How was it allowed to build a hideous and distorted concrete giant in a Natural Park? The construction of the hotel of Algarrobico began in 2003, by the Spanish company Azata, with a construction authorization given by the local authority of Carboneras, against the Natural Park’s warnings. At the time, Greenpeace dubbed the edifice “illegal hotel”. In 2006, the construction was halted after activists sued, claiming it was destroying a protected area.
Fifteen years after the construction work stopped, the demolition of the Azata del Sol hotel is still pending as the final point in a judicial plot that has become the symbol of the runaway urbanism of the coast. The ghost hotel of Algarrobico is a good illustration of how a tourism project can go wrong when political, financial and environmental interests are misaligned.
1. Daunting project
The story, a convoluted one, begins more than 30 years ago, precisely because it was at that time that the building standards were established at the site inserted in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, in the autonomous community of Andalusia. The land was not fit for construction and, in the opinion of all those responsible, this legal stipulation should be sufficient to fulfill the purpose. At the beginning of 2001, after successive, and intricate changes to maps and municipal master plans — not always complying with the rules — the request was made to build a luxury hotel that would revolutionize the area.
The hotel would be based on an escarpment above the sea, 50 meters from the waves of the Mediterranean. Counting with a swimming pool, the esplanade and the beach buildings, the hotel is just 14 meters from the sea. El Algarrobico, on the beach of the same name, would have 21 floors and 411 rooms, but the project was never completed.
2. Legal battle
How such a hotel could be erected, and what should now happen to its giant concrete structure, has been the subject of a 15-year court battle. While the case has dragged on through more than 20 separate rulings, the hotel itself has been decaying. The legal battle has also become a test for whether Spain can encourage more sustainable development in its travel industry, a strong element of the Spanish economy.
The latest ruling issued by the Superior Court of Justice of Andalusia, in 2011, urges the City Council of Carboneras to modify and review the building license that it was granted almost two decades ago. At that time, it was already known that it was a protected space both for being framed within a natural setting and for breaching the current Coastal Law. But the reality is that time passes and the Algarrobico is still standing.
“How the Algarrobico hotel can still exist is a mystery, but unfortunately the truth is that it is not an isolated case and there have been other Algarrobicos along the Spanish coast”, said Pilar Marcos, a biologist who runs the Spanish biodiversity projects of the NGO Greenpeace.
In July 2021, the Andalusian Superior Court of Justice rejected Greenpeace’s request to go ahead with the demolition. According to the judges, the action will not be able to proceed until the municipality of Carboneras cancels the construction permit given in 2003.