To make sightseeing even better, Oviedo is surrounded by mountains, the Monte Naranco in the North and the Sierra del Aramo in the South. From the city, you can see the snowy tops. It only takes a 10 minutes car drive to take you to another world. With green forests harmoniously neighbouring the city, Oviedo feels like the center of a colourful real life fresco.
Oviedo witnessed a change in the last 5 to 10 years. It shook off the image of a rather classic city and has increasingly attracted young, alternative and creative people. The exodus of the youth towards bigger Spanish cities like Madrid and Barcelona has been called a halt, while developing itself as a cultural hub. The University of Oviedo and the student movement played a major role in the resurrection. A well educated population and a yearly arrival of more than 600 Erasmus students brought a positive vibe. Oviedo has gaining name as an excellent student city in recent years. Former students say that the student movement was a thriving force behind the election of the progressive rector Santiago García Grande in 2016, he replaced the conservative Vicente Gotor. Some students said that he tried to restrict the liberty of students and defended the policy of Partido Popular prime minister José María Aznar, who many student opposed.
The economic conditions for people to start a business are also more favorable than a decade ago. After the economic low of the financial and mortgage crisis is Asturias slowly recovering. Although the unemployment rate remains very high, is there a more encouraging atmosphere. The city of Oviedo is improving the conditions to attract young professionals. The barriers for starting a business are considerably lower than they used to be. One example is Talud de la Ería. It’s a building which is being hosted by the entrepreneurial branch of the city government, Oviedo Emprende. In the building, there are cowork spaces and a library, networking events are held and workshops are given. There is also a service where startups can receive legal and financial advice. But Oviedo is developing itself on many terrains. More and more is the city trying to its expand its culture policy too. In 2015 they build a Modern Wing in the Museo de Bellos Artes, where temporary exhibitions are held of more modern and experimental forms of art and culture.
A new indie atmosphere
The biggest difference, according to the youth from Oviedo, is the emergence of many alternative bars and cultural venues. “In the 90’s, Oviedo was boring and conservative, it was culturally sick.” says Diego Diaz Alonso, one of the founding fathers of El Manglar, an in 2016 established alternative, vegan bar. “There was a deficit of cultural space and the government wasn’t very supportive. So people started to come together and organize alternative cultural events and concerts themselves”.
The first venues to answer to the need of something different were founded around the beginning of the new millennium. One of these new places was Local Cambalache, a multidisciplinary building just outside of the Parte Vieja of Oviedo. “If you enter the building, you might first think it’s a bookshop. If you go a bit further, it might look like an exhibition hall. And if you would come on Tuesdaynight, you can think we’re an ecological market” says German Dominguez, who’s been working there for about two years. The collective, as they call themselves, has its roots in the student movement of the University of Oviedo. In 2002, the group wanted to convert their energy and dedication into a positive project. “We have three themes around which we are working: ecology, migration and feminism. All our activities have to do with that.”, explains Dominguez, “Our main principle is that we’re autogestionado, or self-sustainable. All our money comes from our activities, like the ecological market on Tuesday or our bookshop, or from donors who believe in what we’re doing”. Local Cambalache is an ideological, non-profit organization and offers all its books in online version for free on their website.
The “La Madreña”-effect
The biggest “cultural big bang” yet had to take place. In 2001, a wave of protest rose over Spain. The 15M-movement, also called the Indignados, protested against the austerity policy of the government and the soft stance towards the actions of banks and speculators. The movement aimed capitalism in general. With the economic crisis still being felt, the people of Spain couldn’t understand why they had to hand in so much, while the banks were left free of government interference. In Asturias were the grievances mainly about the construction crisis. The housing prices reached unprecedented heights, but the government kept stimulating new construction projects. One of the examples of “wasted” money, was the order of the city government for the building of the Palacio de Congresos, designed by the Spanish architect Calatrava. This gigantic complex hosts exposition halls, an auditorium, a shopping mall, restaurants and an underground parking. Many citizens didn’t agree with this project. The cost of this building was initially estimated at 76 million euro, but turned out to cost 360 million euro. The Palacio de Congresos was build on the former site of the stadium of Real Oviedo, which had to make place. Right now, the majority of spaces for shops are empty. All of this instigated the rage of the people even more.
