A few years ago, when I saw ‘el bunker’ taking shape on the virgin landscape of Bolonia, Costa de la Luz, I like many, was shocked.
The Junta del Andalucía, the regional government, seemed once again to be showing total disregard for the environment with its unstoppable support of concrete development.
Yet now I have come to really like the structure. The Visitor Centre at the Roman ruins of Bolonia, Baelo Claudia is now complete and established, and the works to make Baelo Claudia more accessible and better understood are well advanced, changing my perception of this development.
We spent last weekend in Bolonia (an hour or so west of Marbella) and so a visit to the Roman ruins was inevitable.
The Roman town was built on the wealth generated from tuna-fishing and its preservation. In fact the red fin tuna found close to here are still prized as amongst the best in the world, with Japanese buyers regularly paying thousands of euros per fish for use in sushi and sashimi restaurants.(Sadly there are believed to be in crisis due to over fishing for centuries).
The Roman site until about 6 or 7 years ago was quite simple. I recall back in 2005 there was just a small wooden hut at the entrance and you could roam freely across the ruins, interpreting what you saw in the best way you could.
Rightly so, the Andalusian government wanted to create a national and European reference point for these fascinating ruins – there are all the compelling elements of a Roman town; fortified walls; an amphitheatre; Temple of Isis, Law Courts; and the Basilica, many columns of which are still standing – plus its location on the Atlantic shores of the Straits of Gibraltar is stunning. The city was hit by a major earthquake in the second century AD and things pretty much went downhill from there but there is much to see and more and more is being uncovered with the recent excavations and enhancements to the site.
The site only recently attracted controversy when construction started in 2006 on the visitor centre, museum and library designed by prize winning Seville architect, Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra. Possibly through typically poor consultation with local people that is endemic here in Andalucía (the regional government has been run by the same party ever since the autonomous region of Andalucía was created, so democracy has always been a little, shall we say, challenged), the concrete block, nicknamed ‘el bunker’ came as quite a shock to residents and visitors alike.
Bolonia is a sleepy village that comes alive at weekends and during the summer season thanks to its alternative dynamic; the nudist beach; the seafood; the lack of development; and the great wind surfing and kite surfing to be enjoyed.
The streets of this tiny hamlet were filled with activists demanding the structure be demolished, and works were paralysed for many months due to the protests – the Junta had never seen anything like it. I was horrified too; how could a great lump of concrete be dropped onto the pristine landscape. Bolonia has always been a special place for me (it was where I fell in love!).
Now, 4 years on, and the building has somehow settled into its surroundings. Its beautiful travertine marble cladding, and sensitive landscaping and the repair of the land have all combined to soften the huge building’s impact on the landscape.
The centre, with its roof top courtyard that offers stunning views across the Bay of Bolonia, is actually really compelling and thoughtful. The building is has a well thought out interior, with the occasional huge window that frames the amazing views. The centre has not only brought together a century of discovered items from the city, but has also become the home of an extensive research library and a centre of reference for research into Roman life.
Luckily I guess, it is something about the unique quality of the light here in Southern Spain that brings a brutalist style building like this to life – somehow its pure white and marble clad walls work in the broad spectrum sunlight of the Mediterranean.
The site of the ruins is receiving much needed investment and work is well advanced in making the site fully accessible, and well explained. Soon contemporary walk ways will allow access to the entire site right down to the beach – it really is a magical place and I’m pleased it has attracted this much needed investment even at the cost of having the construction of such a controversial ‘Marmite’ Love-it or Hate-it building.