Many readers in the area south of Torrevieja already know Fran as the organiser and promoter of the successful Pilar Cineclub.
But when Jane Cronin found out that he was a history graduate she decided to ask him about the area in which he was born and bred, Pilar de la Horadada. Here is a fascinating account of what she learned from him.
Pilar de la Horadada is a very young town. It was recognised as an independent municipality in 1986, and since then has seen spectacular growth which is still continuing today. Since its origins in 1750 until 1986 El Pilar was just a collection of small houses built around a church and was, in Fran's words "just another street of Orihuela". Early on in the twentieth century it gained the name "horadada". This comes from the verb "horadar" which means "to tunnel" or "to bore through" something, in this case the area's stony terrain. The stone was quarried and used in the construction of buildings and roads. Torre de la Horadada, which is the coastal part of the town, was created as this excavation work extended out towards the sea. "Pilar" comes from the name of the saint, and "Torre" refers to one of the towers which was built all along that stretch of coastline by Felipe II in the sixteenth century to guard against the incursions of pirates. The tower in Torre de la Horadada still stands today on top of an outcrop of stone.
During the period of the dictactorship there was much poverty and hardship all over rural Spain, but the 60s saw a slight opening up of the regime and there were some economic improvements. This was the era of the "Swedish girls spending their summers in Spain", in other words, the era when the Spanish had their eyes opened to the freedom which existed outside its borders. In this period some local people decided to improve their lot by building up their agricultural businesses. For this they needed plenty of workers and they spread their net far and wide to attract people to the area. Amongst the labourers who came to El Pilar were Fran's grandparents. They hired a van and drove north from their small village near Granada with their children and few possessions. When all these workers first arrived there were no houses built for them and they had to sleep in warehouses which were strictly segregated between men and women. Even married couples had to be split up to sleep until their houses were built.
In those days families were very large and the small wages that were earned had to be shared out amongst many. Whilst El Pilar remained part of Orihuela it had no drainage, no pavements, no asphalted roads and no local services. With time people started to resent the taxes they were paying when they were not receiving their legal rights as citizens, and meetings were held to try and achieve political independence. This process started during the Franco regime when calling meetings was strictly forbidden, so they were literally risking their livelihoods and being sent to jail. During the period of democracy which came in 1975 the people of Pilar protested more and more, even cutting off the N332 to make their voice heard. Finally, independent political status was granted on the thirtieth of July 1986.
In 1986 Pilar was an impoverished village with a population of 3,500. The area extended to include Torre de la Horadada and Mil Palmeras on the coast, and Pinar de Campo Verde further inland, most of which was open countryside with very little construction. As there was no mains drainage, each house had its own "pozo ciego" or cesspit underneath the foundations where all domestic waste went. Fran can remember asking his father when this pit would be full up, and being told that it never would because everything went back into the earth.
In economic terms the growth of Pilar de la Horadada has been spectacular on two fronts, agricultural and services. It now has a population of 18,000 and is the home of Spain's second largest agricultural co-operative Surinver of which most local farmers are members. Eighty percent of local produce is now sold abroad. About fifteen years ago local agriculture was completely revolutionised by the introduction of an irrigation system based on rubber tubes with tiny holes dripping the exact amount of water needed on each plant. This has turned around the agricultural yield in an area of such low rainfall where previous irrigation methods were inefficient and wasteful.
The other area of growth has been in services, and principally tourism. This mainly started with Spanish people from Madrid and Murcia buying second homes on the coast, followed by the formationof colonies of northern Europeans. There are now more than 1000 new houses being built every year. Some people believe that this growth is unsustainable, but the town hall is trying to limit its effects by enforcing an "Urban Plan". The plan stipulates that growth must be horizontal, rather than vertical, restricting the height of buildings to two storeys and lays down the number and distribution of parks and green areas. Even so, the amount of building for the foreign market is immense, and one illustration of this is that La Torre and El Pilar look as though they will very soon join together into one urban area.
Unfortunately, not all of these houses are bought for residence, many are bought for speculative purposes which has the effect of artificially pushing prices up. Fran's parents house has increased in value by nearly four hundred per cent in six years. Although some people benefit from this rate of economic expansion, it makes life very difficult for young people, when even those who have studied and are working are obliged to live with their parents and are unable to become economically independent.
As well as working in the Cineclub, Fran is a teacher in the El Pilar adult education centre. He teaches literacy, Spanish for foreigners and secondary certificate classes for adults who dropped out of school. His ambition is to continue working in the town that he loves, and he believes passionately in the importance of integrating all nationalities into the local community. Part of this belief is seen in his enormous efforts to make a success of the Pilar Cineclub which he sees as a meeting place for all.
This article is published courtesy of CB Friday in association with thinkspain.com
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