The iconic Hotel Reina Cristina, built in 1901 by an English architect and the venue for many events that have gone down in the annals of history, has been laid low by the lack of guests this 2020.
The historic Reina Cristina de Algeciras Hotel has been forced to close down for the time being with effect from this Thursday, October 1 2020 due to the serious economic difficulties it has encountered, because of the decline in tourism brought about the Covid-19 pandemic. Company sources lament that “we have no guests” and the staff has confirmed that they have already taken advantage of the Temporary Employment Regulations (ERTE) which allow employees to be laid off temporarily or work reduced hours whilst being able to claim unemployment benefits.
The news has comes as a shock for the region’s tourism sector, which has been experiencing a highly unusual summer, and will now be facing an even more difficult autumn / winter season… But the announcement will be felt particularly badly in the city of Algeciras, which has a special sentimental and historic connection with the hotel: an intense and eventful century of history.
Comisiones Obreras (“CCOO”), the Union, which has full control of the workers’ committee, has nevertheless promoted a message of calm, assuring that it is not, in any case, a final and irrevocable closure. The union recalls that the temporary closure is not a new kind of measure to assist on the road to a rescue, and that a similar measure had already been put in place when Spain’s Covid 19 state of alarm was declared earlier this year.
According to the CCOO, although this is a painful decision, the current “indefinite” closure should be understood as “an instrument to guarantee the long term viability of the hotel and allow it to face the challenging situation that the tourism sector is going through”. They say that this measure is being implemented in a significant number of hotels throughout the province of Cádiz and in the rest of Spain. In the Campo de Gibraltar region, this has been the case for the Hotel Guadacorte Park (Los Barrios) and with the Mir Octavio which is also in Algeciras.
“At this time, there can be no reason to permanently close the Reina Cristina hotel, and, to be honest, it must be said that the company has not said this”, said the CCOO regional secretary, Manuel Triano, who has insisted that the measure adopted by the Hoteles Globales Group, which owns the establishment, is intended to “safeguard jobs and the future of this Algeciras hotel”.
For Mr. Traino, the uneasiness generated in Algeciras by the “unfounded rumour” that it was a permanent closure is perfectly understandable, and he puts down this rumour to the “special sentimental link” that the city has with the Reina Cristina.
Venue for the Algeciras Conference of 1906
The Reina Cristina Hotel was built in Algeciras in 1901 by Thomas Edward Collutt, an English architect of the Victorian era who designed such iconic buildings in London, as the Savoy Hotel in Westminster and the Palace Theatre.
The hotel was built following the construction some years before, of the Algeciras-Bobadilla railroad which was owned by Alexander Henderson, who, through his company “Henderson Administrations”, financed the construction of the imposing Victorian edifice. The site where the hotel was built was owned by the Vice Consul of the UK at the time, Guillermo Jamie Smith, who sold part of the land to Henderson Administrations, keeping a plot on which he had built his own home: Smith Park (the current official headquarters of the Commonwealth of Municipalities of the Campo de Gibraltar).
The area was adorned with numerous plant species in “an attempt to resemble the Gibraltar Alameda Botanical Gardens”, and although many of these plant species were lost after the site was looted, several of the original plants still remain throughout the Reina Cristina’s gardens today.
For decades, the hotel has been a significant part of Algeciras social life, and the hotel also boasts an “incalculable” historical pedigree, due to the significant events which had taken place within its walls, as well as the prominence of many of its guests.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the hotel became internationally acclaimed during the Algeciras Conference, which took place between January and April of 1906, with the official aim of finding a solution to the Tangier Crisis, which pitted France and Germany. A total of 13 countries took part in the conference, and the problem was temporarily resolved; many of the leaders and representatives stayed at the hotel.
A “Nest of Spies” during World War II
After suffering a spectacular fire caused by a short-circuit in 1930, the hotel was restored and then, some years later, at the height of World War II (1939-1945), it became a strategic meeting point for spies, from both the Axis and Allied sides, who wanted to control military movements in neighbouring Gibraltar. Historians recall that during those turbulent years, many of the buildings that you can find today, including the port buildings, had not yet constructed so that the hotel had an “absolutely exceptional” view of the Rock and the entire Bay.
According to the hotel’s own website, “it is said that a room had been specifically equipped for such work; Suite 246, famously had magnificent views, from where you could see all shipping traffic and military movements in Gibraltar, and whose bathroom was used as a dark room to develop the photos which spies took.”
The chronicles of the time also speak of the existence of several tunnels, which connected the hotel to the beach (which, at the time, was close by) so that guests could take “sea baths” – at a time when bathing was not done for recreation, and purely for health reasons.
Legends speak of ghosts roaming its corridors, served for years to increase the mystique of a hotel that has had, throughout its eventful life, received such illustrious guests as King Alfonso XIII, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Winston Churchill, to name just a few of those recorded in his “golden book.”