For those who view Tenerife as nothing more than a winter retreat for weather weary Northern Europeans the idea that it could be nominated as a European Capital of Culture when Spain next plays host in 2016, may come as something of a surprise.
Tenerife’s artistic heritage dates back to the conquest and the subsequent mix of Spanish, Flemish, Portuguese and British influences. Its main towns are home to museums, theatres, squares and gardens; however, in Santa Cruz an exhibition organised by the City’s College of Architects in 1973 may prove a unique selling point when the time arrives for the recipient of the prestigious title to be decided.
The 1st International Street Sculpture Exhibition featured many renowned Spanish and European sculptors, much of whose work remain part of a permanent exhibition traversing the three kilometre stretch of La Rambla from Avenida Tres de Mayo to Avenida de Anaga. It’s a legacy which not only adds weight to the island’s cultural aspirations, but is also an outstanding feature for both residents and visitors to enjoy.
A stroll along the mainly pedestrianised sculpture trail is an ideal way to become acquainted with the city, see striking works of art and delve into its history; Sundays are best, when the pace of the life is that bit slower and there’s less traffic, making negotiating non-pedestrianised sections much less fraught.
Starting where La Rambla meets Avenida Tres de Mayo, the first sculpture is by local boy José Abad; Abad would scour the port looking for materials to use in his work, which explains the industrial-looking style of this piece. La Rambla widens after Abad’s work, becoming lined with petunias and figs; laurel trees create dappled shade as the route passes Maria Simon’s ‘Man’ before arriving at an understated triangular sculpture by The Montesori School. Described as a tribute to victims of the civil war, it’s actually a monument in memory of those who suffered persecution, imprisonment and death at the Fyffe’s warehouse between 1936 and 1942; a solemn reminder of a darker period in the Island’s history.
By complete contrast, the centre of Plaza de La República Dominicana, named after Columbus’ discovery of La Hispaniola during his first voyage to the Americas, is dominated by Francisco Sobrino’s vibrant red, twelve metre high ‘Movil’. Adjacent is Parque Viera y Clavijo, whose grounds are graced by ‘Femme Bouteille’ a contribution from one of the big names of the exhibition, Joan Miró; his bronze sculpture an artistic highlight of the route.
The café beside Plaza de la Paz, named to commemorate the end of the First World War, is a great spot to soak up some of the area’s atmosphere; at every table Santacruceros sip café cortados and discuss politics, news or the previous night’s football. With five cinemas surrounding it, the plaza used to be the place to go for a night out at the flicks; now only one remains, the elegant Cine Victor, designed by José Enrique Marrero Regalado, the architect responsible for shaping the way Santa Cruz looks today; his other works include the Island Council building and the Nuestra Señora de Africa market. The fountain in the centre of the plaza is where Tenerife football club fans congregate after key victories; unfortunately current form has meant there hasn’t been much congregating recently.
On the same stretch is the bullring at Plaza de Toros. Tinerfeños didn’t take to the sport and there hasn’t been a bullfight there since the fifties; it’s now used as a venue for concerts, rallies and open air bars.
Xavier Corbero’s work ‘Ejecutores y Ejecutados’ has lost some of its impact since its large red balls, suspended from trees, were removed, leaving the less theatrical black balls on concrete. Corbero’s missing balls are compensated for by the main attraction from Britain’s most prominent sculptor of the 20th century, Henry Moore. Reclining figures and fallen warriors were a favourite theme of Moore’s and ‘Guerrero Goslar’ encapsulates both. Graceful lines and undulating curves shine on even the dullest days; there’s a depth of quality to the figure that transcends other exhibits.
A detour down Avenida 25th July, leads to the Gaudi-esque Plaza de los Patos whose official title is 25th July square; a reference to Admiral Nelson’s defeat at Santa Cruz in 1797, an event alluded to all around the city. The square and fountain is decorated with Seville tiles; adverts on the square’s colourful benches promote companies who sponsored its creation.
Parque García Sanabria holds some intriguing sculptures; unfortunately the park has been closed for restoration since 2004. Following a setback called ‘tropical storm Delta’ it’s now due to open during the May fiestas. Two pieces of note in the park are ‘La Fecundidad’, a voluptuous nude female figure by Frances Borges Salas and ‘Monumento al Gato’ by Oscar Dominguez. Dominguez, who grew up in Tacoronte, was an artist in the grand tradition of troubled geniuses with a passion for wine, women and bullfighting; at 25 he painted a self portrait depicting the veins in his arms slit open; 27 years later life imitated art when he committed suicide.
Opposite the Mencey Hotel, an untitled statue by Feliciano marks the last stage of the trail. In front of the College of Architects is ‘Lady Tenerife’ by Martin Chirino. Chirino was inspired by Guanche Indian designs, their influence evident in the figure’s swirling outline.
The final piece, Jaume Plensa’s ‘Islas’, is almost lost amongst the trees, but as dusk falls the leafy canopy lights up with the names of revered artists; it’s a simple creation with a magical charm.
The recently spruced up ‘Ángel de la Victoria’, better known as ‘Franco’s monument’ is the antithesis to the simplicity of ‘Islas’. Despite its heavy symbolism, it’s an impressive monument which provides a contrast to the more modernistic sculptures of the exhibition.
Include other wonderful creations from Santa Cruz’ streets, such as the dramatic ‘Monument to the heroes of 25 July’ opposite Plaza de España, the aluminium fish on Calle Valentin Sanz, ‘The Orator’ in Plaza del Principe and the haunting mask outside the Guimerá theatre and it seems quite clear that, although it’ll be a long time before we discover who wins the honour of being named European Capital of Culture, Santa Cruz is already the capital of sculpture.
The main tourist office, based on Plaza de España, has an informative guide to Santa Cruz which lists all of the sculptures on the route.
922 531 107; open 09.30-17.00 Mon-Fri, 10.30-13.30 Sat, closed Sunday