Grande Hotel Beira
||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (February 2013)|
|Grande Hotel da Beira|
|Type||Former hotel, now a vertical slum|
|Architectural style||Art Deco, Modernist|
|Location||Crossing Rua Alonso De Paiva and Avenida Sansão Muthemba, Beira, Mozambique|
|Elevation||10 m (33 ft)|
|Cost||90,000$00 Portuguese Escudo (estimated: 30,000$00)|
|Client||Companhia de Moçambique|
|Owner||Gruppo Entreposto SA|
|Height||25 m (82 ft)|
|Floor area||21,000 m2 (230,000 sq ft)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||José Porto, Francisco de Castro|
The Grande Hotel Beira was a luxurious hotel in Beira, Mozambique, serving as such from 1954 to 1963, after which it was used as military base in the Mozambican Civil War. It has since fallen into disuse, and is currently home to 3500 squatters, who have stripped the building of construction materials to provide a limited source of income.
Development and history
In 1932, the urban plan of Ponta Gêa was designed by the architect brothers, Rebelo de Andrade, with a space reserved for a hotel and an Olympic swimming pool on a beautiful spot within the plan, giving a view over the Indian Ocean, the mouth of the Buzi River and the sea harbour of Beira. Architect José Porto of the Gabinete de Urbanização Colonial produced the original concept design but refused to elaborate it. In 1953, the Companhia de Moçambique asked the young architect, Fransico de Castro, to develop the design, be present on the building site and to design the final detailing. At the time, the Companhia de Moçambique had the concession to exploit the area of what is now the provinces of Manica and Sofala. When the concession ended in 1942, the Companhia continued to dominate the local economy by owning the local enterprises as a large state holding. One of the main directors was Antonio Arantes e Oliveira, who was a brother of the future Mozambican governor-general and had a close connection with the fascist Portuguese dictator, Salazar. Arthur Brandão was the chief officer of the Companhia and also held a prominent position within the regime.
Although Beira was, at the time, a Portuguese colony, it had been dominated by Britain, due to the neighbouring British colony of Rhodesia's dependency on its sea harbour.[clarification needed] The Portuguese Estado Novo and the ending of the Companhia concession gave rise to new Portuguese influence throughout the city. The Escudo became the only official currency, the government became dominated by the fascist regime, and the streetscape changed with new Art Deco and Modern Movement architecture. The Grande Hotel became a symbol of the success of the Estado Novo in Beira, providing luxury accommodation for business partners, influential people and wealthy tourists, coming from Rhodesia, South Africa and from Portugal or its colonies.
The exterior of the Grande Hotel was inspired by the Art Deco movement, which became the principal architectural style in Portugal during the 1930s and 1940s during the Estado Novo era. Its elegant geometrical shapes and streamlined repetition represented modernity and was a counter reaction to neobaroque, the previously dominant style. Art Deco buildings are not decorated with ornamentation or patterns, and this applied to the exterior of the Grande Hotel. The interior, however, was fully decorated in an eclectic style and with the use of luxurious, modern materials, in a manner alien to Beira at that time and even alien to the usual work of the architect, Fransico de Castro. (One of De Castro's other works in Beira is the famous CFM train station.)
Opening and operation as a hotel
Beira at the time was a working sea port and the Grande Hotel was of a standard that set it apart from the rest of the town. The swimming pool was accessible for the (white) inhabitants of Beira, who remember the Grande Hotel as a palace of unlimited luxury and where it was possible to eat the finest chocolate. The two main staircases were very impressive and seemed extraordinary to the Beirians.
The Grande Hotel didn’t attract as many visitors as was expected. Guests came mostly for political or business reasons. One notable visitor was the Hollywood star Kim Novak who came to hunt in the nearby Gorongosa National Park. Other visitors included the astronaut team from the Apollo 11 moon landing.
