The history of Benidorm on a wet Sunday

The Benidorm beaches get washed away just in time for Easter (Información 20th March)

The Benidorm beaches were washed away just in time for the Easter holidays (Información 20th March)

I don’t go into Benidorm very often but when I do it never ceases to surprise me.  Today was no exception and I would like to share a little of my Benidorm history morning with readers of this blog. The above photograph is from the Alicante newspaper Información, showing the state of Benidorm’s beaches at the start of the long weekend, in tempestuous conditions. We have had a four day break, thanks to Saint Joseph whose feast day was on Thursday: so we all took Friday off as well, and we had a four day weekend.

Virgen del Sufragio, Benidorm, 1740

Virgen del Sufragio, Benidorm, 1740-2015

It has been a wet week but a very special week.  Last weekend it was the 275th anniversary of the arrival of the Virgin Mary in Benidorm.

That probably needs explaining.  In March 1740 a deserted merchant ship drifted into the bay of Benidorm and the ship was brought in to the beach. Due to the possibility that all aboard had died of disease, it was decided that the ship should be burnt.  The good Catholic people of Benidorm saw that there was a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus on the boat, so the pleaded with the authorities not to burn Our Lady and Jesus. The statue was spared, and the Virgen del Sufragio is the town’s patron today.

An exhibition opened in the old town hall in Benidorm this week, recording the tradition of the Virgen del Sufragio.  This morning some dedicated resident historians of Benidorm wandered among the various replicas of the statue, memorabilia associated with the tradition, and a film showing the restoration of the original. Among those present was the famous Benidorm photographer “Quico” who recorded the transformation of Benidorm in the 1960s, and whose capture of the social history and economic transformation of the town has been likened to a “semi-divine eye”: very little escaped him.

Benidorm 196

Quico points to a street scene in Benidorm in a black and white photo of a procession of the Virgen del Sufragio in the 1950s

When the Virgen del Sufragio arrived in Benidorm in 1740 it was only a short time before the British first invaded.  As we learned this morning on our history walk around the castillo in Benidorm, the town did not get its first Brits invading on British European Aiways Viscount turbo-prop aircraft in 1960s package holidays: the British navy made a full assault on the beaches of Benidorm in 1812, capturing the town from the French who had been occupying it as an important defensive position.


History tour outside the church of San Jaume in Benidorm on the site of the old town cemetery before the French occupation in 1812

The French occupying forces made the residents of Benidorm dig up the old town cemetery and fling the bodily remains of many generations into the sea below, as they reinforced the defensive position.  This is now the place where tourists mingle between the Poniente and Levante beaches, and very few even know that Benidorm has a history as a strategic military base.  They see the cannon lined up on the castillo in the town and think they are quaint fakes put there for the tourists.  In their day the bigger guns had a range of a kilometre, and they were strategically placed across the beaches of Benidorm to provide lethal crossfire.

Happily, once the French and the British were gone, more peaceful history arrived in the form of lamp posts.  Please note: I am simply re-telling the sequence of history I learned from this morning’s ventures, and not attempting to provide any logical connection between these events.  Clearly, some new economic event must have happened between the Napoleonic wars and the arrival of lamp posts, if only to pay for them and to provide gas infrastructure to power them, but that remains a mystery.

1832 lamp post in the Plaza de la Constitución in Benidorm

1832 lamp post in the Plaza de la Constitución in Benidorm

Lamp post in the Plaza de la Constitución

Lamp post in the Plaza de la Constitución

The streets of Benidorm are lit at night by lamps (posts and wall-mounted lights) which look like quaint replicas in this teeming tourist town, but they are in fact early 19th century original pieces.  The first was placed in the Plaza de la Constitución in 1832 and there are many more of the same period on walls around the old town.

