Modernisme & Melilla

Like many of the movements from which it drew its inspiration (eg the English Arts & Crafts movement), Modernisme was a broad reaction to the material values of an industrial age, which suffused culture with a machinelike spirit. Centred in Barcelona, it was the Catalan version of art nouveau. Modernisme architecture is characterised by the use of curves over straight lines, the frequent use of natural motifs (especially plants), lively decoration and rich detail, asymmetrical forms, a refined aesthetic and dynamism. Its chief proponent was Antoni Gaudí, the architect of Barcelona’s famous Sagrada Família cathedral. But in Melilla, Modernisme is synonymous with Enrique Nieto.

A student of Gaudí, Nieto worked on his Casa Milà in Barcelona. Wanting to escape his master’s shadow, however, he left for booming Melilla in 1909 and stayed the rest of his life, becoming city architect in 1931. His work included Melilla’s main synagogue, the main mosque and several buildings for the Catholic Church, representing the diversity of the city’s culture. Perhaps due to the distant location of his canvas, however, this great painter in concrete is not well-known outside of Melilla.