The Grande Hotel only remained in business for eight years. The company decided to close the hotel in 1963 because it was not profitable and was costing too much to keep open. The expected clientele, business people and wealthy tourists, never came to Beira. Although Beira was a popular tourist destination for white middle income families, who came predominately from Salisbury (now called Harare), the capital of Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe), which was 550 km or 9 hours driving distance away, these tourists could not afford a holiday in the Grande Hotel and preferred beach holidays in the tourist district of Macuti, 8 km from the city centre. Although the Grande Hotel was only a 2 km walk from the city centre, swimming at the beach was forbidden.
Many sources mention there were proposals for the Grande Hotel to host a casino. The building plans do not refer to any facilities that would suggest a possible casino. A local architect called Fransico Ivo, a former student of Fransico de Castro, claimed that De Castro confirmed to him that there was no intention to create a casino in the Grande Hotel. The clients of the Grande Hotel had close associations with the Portuguese dictator Salazar, and Salazar thought it was morally inappropriate to have gambling in the African colonies. The casino’s in Lourenço Marques and Costa Bello where forced to close in the early 1930s. Thus, there are no reasonable grounds to support the theory of a proposed casino within the Grande Hotel.
Reasons for closing
In 1963, after eight years of operation, the Grande Hotel was closed by the Companhia de Moçambique. The construction costs were three times more than the original budget, and the hotel never made any profit. The anticipated number of wealthy guests never came and the workforce was too large for the amount of guests actually received. Every elevator, for example, had its own operator present. The hotel needed a lot of maintenance to keep it in its luxurious condition.
In several documents it was claimed that the reason for closure was the refusal of the regime to grant the hotel a casino permit. Any realistic estimation would have predicted the failure of the hotel. The white residents of Southern Africa couldn’t afford this level of luxury and Beira was not known, internationally, as a prime holiday destination for wealthy people. Destinations like the Bazaruto Archipelago at Vilanculos, the Mediterranean city life style of the Mozambican capital Lourenço Marques, the South African Krüger national park and the Victoria Falls in Rhodesia were more famous across the world.
A cheaper alternative to the Grande Hotel was the Ambassador Hotel. This hotel opened just after the inauguration of the Grande Hotel and was preferred by business people because it was situated in the Baixa (downtown) area, where most of the business offices were located. Remarkably, Arthur Brandão was also the owner of this hotel.
The closure in 1963 was not the end of the Grande Hotel. The swimming pool remained open to the public and became the main training facility for the Mozambican Olympic swimming team as it was the only Olympic-sized swimming pool in the colony in those days.
The hotel itself was available for large events and conferences, but was only used twice. The first time was to accommodate United States congress members who were on a cruise along the East-African coast. The second time was in 1971, for the wedding of Petusha Jardin, daughter of Jorge Jardim, the then Minister of State of Mozambique and the so-called governor-general of Mozambique who had achieved a high place within the Estado Novo. Traditionally, Portuguese weddings involve a large number of guests and this wedding was attended by important people from all over the Estado Novo and the neighbouring 'White Laager' countries. The Grande Hotel was the only place able to accommodate the large number of guests.
On 25 June 1975, Mozambique became independent as a result of the Carnation Revolution in Portugal on 25 April 1974, and power was handed over to Frelimo, the only representative independence movement in Mozambique. On this day, the first wedding in Beira under the new Frelimo regime took place in the Grande Hotel. Later, the bar at the swimming pool became the office of the Revolutionary Committee. This organisation was responsible for establishing socialism in Beira and the province of Sofala. While the main hall of the Grande Hotel was used for party meetings and parties, the basement became a prison for opponents of the new ruler.
In 1978, all land properties became state-owned by the communist Frelimo government a measure that also resulted in the exodus of the Mozambican-Portuguese community that remained after Mozambique's independence. The government redistributed the dwellings and tried to save the existing economy, which had been dominated by the Mozambican-Portuguese community. The Grande Hotel was one of the rare exceptions and did not become state property. The plot and the building remain officially as the property of the Portuguese Grupo Entreposto SA, the continuation of the Companhia de Moçambique.
In 1977 the Mozambican Civil War broke out in the province of Sofala, Renamo against Frelimo. The civil war was to a great extent the extension of the global Cold War; the fight of capitalism against communism. Renamo was established by the Rhodesian secret service and the South African Defence Force. The apartheid governments where afraid of the new communist regime next door and instigated a civil war to destroy the communist Frelimo regime. Renamo attacked social and economical targets in brutal guerrilla attacks. The Grande Hotel was the main political base in this area, and increasingly became a military base for the Frelimo.
With the fall of Ian Smith's government in Rhodesia, the ZANU party came into power. They renamed the country Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe became the president. For political reasons, Zimbabwe was forced to use the Beira corridor to import and export their products. Other routes ran over South African territory which was boycotted because of the rival apartheid regime. In 1981 the Zimbabwe Defence Force secured imports and exports to the country by establishing a neutral zone in Beira and its corridor. The city became a haven for refugees as a result of its safety and supply of international aid though the sea harbour and airport. The Grande Hotel became a refugees camp with most of the refugees coming from rural area.
It is said that most refugees arrived during the night and in the morning were overwhelmed by the ocean view, a phenomenon they had never seen before. They tried to walk towards the sea but, never having experienced a multi-storey building and not realising the height differences, they fell to their deaths from the roof terrace.
Since 1992, Mozambique has experienced a stable peace. The seaport of Beira is fully redeveloped and experiences a booming economy through the transit of minerals to Asia. The condition of the Grande Hotel has declined. It is overcrowded with a fluctuating population of around 1,077 inhabitants (Ivo 2008) but it has, officially, 116 rooms. The hotel rooms and in-built shelters are populated by large families of up to nine people. They do not pay any rent and cannot claim a right of ownership. The space and architecture of the building does not correspond to the needs of the current population, causing social and heath problems. The internal organisation creates a lack of social relationships within the 'community'. Individualism has also put relationships under pressure. Respect for the chief has decreased because of the lack of any progress by the politicians. There was an advanced three-layered chief structure, but this doesn't exist anymore. The local municipal secretary of the neighbourhood (who also lives in the Grande Hotel) is now seen as the unofficial chief, but without the power that a chief would normally have in a Mozambique community. The only common rules of the Grande Hotel is that you have to respect each other, and that the Grande Hotel is open to anybody who wants shelter.
Most of the people are forced to work in the informal economic sector. They are, as implied by their nickname of 'whato muno' (not from here), excluded from the social and economical community of Beira. The city's formal economy is growing through the increasing globalisation of its seaport, and this puts pressure on the informal economy. It has become harder for the Grande Hotel inhabitants to make a living and, with an insecure income, they cannot afford food on a daily basis. Poverty has caused a decline in the state of the Hotel. For example, the water, sewer and electricity infrastructures have been removed and sold in order to obtain money for food and water. The parquet floor is used as fuel for cooking.
The nickname of 'whato muno' is used in the city of Beira as a derogatory term for the inhabitants of the Grande Hotel. The Hotel is considered to be a place where robbers live and where the police don't have any authority.
The maintenance of the collective space is lacking, causing garbage to accumulate everywhere, leaking rain water, open accessible elevator shafts and inaccessible stairs. The Olympic swimming pool now contains highly polluted water but is still used for bathing purposes by people who can’t afford to buy water at the privately owned water pump opposite the Grande Hotel. According to the local Red Cross, there is a high risk of cholera, diarrhoea, HIV/AIDS, malaria and scabies hazards in the Grande Hotel.
The Grande Hotel is a building whose occupation reflects the historical development of Mozambique. The substandard living conditions make the Grande Hotel unsustainable as a dwelling place. People who can afford to move out will move out; but many people remain trapped in the Grande Hotel by poverty, and some of these are third generation inhabitants. New residents keep entering the Grande Hotel because of its strategic location in the city.
