of 1875 devastated more barraques and a fully blown ban was put in place of rebuilding this style of house
For the next 50 years ,from the 1880’s to the 1930’s, Cabanyal , was transformed, not only by the local people but by inner city dwellers from Madrid and Valencia itself.
The more wealthy incomers built bigger, grander, taller houses , some three and four stories high. It became common for local fishermen, gypsies and port workers to live next door to wealthy metropolitan types,
Between 1880 and 1940, the new Cabanyal exploded with colour and hundreds of houses were built , inspired by the movements of the era – the popular Modernista/Art Nouveau style , with hints of Art Deco and Arts and Crafts . The beautiful tiling of the facades of many of these houses were inspired by the light and the colour of the sea.
More streets were built including the grand Calle de la Reina, far wider and lined with larger and more substantial houses. Apartment blocks sprung up too around the original old streets of Barraca, Progreso, Luis Navarro and Jose Benlliure.
Throughout the decades from the 1950’s to the 1990’s Cabanyal and its surrounds were blighted by a boom in the construction of bland non descript tower blocks . These provided homes, were never more than seven stories high and were complementary to the style of the older houses. Nothing could match the beauty of the original homes, however.
Fortunately there are still hundreds of these left in Cabanyal, and it retains a charming local neighbourhood character. Many streets are in desperate need of repair and in theory the local urban planning proposals to rejuvenate the area could provide the perfect solution, if only the funding was available.
Local residents are only too aware that even in the last 15 years the area has been degraded. If the money spent on buying houses for destruction could have been used to restore them, El Cabanyal would be far more of a tourist lure, bringing visitors and revenue.
El Cabanyal and the Poblats Maritim could become a living museum to the past 150 years of Spanish architecture and tiling and a credit to the city of Valencia.
The future is looking bright for this beautiful Spanish barrio. Artists and students needing spaces with cheap rent are moving in and over the last few years there has been an influx of foreigners from England, Germany, France and Switzerland .
And who can blame these incomers from Northern Europe? You can buy an apartment in El Cabanyal for 30,000 Euros and an amazing house, ripe for conversion for 100,00 euros. The neighbourhood is a mere five minutes from the wonders of the beach, yet is part of a city full of history and culture, bathed in sunshine and brimming with life and character. Who could ask for more?