The Benidorm Cross, erected in 1961, is a well-known landmark in Benidorm and a magnet for both tourists and locals alike but why is it there and what does the bikini have to do with it? Let’s find out…
The very first hotels were not erected in Benidorm until 1925, coinciding with the port being extended but even then, Benidorm remained a quiet fishing town with over 5km of sandy beaches. However, in 1952, the town’s fishing industry went into decline prompting the then mayor, Pedro Zaragoza Orts, along with other enthusiastic members of the town council, to look for an alternative route to prosperity. They saw the rapid rise in mass tourism and increasing amounts of disposable income from the new affluent middle class as the highway to riches.
Pedro Zaragoza Orts, the young ambitious mayor, designed the Plan General de Ordenación (city building plan) giving the city its wide boulevards and open spaces still there today. With a fantastic climate, miles of sandy beaches and a well-designed city plan, what more did the mayor need?
Permission to Wear a Bikini
Not for himself but for the many tourists flocking to the new resort. In the fifties, bikinis were considered sinful and banned in Franco’s Spain. Pedro Orts undertook an epic journey from Benidorm to Madrid on his Vepa in order to petition General Franco in person, arguing that the tourists wouldn’t come if the bikini was banned. Franco agreed, decreeing that “foreigners” could wear bikinis. This decision brought Benidorm the fame, and income, it wanted but also brought down the wrath of the Catholic Church. The Bishop of Alicante threatened to hang a sign at the entrance to the town naming it, “Hell”, so visitors were forewarned of the danger.
The Catholic Church felt the need to act, and so it came about that on a chilly morning in the last week of December 1961, following an official blessing ceremony, a wooden cross was carried on the shoulders of the locals from the Church of San Jaume on the headland between the two Benidorm bays, across the town and up the Sierra Helada mountain to look over the beaches and save people from sin.
Records don’t show when the original wooden cross was replaced with the modern well-lit version that we see today but the cross still stands as a reminder of what a bombshell the bikini really was for Benidorm.