I’m sure most people think that tourism in Alicante began with the package holiday boom in the 1970s. That is so far from the truth it is unbelievable. In fact, tourism has been alive and well in the city and the province for well over a century, and it all began because of the railways. An exhibition in the old bus station on Plaza Séneca (more famous for its Civil War air-raid shelter) reveals the rich history of the holiday industry, but you must bear in mind it is only in Spanish. It’s not too complex though and most people will be ok with a good dictionary or a decent app on their phone, and even without understanding the words there’s still plenty to see that’s self-explanatory.
Museo Comercial de Alicante have put together a fabulous collection of stories and artefacts to show how tourism has developed in both the city and the region of Alicante. The city has received traders for centuries, and things began to develop after Queen Isabel II’s visit in 1860. Tourists really began to flock down from Madrid at the end of the 19th Century when the railway came to town. The so-called tren de botijo was named after the earthenware water pots that tourists often took with them back to the capital. It was interesting to learn how well connected the city of Alicante was to smaller towns around the region, especially those like Novelda that had their own spa retreats. In some ways it was easy to get around back then!
As the tourism product grew, so did the number of hotels and the number of balnearios bathing platforms that used to line the beaches. Seeing the old posters was wonderful. It’s funny that even in 1909 they were promoting the city as a year-round destination.
As the years went on tourists’ needs changed. No longer was a dip in the sea enough. Restaurants and entertainment were required. It was good to see information on the culinary delights of the region, especially rice dishes. There are enough different recipies in the region to have a different dish every day of the year! It’s much more than paella; in fact you could say anything but paella!
Fans of vintage transport are not left out either. There are photos of the trains, buses and trams, but the Seat 600 plus the Vespa with its sidecar really steal the show.
Modern day visitors to the city will instantly recognise the wavy tiled design of the esplanade. It’s original 1957design is proudly displayed along with images of the finished product. The history of this was interesting too. The design was first used in Lisbon, Portugal, and after its success in Alicante was used on Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1970.
At either end of the display space you’ll see a mural. These are the originals which have been in place since 1949 and were restored in 1970. They are magnificaent and show maps of the city and the region.
You’ll need to be quick as it’s only on until 25 February 2022! It’s open from 1030 until 1330 and again from 1600 until 1900 (although a hand-written amendment outside suggests 1630 – 1930) Tuesday until Saturday, plus Sunday mornings. It’s free too, so get there soon!