Pedro Zaragoza: Developer of high-rise Benidorm

Pedro Zaragoza invented Benidorm as Europe's first mass tourist resort, and faced excommunication from the Catholic Church for introducing the bikini to Spanish beaches. But he won Francisco Franco's blessing, and in the depths of the dictatorship, this engaging operator arguably brought more sunshine and fun into the lives of ordinary folk than anyone else in Spain.

Convinced that workers had as much right as the rich to a holiday in the sun, Zaragoza developed this tiny fishing village with its three-mile stretch of golden sand into Spain's – possibly Europe's – biggest seaside resort, favourite destination for visitors from the north. Pallid northerners suffering harsh winters and cloudy skies barely needed persuading to head south for year-round sunshine.

Young Pedro Zaragoza had little formal education – a deficiency he corrected later in life – but he had an astute brain and could sell an idea: in a public-relations masterstroke he flew to snowy Helsinki one April, bearing a flowering branch of Mediterranean almond blossom. He made friends with some reindeer hunters from Lapland, and took them from airport to airport across Europe with a placard explaining in Spanish and English that the family took their holidays in Benidorm.

Over 17 years, as mayor of his home town, Zaragoza nurtured his vision, and created a mighty tourism machine visited by five million holidaymakers every year, more than half of them northern Europeans, mostly British.

Zaragoza vigorously defended the high-rise concrete jungle that looms over Benidorm's manicured twin-crescent seafront. He was proud of it; he planned it, and took advice from Spain's guru of maritime urban planning Oriol Bohigas, the architect of modern Barcelona.

"If you build low, you occupy all the space and have a long walk to the beach. If you build high, you can face the sea, and leave room for gardens, pools and tennis courts," Zaragoza explained when I interviewed him some years back. He illustrated his argument with a bottle of wine ("from my wife's bodega"), lying it on first its side, then upright, finally balancing it on its top. When he was sure I had grasped his point that building high frees space and puts you nearer the main attraction, he opened the bottle.

His family were seafarers, and as a young man he went to Barcelona to study nautical matters. But poverty brought him home to work as a travelling salesman, a job he left to work as a porter at Madrid's old Delicias rail terminal, now the railway museum. He later worked in a minerals factory, which sent him to the phosphate mines of Zarza la Mayor, near Cáceres in the western region of Extremadura. He became a driller's assistant, then a miner-driller, and finally manager of the company.

He returned to Benidorm when his father died, and became director of the local branch of a regional savings bank. His ambition and drive won the approval of the promotions manager of the Confederation of Spanish Savings Banks in Madrid, with the result that Franco's politicians appointed Zaragoza mayor of Benidorm. He was 28.

In 1952, he noted prevailing fashions and allowed the bikini to be worn on the beach. Further, he issued a decree forbidding anyone from insulting a woman who sported the daring two-piece swimwear. "If we wanted to attract visitors from outside, we had to move with the times." The church was outraged at the affront to Catholic modesty, and threatened to excommunicate him. So in a typically theatrical flourish, Zaragoza decided to put his case directly to Franco.

"I got on my Vespa and drove to Madrid," he recalled. "I set off before dawn and I arrived in the hot afternoon. I'd brought a clean shirt to change into, but no clean trousers. So I met the generalissimo with my trousers all stained with motor oil from my bike." Franco was charmed, and gave him the green light: the bikini survived and thrived, and the two families became friends and visited each other.

Zaragoza laid out his visionary design for Benidorm in Spain's first General Plan for Urban Organisation of 1956. He proudly presented visitors with facsimile copies of this document, which included grainy photos of a pristine shoreline.

When he stepped down as mayor in 1967, Zaragoza became a provincial deputy, president of Alicante's provincial government, and finally the Spanish government's Tourism Director. He chaired the national Tourism Commission for 12 years. But he considered himself more a manager than a politician.

In later life he sought to complete the education he lacked. He took a law degree in the 1970s, specialising in urban development. He graduated in tourism at Alicante University at the age of 82, then completed three courses of a journalism degree at the University of Elche. He was made honorary professor of Tourism at Alicante University, to which he donated his vast personal archive in 2007.

The collection contained not only documents and plans charting Benidorm's historic rise, but extensive correspondence with leaders of the time, including Franco, the Argentine strongman Juan Domingo Perón, Charles de Gaulle and Otto von Habsburg.

Elizabeth Nash



Pedro Zaragoza Orts, tourism promoter and lawyer: born Benidorm, Spain 15 May 1922; Mayor of Benidorm 1950-67; married María Ivars (four children); died Benidorm 1 April 2008.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution