THROUGH THE COLONIZATION VILLAGES FROM THE «VEGA BAJA» COUNTY ALONG «SEGURA» RIVER
Recently we have enjoyed an interesting journey in the surroundings of Albatera. Specifically we visited those locations called » The Colonization Villages» from the «Vega Baja» county, in the south of Valencia Region, Spain.
These villages were established by the National Institute of Colonization, INC; institution in charge of the Spanish land reform, that took place during the Franco regime and built almost 300 of these little towns all over the Spanish geography. One of the areas where the INC carried out these actions was the south of Alicante, in the salt marshes near Crevillente and Albatera. With this, the INC finished a process that Cardinal Belluga begun in the XVIII century, that also brought population to that zone.
The INC built there 2 villages in the 50’s from XX century: San Isidro de Albatera (1953) and El Realengo (1959). A group of dispersed farmhouses, called «Casas de los Saladares» or «La Veintiuna» was situated between both locations (1956-60). These urban developments were designed by the architect Jose Luis Fernandez del Amo.
The village of El Realengo is located along the road from Crevillente to Catral and the railway from Alicante to Murcia. It is the smallest and it wasn’t finished. Its urban organization has references from the Roman City, with 2 main orthogonal streets that cross themselves, generating the principal square. There the space is divided in 2 parts; in one side the civil power, with the Town Hall, the Social Center (multi-purpose space with a small bar) and the «Hermandad Sindical» (a sort of agricultural cooperative); on the other side, the church dominates the space, with the teachers dwellings, the school, the doctor’s office and the place where the craftsmanship were supposed to establish, but they never did. The houses for colonists and their large plots were distributed around this central space.
The architect shows a great sensibility and good work in the design of the village. Its buildings were built with constructive simplicity, due to the lack of resources, but with a solid architectural quality. A totally modern language is used, even with references to the current nordic architecture, but the local character and the traditional architecture of the place is still considered.
The architect plays with textures on the outside finishes: basements are built with whitewashed masonry and first floors with brick walls, filled with mortar and whitewashed afterwards. The houses for colonists (owners of a plot land) are semi-detached, with a special corner that guides us to the access. The entrances to the houses are not directly open to the street, but to the courtyard where all the agricultural constructions are placed. The windows are situated in the line where the surface changes its direction, achieving a very expressive effect. The houses for labourers (field workers) are smaller and have been changed a lot since the villages origin, but the combination of volumes could be seen already. The access follows the same diagram that was explained before.
The church is the most remarkable building. All the economic effort was addressed to its construction, as contemporary artists were in charge of its decoration and of its furnitures and ritual objects design. In El Realengo the façade is composed by 3 elements: the bell tower, the covered access and the baptistery. The bell tower is a milestone within the plain that surrounds it; an elegant element, slim and severe. The main façade houses a covered space where the entries are located. It is decorated with a splendid mural of The Annunciation, created by Manuel Baeza and Adrián Carrillo and made with varied materials like bricks, mosaic ceramic tiles and even bottoms of crystal bottles. The baptistery has an independent entry from the side of the façade, as it used to be before the Second Vatican Council. It is a small volume crowned by a remarkable pyramid, that is a recurrent compositional theme that Fernandez del Amo utilized in the public buildings, both civil or religious, that he designed.
San Isidro is situated also near the railway and the road from Albatera to Catral. Its success as location is the reason of the several modifications that its urban design has suffered (some of them are unwarranted outrages on its origin). However, buildings of great value still remain, like the old schools with its particular pyramid stressing the access. In front of them the sculptures of Pablo Serrano stays, offering its surfaces as children playground. Following the palm tree boulevard, we arrive to the church, with a solid bell tower that is separated from the main volume and is decorated by a mosaic of Saint Isidro, created by Manuel Baeza.
With this journey we would like to claim the attention not only of the authorities in charge of the maintenance of this heritage, but the neighbours of these villages. They should recognize the artistic value that they own, both their urban design and their buildings, in order to promote its enhancement and the enjoyment of this particular architecture. We ought to insist to the institutions that their action on these villages must be made with sensibility, the same that Fernandez del Amo uses in its design. It is known that an alive town is in constant change, but it can’t happen at any price and losing its character.
For further information, we recommend the book of Miguel Centellas Soler about colonization villages, detailed and enjoyable. (more info)