The War of the Walls at San Telmo in Puerto de la Cruz

This is my idea of an historic wall.

Walled City, Dubrovnik, Croatia

This isn’t.

Section of San Telmo Sea Wall, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

I was baffled after reading reports about plans to destroy an historic wall in Puerto de la Cruz and the outrage they had caused. The question that immediately sprang to mind was – what historic wall?

The San Telmo Project
The ‘controversy’ started when the council and the Tenerife Government announced plans to renovate the promenade that runs from the San Telmo church to the start of the old town in Puerto de la Cruz.

This area is a bit of an eyesore. It is narrow, the pavement tiles look perpetually dirty (see above) and the façades of the buildings date from those dark days of bland architecture, the 70s.

In short, it is in urgent need of a facelift.

San Telmo, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

The plan, in brief, is to widen and modernise the promenade to create a more attractive walkway that is also more accessible to people who have mobility issues. This includes replacing the wall that runs along this section of the seafront with an open, steel barrier similar to the one at the mirador above the Pomodoro restaurant.

The cost is an estimated 1.5 million and it is expected to take around 10 months (if pigs actually learn to fly).

The Case Against the San Telmo Project
When I heard about the San Telmo project my heart plummeted. Not because of the proposals, but because on Tenerife projects like these take forever. Deadlines are pure fantasy that are rarely met.

Subsequently the town looks a right mess whilst the work is being carried out. Worse, people have lost businesses as a result of prolonged, restricted access to their shops, bars and restaurants.

However, this doesn’t seem to be the main concern of the protests. The most vociferous opponents seem to be revolting at the loss of the ‘historic’ wall that runs along the seafront at that part of the town.

This historic wall is the cause of my bafflement.

San Telmo Sea Wall, Puertode la Cruz, Tenerife

The Historic Wall
The council say it’s not historic as most of it was built in 1977.

Those against the loss of the wall say it is a part of the town’s history and dates back to 1918… although they concede it has been built on and renovated in the intervening century.

Ironically, photos posted online to support the historic wall stance reveal two things.

The first is that the 1918 wall looks nothing at like the wall that exists now.

The second is that the only thing that’s historic about that area now is the San Telmo church. That part of the promenade is historic only if we’re now classing the 70s as historic. The images also show how beautiful this part of Puerto used to be – the key phrase here is ‘used to be’.

In interviews I’ve seen with local people, the argument against the San Telmo project seems more of an argument against change – e.g. ‘the wall has been there all my life, I don’t want to see it go.’

The wall is not a pretty one, especially if viewed from the sea side. There are ugly, exposed concrete sections. A town like Puerto deserves better and the idea is to open it up more to the sea.

Mirador, Puertode la Cruz, Tenerife

Aesthetics aside, there are other reasons why the work should improve the promenade. Since the changes in smoking laws, there are now tables and chairs at the narrowest sections which can result in a bottleneck at times.

There is also another very good reason why removing the current stone wall will be better for the image of the town. I’m not going to say what it is, but those who know the town very well may know of what I speak. Those who don’t know the town will have to remain in the dark, sorry.

I am no fan of the mayor and have concerns whenever there is talk of modernising. I have concerns that truly historic aspects of the town will be discarded in favour of things that are new and shiny. Opposition groups reflect these concerns; however, it’s vital not to let red herrings obscure the important issues.

Calle La Hoya, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

Saying that, the modernisations that have taken place so far have enhanced Puerto de la Cruz. Avenida Familia Bethencourt y Molina and Calle La Hoya both look much better now than they did pre renovation.

Calle Mequinez, Ranilla, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

In the old part of town, the pedestrianisation of Calle Mequinez is a vast improvement to a street where there was hardly room for one person to walk on the pavement. If anything, it has gained more character as a result.

Unless someone comes up with credible evidence to the contrary, I’ve no real reason to believe the renovation of San Telmo will be any different.

 

Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+

10 Comments

  1. I laugh how it used to be Jack by my father’s photos of the 1950’s .. You have seen some of them . … you certainly needed walking shoes on in those days !

    I must say though there seems to be an awful lot of volcanic rock in there apart from the concrete .

    • I have Susan. Very different days. There’s a mural in Taoro of how the town used to look. I wish I’d seen it then.

      Most of the wall at its highest point is thick rock but the rest is awful. I read somewhere in English that the work was to strengthen the wall but I’m not sure where that came from. The Spanish documents I’ve seen have been about the San Telmo Project improving the appearance and the access of that section of the promenade. The wall is already literally rock solid as you know. It might have been due to a misinterpretation over a reference to ‘opening it to the sea’ which is a popular phrase with the mayor and, in this, case, refers to the top of the wall – not the whole thing.

      It’s a bit of a mess from below – even the sundeck area is in need of a bit of TLC, the showers are just ugly, concrete slabs. This is why I can’t quite get my head around some of the protests. I stood and stared and stared at it the other day. I’m, still baffled 🙂

    • Thanks Janet. The whole situation is really quite fascinating. Some say it’s politically motivated – but aren’t most protests? I’m not sure whether nostalgia is being confused with historic.

