Photo by Gelán Archive: Children at play after the flood of the tamarguillo stream in 1961
When natural disasters force reconstruction of housing, the city and its people adapt to new styles of living. Four citizens of Seville reflect on how an earthquake and a flood in their youth affected their neighborhoods of Macarena, La Calzada, Los Pajaritos and Polígono Sur.
Manuel Losada remembers the disaster that displaced his family when he was 5 years old. He was living in Macarena, a neighborhood just outside the city center in the north of Seville. “In March of 1969, there was an earthquake that ran through the streets. I lived in a typical patio de vecinos.” The construction of this communal house did not withstand the tremors.
Eight years earlier, during the afternoon of Nov. 25, 1961, the Tamarguillo stream (which currently runs underground the Ronda del Tamarguillo, a major boulevard outside the center of Seville to the east), became a wild river and overflowed after heavy rains. The flood killed 20 people and caused damage to the housing of more than 125,000 residents.
“The water was up to the first floor,” Inocencio says of his childhood home while tending to plants that line a street of Los Pajaritos, the same neighborhood where he lives today, on the east periphery of Seville.
José Luis, of Huerto de Santa Teresa, a neighborhood that borders Los Pajaritos, also witnessed the flood when he was 6 or 7 years old. “I remember that goats were floating through the water,” he says while taking the bus to his librarian job in the city center.
Antonio Zarco was present when the flood affected the home of his wife’s family in La Calzada, a neighborhood on the east fringes of Seville’s city center.
“I was 24 years old. Carmen, my girlfriend, was 19 and lived on Luis Montoto Street. The water covered, I figure, 1-and-a-half meters or more,” he recounts.
The earthquake and the Tamarguillo flood affected the families’ futures and homes differently. Manuel Losada, his brother and his parents were relocated as refugees in one of the old barracks of Los Merinales, a former labor camp used by the prisoners of the Spanish Civil War who dug the irrigation canal of the low valley of the Gualdaquivir river. Losada calculates that another 300 to 400 families went there. His family stayed at the camp from 1969 to 1974.
Conditions were tough. In the absence of running water they had to drag water into their barrack from a large tank outside. Many families had even worse luck and were logged in the old stables of the camp where only a curtain separated one family from another. After five years they moved to Polígono Sur, a working class neighborhood in the outskirts of Seville where they constructed a new life. He looks back on his time there fondly – his family had enough, and he was able to play freely with other children.
“After spending time as refugees, we constructed housing. I was a 6-year-old boy. I was happy. What happened for us and for everybody was something positive. Before living in Los Merinales, when we lived in the patio de vecinos, there was just one tap with running water for a whole floor and our only ‘bathroom’ was a hole on the ground that everyone shared, and now we had three rooms and a bathroom all to ourselves,” Losada explains. “My father didn’t pay anything. Little by little, he made his house.”
The flood of 1961 required a mass cleanup effort. Many people had to be relocated in new neighborhoods built in the following years. Others were more lucky and had only to wait for the flood to go down. José Luis remembers his family lining bricks outside of their home. “We used bricks to stop the water from entering,” he says, leveling his arm across his chest like a dam built against a river’s current.
When Antonio Zarco’s girlfriend came to her family home, she found that water had filled their first floor. “Carmen and her sister had gone shopping for the afternoon. When they returned, they could not enter. They slept at my house,” he explains. The community joined the effort by providing meals for affected families and helping them regain access to their homes. “There were charity boats that gave services to the people,” he adds.
Antonio Zarco explains that before the flood, much of the housing outside of Seville consisted of single or several floor living spaces “constructed on their own,” but after that ,many of the affected areas focused on building upward, in apartment blocks, to prevent further water damage. However, much of the housing farther outside to the east of Seville remains handmade and close to ground level.
The majority of Seville’s citizens currently live outside of what used to be the walled town. There, the cityscape consists more of what takes place in the streets than in central Seville where the statue of the woman on the top of the Giralda tower overlooks a sprawl of adorned rooftop terraces.
“You imagine Seville as the Giralda and the cathedral. It is a lie,” Manuel Losada says. “Look, Seville had 600,000 citizens in 1979. Since then, it has grown very little [it has now approximately 700,000], and the greater part of them lives in neighborhoods like mine.”
He adds that living at street level fosters a sense of belonging. “It is part of your place. There is no sensation of estrangement. The street is yours.”
He reminisces about neighbors lounging around the heat of a bonfire, a social activity distinct from those of central Seville. “There is a saying that the fire is the sun of the poor. This makes me very nostalgic. Afterward, your shirt smells of smoke,” he says, bringing his jacket to greet his nose.
Accordingly, Losada wonders if social and geographical separation create a sense of exclusion between the old city and its outskirts. He provides an example: “My mother comes to the city center and does not know the names of the streets. In a way, she feels marginalized,” he says.
However, after studying geography and history at the University of Seville, and living in Polígono Sur, Losada believes marginalization is a myth. Living out of bounds is not a matter of exclusion, but a matter of preference. “Neighborhoods like mine, like Los Pajaritos… are another way of living. It is not marginality. This is my opinion as an anthropologist and as a neighbor,” he says.
For this reason, he hasn’t moved. He identifies more with the culture of Polígono Sur than that of central Seville. “I live on the same block as my father. I have not left. I am accustomed to the way of living.”
Ignacio also lives in the same neighborhood in which his family resided when the river breached their front door. However, he clarifies that Los Pajaritos looks differently than it did in 1961. “These are newly constructed houses,” he says, pointing to the four-story, red and white apartment building to his left.
By adapting to acts of nature, people reshape where and how they live. As citizens change, so does the city. During Losada’s time as a university student, one of his geography professors commented on the urban growth. What he said impressed him: “Seville is never finished.”