The local municipal authority would like to intervene, although it is not the legal owner and not responsible for the Grande Hotel. The municipality wants to relocate the current inhabitants by providing housing in the slum of Chipangara, and then demolish the Grande Hotel. The plot could be redeveloped for commercial activities. Unfortunately the authority lacks funds, there is no political collaboration by the national government and no investors are willing to participate in this risky project.
- Ponte City in Johannesburg, South Africa
- Schubart Park in Pretoria, South Africa
- Torre David in Caracas, Venezuela
- Robert Cruiming, a TU Delft architecture student, graduates on the Grande Hotel. His aim is to transfer the Grande Hotel is a more permanent type of dwelling place for the current inhabitants by implementing a new type of livelihood.
- Lotte Stoops released in 2010 the documentary Grande Hotel. It was widely acclaimed by critics. Details can be found on IMDB and on the website.
- Anabela Saint-Maurice of the Portuguese RTP made in 2007 a documentary of the decay and current status by shooting the first revisit of architect of Francisco de Castro after the independence of Mozambique.
- Héctor Mediaville made in 2012 a documentary where three Grande Hotel inhabitants where interviewed about their occupation in the hotel.
- Dutch photographer Ferry Verheij made an intriguing photo reportage of the current living conditions of the Grande Hotel. He plans to extent his documentation.
- South-African photographer Guy Tillim added shots of the Grande Hotel in his serie 'Avenue Patrice Lumumba'. Published by Prestel Verlag in 2007.
- A photo reportage of Héctor Mediaville, 2012.
- Juan Manuel Castro Prieto made a photo reportage in 2011.
- Lisa King's contribution to the Johannes Art Dialogs in 2011.
- Photo reportage of Mark Lewis, 2011.
- Reportage of Vlad Sokhin, 2011, published by Agentur Focus.
- The Delagoa Bay World website has an article about the Grande Hotel with a collection of pictures: 'A Piscina do Grande Hotel na Beira', 'Inauguração do Grande Hotel da Beira, 1955', 'A construção do Grande Hotel da Beira, anos 1950', 'A Beira e a Ponta Gêa', 'O Grande Hotel na Beira, anos 1960'
- Anonymous photo collection of the Grande Hotel and other old places in Beira.
- Collection of pictures on Flickr website.
- CNN Inside Africa reportage 'Former luxury hotel home to thousands of squatters'
By Amy Fallon and Mark Tutton in 2011.
- Gutentag article about a visit to the Grande Hotel in 2007.
- Reportage about the Health festival in the Grande Hotel by students of the Catholic University of Mozambique in 2011.
- 'A Beira e o Grande Hotal da Beira', a detailed historical description on The Delagoa Bay World, 2011.
- 'We the ones of the Grande Hotel da Beira' by Marta Lança, 2010.
- 'O delírio de um Grande Hotel', a article written by Paola Rolletta for Savanna, 2006.
- Ivo, F. (2008) Estudo preliminar para a desocupação e demolição do Grande Hotel na Beira. Beira: Franciso M. Ivo Arquitecto
- Rolletta, P. (2006) O delírio de um Grande Hotel. Savana, September 2006. [online] available at: http://macua.blogs.com/moambique_para_todos/2006/09/o_delrio_de_um_.html [accessed 8 February 2012]
- Lança, M. (2010) We, the ones from the Grande Hotel da Beira. [online] available at: http://www.buala.org/en/city/we-the-ones-from-the-grande-hotel-da-beira [accessed 8 February 2012]
- Anonymous (2011) A Beira e o Grande Hotel da Beira. The Delagoa Bay Blog [online] available at: http://delagoabayword.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/a-beira-e-o-grande-hotel-da-beira/ [accessed 8 February 2012]