In Oviedo, the protest movement occupied an abandoned building, where the central health administration of Asturias used to be, in 2011 and called themselves and the place La Madreña. This name was used because their slogan was “madreña to the system!”, a madreña is a traditional Asturian shoe. The occupation of that specific place was symbolic, since it was representative for the governments construction fever. Although the building was still in decent condition, the government already moved the central health administration to a newer location. Therefore La Madreña gave the building a second life. It was used for live music, language and music classes, assemblies of 15M, activities of organizations and ecological and local markets. In 2014, the government of Asturias gave the order to remove all the activists from the building. The police cleared the site d>espite massive street protests and the building was torn down.
After the demolition of La Madreña, a variety of new cultural projects in Oviedo emerged. “La Madreña was gone, but the seed was already planted. People were united through their common concerns and these connections kept on existing” says Dominguez. The core group around La Madreña started some initiatives as well. The ecosistema cultural El Manglar, was the idea of Diego Diaz Alonso and other people who resided in La Madreña. It’s a place, which exists out of two floors. There’s a ground floor with a bar/cantina, where you can eat local and vegan food at an affordable price. Down, there’s a cellar, which is open for a variety of social and cultural organizations to use. But it is also the location for debates, dance exhibitions and concerts of world music. The starting capital was collected through a crowdfunding campaign and the returns of the bar sustain the creative activities. “We want to offer the people a meeting place where they can come together, but also enjoy culture. Our place is dedicated to all kinds of art. We want to facilitate social transformation and are organized in a very democratic way and open to people of all ages” says Diaz.
An unstoppable trend
El Manglar was far from alone. After 2011, a dozen of venues saw the light. There’s Lata de Zinc, an alternative concert hall which also hosts events like movie-nights and culinary evenings. Lata de Zinc was founded in 2013 also has its roots in La Madreña. Local Paraiso, in Calle Paraiso, is another example of these new venues. It’s a cultural space where artists have the chance to develop themselves and where exhibitions can be held. Further is there l’Arcu la Vieya (rainbow in Asturian), a shop which promotes fair, ecological and local trade.
Some existing concert halls did also receive a make-over. La Salvaje, which was poorly isolated before, got renovated and is now one of the most popular venues where (live) music is played in Oviedo.
Although La Madreña is no longer, social activism did not end in the region. For Diego Diaz Alonso, social challenges remain. “La Madreña gave birth to a big cultural and political organization, and the engagement still exists. Our current battle is feminism, we’re fighting for equal wage and chances for women.” The feminism movement in Spain is gaining momentum, and they’re gathering under the name 8M. Although it might seem that there’s a link with 15M, does 8M signifies the women’s strike on the 8th of March.
Oviedo has changed, culturally and politically during the last 10 to 15 years. “For a long time, the right-wing party Partido Popular has governed Oviedo. They weren’t very supportive for the cultural sector, so people had to organize things themselves.”, says Diaz, “Since a few years, we have left-wing coalition between Podemos, PSOE and IU, this is revolutionary!”. Dominguez: “It is true that the current local government is more culture-minded, and that’s good. But things are put in motion by people, so believe that La Madreña played a very important, facilitating role in the turnover.”
Why Oviedo is brilliant
There’s much to explore in Oviedo, from the beautiful architecture to the fantastic food and sidra. But who’s looking for something different than the obvious, has plenty of options too. The old part of the city is full of small to medium-sized indie bars and concert halls. Spaces that have turned Oviedo into the epicenter of alternative culture in the larger region. Spaces where artists have opportunities to express themselves and where social resistance is organized. Therefore, Oviedo is a perfect mix of history, esthetics, gastronomy, youth culture and ideology. It’s not easy to find somebody who doesn’t like Uviéu.