The first square with lighting in Benidorm

The first square with lighting in Benidorm


History tour at the Carrer de Cuatre Cantons

History tour at the Carrer de Cuatre Cantons

One thing that everyone seems to know about Benidorm is that before it became the model for 1960s mass tourism and package holidays, “it was a quiet fishing village”…   How many times have I seen that in tourist information (even local tourist information!) and how wrong it is.  Benidorm had fishermen, and in fact its “almadraba” tuna fishing expertise was known all the way from here to Cadiz, but it was never a “fishing village”.  It had both fishing and agriculture, yes, but its main association with the sea was both naval and mercantile.  Shipping interests provided the wealth and international connections for Benidorm in the old Roman and Carthaginian Mediterranean world and in recent times too.

A story was recounted today of a visitor from Madrid who came into Benidorm in the 1920s in a Mercedes and expected the locals in the bar to be impressed with a visitor from so far away.  “I’ll bet you’ve never been to Madrid, any of you!” said the visitor.  The local Benidorm drinkers at the bar shook their heads, for they had indeed never been to Madrid. They quickly explained to the visiting Madrileño that they were much more familiar with Buenos Aires and New York.  Benidorm was a town that produced sea captains.

The Virgen del Sufragio exhibition continues throughout the year, at the old Town Hall building in Calle Tomás Ortuño in Benidorm.

Benidorm 190Benidorm 195Benidorm 193Benidorm 191Benidorm 185Benidorm 182

275th anniversary banners for the Virgen del Sufragio in Benidorm

275th anniversary banners for the Virgen del Sufragio in Benidorm


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca. I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 and the wind in the pine trees. I am writing a comedy about a school in Benidorm. My favourite film of all time is "Jean de Florette". If I had my time again I would not have spent the early 1970s working for Special Branch.
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14 Responses to The history of Benidorm on a wet Sunday

  1. orthodoxgirl99 says:

    Now there’s a bit of history that I’m sure not many were familiar with! Interesting to read about Benidorm’s past and the fact that it was a real sea-faring point as well. Really enjoying your blog and having started right at the beginning I am now up to 2013…..lovely photos and videos and some of the donks’ activities are hilarious!

  2. Frere Rabit says:

    Yes, the donkeys do provide some fun and games at times. Mad Rubí in the Wind is one of my favourite videos on the blog, from 2013. She is a very placid donkey but occasionally goes quite loony. The other videos that are quite good fun to watch are the foals

  3. scarygoat61 says:

    All very interesting, thank you. One day I would like to visit Benidorm….one day (sigh) and maybe I will even get to visit the donks. I do like donks 🙂

  4. orthodoxgirl99 says:

    I nearly fell off my chair laughing when you interviewed the 4 Cardinals?!! Chuffing hilarious dear brother lapin!

  5. Geert says:

    Very interesting indeed; thank you! Did sufragio relate to vote, constitution and trias politica? Montesquieu wrote ‘De l’esprit des lois’ in 1748.

  6. Frere Rabit says:

    Not in this sense, no. Our Lady of Suffrage is not a political but a spiritual emancipation!

  7. Jack Hughes says:

    Well I never knew that Benidorm had a navel history, everyday it seems is a school day !!

    Thanks for Sharing

  8. Frere Rabit says:

    If you want to know more, see Benidorm history on my teaching website

  9. Jack Hughes says:

    Thanks Mr Rabit, it looks incredible (certainly to crazy people like me who love to devour this sort of information 🙂 ) , will certainly check it out out in detail once the Triduum is done.

    A Blessed Triduum to you and your Donkeys


  10. Frere Rabit says:

    The donks are already on their knees in the stable in meditation and final fasting.

  11. Frere Rabit says:

    Hi Geert. Good to hear from you, as always. Yes, it’s Our Lady of Suffrage. The boat bearing the statue arrived in Benidorm in 1740 with no crew (presumed dead with plague) and the boat was burnt but the statue saved.

  12. Geert says:

    Hi Gareth,
    Thank you for reacting, but I still don’t get what suffrage means in connection with Our Lady.
    What does suffrage in this sense do in [or after?] life and why was She given that title?
    Has it anything to do with [gettting rid off] Obedience?
    Could you please explain further?
    Thank you!
    PS: I do know and understand what rôle suffragettes played in society in the last few centuries.

  13. Pingback: Back to the sources and an odd pastoral encounter |

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