  2. The wall along the San Telmo was originally built in 1780 after the Ermita de San Telmo was completed. The move to conserve the stone wall is not a political one, it is one of heritage, aesthetics and practicality. So much of the old Puerto de la Cruz has disappeared over the years. The volcanic rock wall is traditionally built and is part of the soul of the Puerto, many locals consider it to be part of their town and they do not want it replaced by steel rails, glass and wood. The photo you show of the Punta del Viento, where the original stone wall was replaced a couple of years ago with steel wire (which is now badly rusted) has been condemned as an illegal structure on safety grounds, as it offers a “rope ladder” to curious children and an easy fall to their deaths on the rocks below. It is, in short, a disgrace. Added to that, adults who get onto the lower stone part of the wall and lean back on the steel rail could easily lose their balance as the rail comes just below their buttocks. It is only a matter of time before someone falls from this point to their certain death below.
    The sea wall at San Telmo was restored by Cesar Manrique in 1976, using the original materials from the old wall (dating back to 1780).
    There is no doubt that improvements could be made to the walk way, the sea-side of the wall, and the shop frontage, but the removal of this wall will spark a great wave (forgive the pun) of protest from the citizens of the Puerto, who in the vast majority are against the demolition of the sea wall.
    What other walls in Puerto de la Cruz have significant or historic value other than this one?
    The Customs House? The Castillo de San Felipe? The Ermita de San Telmo? The Puerto Pesquero; (muelles)?
    The demolition of this wall will remove, forever, a structure that is low maintenance, highly protective, and considered by the local population as historic.
    I will continue to oppose its demolition on principal and without a care for the political issues in the Town.
    To question the history is quite absurd. The wall stands where it has for more than two hundred years. Long may it continue to do so.

    • Hi Toby and thanks for your comments.

      I’ve scoured your Salvemos San Telmo page and read article after article about the San Telmo Project and, combined with your comments here, still feel there’s a lack of concrete (excuse the use of the word in this case) evidence about what the situation is and exactly what is planned.

      Like I said in the piece, I’m no fan of the current council but I like to hear balanced arguments that can be backed up by hard data (from reputable sources).

      I’ll list why I still don’t feel these have been given.

      1: Access for people with mobility problems.
      You mention this regarding the new wall, yet access is appalling at the moment – a fact that is regularly mentioned on Tripadvisor by visitors to the town. The official information about the project states that part of its design is to improve access. So the statement about this seems misleading… unless there is hard evidence to the contrary.

      2: The Wire Wall at Punto Viento
      ‘A “rope ladder” to curious children’. To single out this wall as an H&S concern is to… well, single out this wall. Children can climb up a lot of places if left to their own devices. You could argue that now children can enjoy the view without having to be lifted on to the wall (potentially dangerous). Ironically, local children regularly jump off the walls around here and did so before the wire wall was in place. As for people standing on the narrow concrete with their backs to the wall and toppling over, my question would be – why on earth would someone do something as stupid as that?

      3: The Historic Wall
      I’d really like to see exactly which part of the wall is historic. I am honestly confused by this as much of the wall doesn’t look very historic and is quite an eyesore (as shown by the photo). It is clearly not the same wall in the old photos (when that part of the town did look charming). Agreed that the best of Manrique’s work should be preserved but to say that material from the original wall was used when it was rebuilt is a bit like claiming that a 70s bland apartment block is historic because some of the material used to build it came from a 17th century building that had been destroyed to make way for it.

      4: Danger from the Waves
      A direct question – is the wall, apart from the very top section which is being transformed, actually being lowered? If not, then I’m at a loss about the concern regarding waves. In normal circumstances the waves do not come as high as the top of the wall. In extraordinary circumstances they might, but the current wall wouldn’t offer much greater protection in that case. This is one of those arguments that seems like a red herring to me and plays on people’s lack of understanding about what the phrase ‘Abrir acceso al mar’ actually means.

      5: People of Puerto are against the Wall
      The vast majority of citizens are against the demolition of the sea wall. Has there been an extensive poll and if so what were the results? If not, it is misleading to make this claim.

      I hate to see Puerto being run into the ground as it is quite unique amongst resorts on this island thanks to its history and the character of its people. You’re obviously passionate about this wall and anyone who is protecting heritage for a good reason should be applauded and supported to the hilt.

      But for me the arguments that illustrate what that good reason is still need to be stronger.

  3. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=457070564412089&set=a.448806895238456.1073741829.447808685338277&type=1&theater

    This is the projected vision of the walk way. It lacks disabled access (illegal by constitution), and it gives a false sense of access to the sea. Most importantly, the access to the sea will also provide access FROM the sea, and the waves will come.

    The face-lift will be welcome by all except the shop keepers who will lose their trade for months.

    Ask the shops down the side street who are not being compensated for their total loss over the past 4 months.

    Go talk to the people.

    • Thanks for the link Toby,

      This article is a shining example of what I meant about a lack of hard evidence – it’s an opinion piece full of flowery rhetoric rather than facts.

      The problem I have with articles like this is that the main argument it uses simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

      Lago Martianez, The San Telmo sundeck and Garachico are all almost at sea level, the railing at Punta Brava is only slightly higher and Punta Brava is extremely exposed to high waves. So it isn’t comparing like with like. It’s an unfair comparison.

      What about Punto Viento? It has a steel railing and is right next to the volcanic wall; was it flooded?

      It’s a genuine question as I honestly don’t know if it was or wasn’t, but it would seem an obvious choice to use as an example rather than ones that aren’t really relevant.

      Instead of reinforcing the argument to save the wall, it frustrates by not actually being convincing. I came away thinking ‘is that it, is that all there is?’

      Many seafront promenades throughout Europe have metal railings as fences and have done for centuries, maybe that’s why some of the arguments against them here can be perplexing.

      There’s no argument from me about the misuse of European funding on this island, the appalling effect of drawn out improvements that kill businesses or of Manrique’s importance; it’s just a shame his vision, which prevented the rape of Lanzarote, didn’t have quite the same impact on Tenerife.

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