“But now I say it, what happens is that Madrid doesn’t like itself enough…”
… perhaps for this reason, because it doesn’t know itself, it doesn’t recognize itself and therefore doesn’t understand itself.
Perhaps that’s the only way so many contradictions are possible in its history, its natural environment, its urban space, its architecture and its social fabric.
This permissive, not dogmatic, supportive and fun city however responds to a growth model own of totalitarian regimes governed by tyrants (Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon or Sargon II’s Korsabad). The Royal Palace on the Alcázar Viejo has always represented the “head” in the Western pole growth.
Madrid always has had a contradictory behavior. Sometimes servile vassal for the monarchy and the Church who have used its streets and small squares as scenarios for their good faith demonstrations, other times rioter for the cut of a cape or exemplarily heroic before the French or the rebels of the 36’.
Perhaps because it is and has been an artificial city without a productive fabric (never had a relevant craft or commercial activity) and its Mudejar gardens were occupied by religious settlements outside the walls or the outskirts of the first immigration, perhaps for this reason, this city is so incoherent, complex and contradictory.
Its successive walls didn’t even have military sense, the last one of 1.625, had only a fiscal objective since its settlers had been promoted to taxpayers.
The city was always an unmistakably hierarchical urban-social system. The nobles, the Church and the monarchy, occupied the key urban structures and privileged places. The Vaguada del Prado, city’s the major intersections and the royal paths, which linked the Palace with the Aranjuez residences, El Escorial, La Granja, etc., were sites occupied by the Architecture of Power. The less priviledged, relegated to the interstices between the main neighborhoods to the former suburbs of the Manzanares, the slums.
The monarchy’s lack of interest on urban problems has been notorious. When Europe revises the medieval burgoise spaces to modernize them with Renaissance criteria, Madrid is treated by the Austrians as devout and passive spectator of the Escorial Altar. Urban reforms are limited to empty spaces, as I said, to get urban containers or ceremonial trails for Royal activity and urban developments to the location of ludic-residential plots for the monarchy’s enjoyment.
Bourbon Charles III, perhaps urged on by serious health and employment problems, urbanized Madrid’s road system paving with stone and building a sewer system on its wide streets. But, curiously, his timid urban projects crash here with the untouchable Church buildings. He gave us, with his great architects, good institutional and cultural buildings and/or beautiful gates-arches on Royal roads. His so tolerant and passive citizens before the royal lack of interest on the urban problems, made a mutiny when he interfered in the length of their capes.
Contradictorily, this incoherent and artificial city has always had a very peculiar and active life; has been scene and landscape for the costumbrist literature from Cervantes until our days, this literature is the primary information source of the ignored classes’ social relations nature.
In Madrid, political and urban trials have taken place. Guinea pig in the history of this country, sometimes with a fortunate result… others not to talk about. An almost always tricked city, the liberal Mendizábal disentailment served the bourgeoise economics to speculate with unhealthy architecture where the manchegan immigration stayed while working on the emerging incipient industrial development, while the Plan Castro’s clean parcels were set aside for the residences of the bourgeoisie that economically and politically displaced the monarchy and the Church.
However, Madrid was also recipient for experiences of Utopian socialism or Christian philantropism between centuries, little hotel colonies, exemplary urbanism essays for popular housing, hospitals and residences, asylums for destitutes, etc. lucky place for metropolitan reveries as those of Arturo Soria or Antonio Palacios, and the most belligerant rationalism of Viso or the residential colony.
How is it possible that this city, which is completing around the Civil War, its 19th and 18th century hamlets with splendid rationalist and Deco architecture, which builds with the same adventurous talent its universitary campus and reforests its open spaces making it one of the greener capitals of Europe, consents in it’s heartless town counserllors despotism and lack of culture? How did it permit its boulevards loss? How does Madrid still vote for mayor candidates that aren’t proposing its reconstruction? How has it tolerated the loss of the Jareños, El Buen Suceso or the Olavide Market?
How does it allow its history and its citizens to be banalized with a bidimensional planning and planners “ridiculously pure-blooded” who believe censoring our legacy is to reproduce as one act comedy backdrops the today impossible past architecture, forgetting the exemplary rationalists of the Salmon Law or the most recent post war as it is the architecture of Gutiérrez Soto, Molezún and Corrales, Sota, Oiza or Bonet and Jaen, all in the hull making this city’s real history? The hope that may be assumed by the Chirimbolos protest or the intellectual reply at the Plaza de Oriente remain indefinite again because of the passivity before stupidities as the Chamberí socialist square, the speculative bus station surroundings, the vulgar offence on the Coca Bank or the Emilio Castelar corners, the pitufera (smurfland) and adjacent periphery populated with classless blocks to the “Marquis of Salamanca” style for new “low” neighborhoods. Virtual urban speculation and real speculation as the Chamartín Operation, which will undertake, after generating substantial official yields, the North of Madrid urban model with a null functional, environmental and architectural quality over the next 30 years or all the hastily developed planning in recent years, that exhausts the municipality soil reserves.
The lack of enthusiasm or knowledge on this city’s peculiar character cannot be masked by projects captured outside its walls in the recent urgency strategies that, with the Madrid 2012 pretext, will undertake with an alleged enlightened despotism the next dacade “emblematic” operations in last minute cosmopolitanism strategies that will test with such an architectural “parade”, Madrid citizens very renowned patience and tolerance.
All this raises further fear for the future flunkies or balustrade or boterean or “fusion” and uneducated on incomprehensible city so difficult for us to adapt ourselves when we return from a journey.