Heritage Alert: Palacio Bellas Artes, San Sebastian, Spain


The Palacio Bellas Artes was built in 1914 in San Sebastian, Spain. It is one of the earliest extant examples of a purpose-built movie palace left in the Basque Country and in all of Spain. Its rich architectural, cultural and social history are a vital part of the history of San Sebastian which was acknowledged by its being listed as Grade I cultural heritage in the Master Plan of San Sebastian in 1995. It was also declared as an "Inventor Cultural Property" with a Monument category by the Basque Government by an Order on March 4, 2015 (BOPV of March 6). This should have been enough to protect the building. Unfortunately, both the physical and political conditions surrounding this landmark have changed in recent years and the building is now severely threatened.

In 2014 the International Council of Monuments and Sites International Scientific Committee of 20th Century Heritage (ICOMOS ISC20C) prepared a Heritage Alert to call attention to the impending threat to the building. Rather than issue the full Heritage Alert, letters were written by the President of the ICOMOS ISC20C and the President of all of ICOMOS, requesting the assurances for the protection of the building by the Spanish authorities.

The importance of the building was acknowledged, and the Basque government agreed to protect the site with the highest level in Spain as, “BIC-Bien de Interés Cultural”. It appeared that the building had been saved. Unfortunately, the building owner, Sociedad Anónima de Deportes y Espectáculos (SADE), has since requested permission from the City Council of San Sebastian to demolish the dome at the top of the building which was granted. Not only was this one of the building’s most important character defining features, but it is now feared that this is only the beginning of the total demolition of the building. Therefore, the ICOMOS ISC20C and ICOMOS Spain are now issuing this Heritage Alert and requesting the authorities protect and conserve this invaluable landmark of Spain.

ICOMOS Spain and the ICOMOS ISC20C are requesting that the authorities of San Sebastian and the Basque Country honour their previous acknowledgement of the importance of the Palacio Bellas Artes building and work to protect and restore it. Future redevelopment should be encouraged but should be done in an appropriate manner that does not adversely affect the architectural, historic and cultural values of the building and surrounding site.

The letters written by the President of the ICOMOS ISC20C and an expert member of the ISC20C were sent to 13 recipients including members of the Basque Government such as: 
D. Iñigo Urkullu, Lehendakari (President) of the Basque Government
D. Bingen Zupiria, Counselor in Cultura and Language Policy
D. Joxean Muñoz, Vice counselor of Culture y Language Policy
D. Mikel Aizpuru, Heritage Director, Department of Culture and Language Policy

The letters were also sent to members of the City Council:
D. Eneko Goia, Mayor, City Council of San Sebastian
D. Ernesto Gasco, Deputy
D. Enrique Ramos, Municipal group PSOE
D. Jon Insausti, Municipal group PNV
Dña. Miren Albistur, Municipal group PP
D. Loïc Alejandro, Municipal group IRABAZI
Dña. Amaia Almirall, Municipal group BILDU

To the citizen's group "Áncora Agrupación Civica" and lastly to José Gabriel Mújika, the director of the Spanish daily newspaper "Diario Vasco".
To read a copy of these letters click here.

To read the letter of the president of ICOMOS Spain in regards to the Heritage Alert click here.

You can download the Heritage Alert file:

-In English

-In Spanish

Photo credit: Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España. Archivo Loty (Madrid), Javi Pez. (San Sebastián), Áncora Agrupación Cívica. (San Sebastián).