Modernist architecture in North Africa
In Spanish territory in North Africa, there is a corner where lovers of floral motifs and the typical curves of this style can satisfy their sights. This city is Melilla, which in the early 20th century saw how a disciple of the architect Antoni Gaudí believed in the possibilities of a city which had been the birthplace of five different cultures before becoming the Modernist capital of Africa, and an honourable sister of Barcelona.
His name was Enrique Nieto and his beginnings in Melilla were not easy even though he had worked with Gaudí himself on the Casa Milà in Barcelona. He came to Melilla in 1909 and immediately found that the local architects were not going to make it easy for him to work there, but he triumphed with determination and managed to build hundreds of projects with his signature, including baroque and art-deco works. And to think that when he arrived he had to advertise in the newspapers to look for work! But his origins, his passion, what made him different and brilliant was Modernism, whose special features he left reflected in such beautiful works as the Casa Tortosa, the La Reconquista building and the Casa de los Cristales.
There is no doubt that Nieto was helped by circumstances. On his arrival the city was enjoying a time of splendour thanks to the many changes caused by the growing population and the economic boom, the result above all of the intense mining activity in the Rif mountainous region of north-eastern Africa. As well as his talent, all of these factors helped his work to flourish not only in the city of Melilla, but also throughout the region, which at that time was the most important centre of the Spanish protectorate in Morocco.
A modernist route in Melilla also brings us to the Yamín Benarroch synagogue and the Central Mosque, as Nieto also dared to add modernist elements to earlier works of art from other cultures. But he was also capable of changing and creating in the manner of historicist styles when required to do so. If you take a trip around Melilla, don’t hesitate to follow the steps of this special architect you can discover on foot, for the Ensanche area contains most of his best-known facades. The El Telegrama del Rif newspaper building, the Chamber of Commerce and the Casa Melul are a further three examples of his talent, without mentioning works by other architects who followed in his footsteps such as Mauricio Jalvo, Eusebio Redondo and Francisco Carcaño. You won’t be able to look down!
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