The Bank of Spain, which symbolizes the new
role of Madrid as a financial capital; new constructions for government branches
like the imposing Ministry of Public Works, decorous institutions from the
outstanding Superior School of Mining Engineering, and the School of Industrial
Engineering to the Aguirre Schools, buildings to aid the ill and infirm such as
the Hospital of the Niño Jesús (Christ Child).
To attend to those less favored by nature,
there are the School for Deafmutes and the Blind; structures built to improve
the deplorable conditions of prisoners, such as the Modelo Prison, or to give
last rites to the deceased with more dignity, as at the cemetery of the
And since the old order had now been
restored, nothing better, finally, than to begin works for a cathedral, also
under the active support of the Almudena, of which the crypt is soon
constructed; to oversee the education of clergy with a Conciliatory Seminary and
erect new churches, such as San Andrés de los Flamencos and San Fermín
de los Navarros.
The palaces of Cristal and Velázquez
in the Park of the Retiro; a new Plaza de Toros (Bull-ring) at Plaza de Felipe
II; the Princess Theatre; the Price Circus; and the Beti-Jai Game-court; all are
constructions that, in addition to being ornaments to the capital, serve the
leisure of its various social classes.
It is understandable that, in order to
maintain this activity of improvements, there should come to the city not only
the professionals and the intellectuals, but in addition to domestic service,
which is the most abundant work category, Madrid should be the focus of
attention for day-laborers who come to the city to secure work.
And that this flood of immigrants, rather
than the nobiliary-bourgeois palaces and edifices of the capital, will be what
determines the future urban configuration, for in such an avalanche those
cottages in the outskirts of the city and the garrets in the inner city or even
in newer areas will be insufficient housing, not even to speak of those needed
constructions in lower-class districts.
The immigrants, simply said, have no place
to live. In the old quarters of the city, there are no free spaces and, in the
new areas, the type of constructions envisioned is not affordable to those of
modest means and even less to the indigent.
In reality, farther out than in the extended
areas, in the outer suburbs is where they build, each in his small plot that he
Cuatro Caminos, Prosperidad, La Guindalera,
Puente de Vallecas, Las Ventas, the Plaza de Toros, the Extremadura roadway will
see growth which will not observe the minimum requirements of health and
hygiene, of the most abject constructions which will impede for more than half a
century any possibility of rational growth for the general city.
There comes up now and sharply, into the
forefront of social concerns, the problem of working-class dwellings.
Housing projects for workers, - and
thus to get them out of the city - make headway, at least in theory
because in practice it is always something different when facing resistence from
those who continue to advocate, - and they will continue to do so until
the end of the century, - the coming together of social classes in the
A vestige of the discarded new order in the
new restored order is when, in the first National Congress of Architects, held
in May of l881, voices still are raised in favor of reserving, in all new
buildings, some garrets for workers.
surrounded by wealthy people, they could have aid in their privations, receive
food supplies, clothing, and aid in future times while in the outer districts
they would be living alone with their miseries."
Arturo Soria judged that these and other
problems in the old city could not be solved, and he turned his back on them,
and immediately went to setting up a similar plan in the outer suburbs,
excepting that it was on the horizontal rather than in the vertical. Mansions
with a big garden fronting on the principal street, simple plots and small
cottages in back streets for employees and workers, all of them equipped, of
course, with identical services and communications.
But the answer to those who wanted to put
workers in lofts and garrets will come from another direction, from those who
propose building houses for workers in entire neighborhoods, for all those
workers who could not be accommodated in areas intended for the bourgeois and
It was Fernández de los Ríos
who proposed it and the Beneficial Construction Company and the Tradesmen's
Future who will attempt to carry it out, with little result and final failure.
And so, what will finally be done in these
years is neither the garret nor the working area, but in the inner city the
creation of corridor housing or "corrala" (passageway). And by
beginnings of the 20th century examples of this can be found in all districts of
Even in the most central areas, although
where they are most abundant may be in the lowest, geographically and socially,
of the old low areas, in the Inclusa and Latina districts, followed not far
behind by the University area.
For one or two pesetas,
"outcast people living in the continual grind of
their eternal, irremediable misery
as though sunk in the shadows of a
profound sleep, without forming any very clear idea of their lives, without
hope, nor plans, nor projects nor anything," living in hovels
without ventilation, stacked-up, one atop the other.
Living on a miserable day-wage when they
were lucky enough to get it, these creatures cannot be those people of Madrid
that were discovered and exalted by revolutionary Romanticism. No longer will
they go out into the streets in revolutions, but rather to look for a plate of
food at one of the charitable asylums and eating-houses of the city, which open
their doors a thousand, five thousand times a day to hand out rations.
Madrid finally comes to the end of the 19th
century, dragging the weight of countless masses of poors, beggars, and
day-laborers who work only occasionally and at miserable wages.
And this is possible in instances where they
have entered the city and have found lodging in some of the passageway units,
but there is that other undetermined number of immigrants who will have to be
satisfied with what they can get in the outer suburbs, where shacks are being
constructed on irregular plans with total absence of order; shacks that
reproduce for Madrid, the same cityscape as that of the outskirts of any
crossroads hamlet of La Mancha, or lower.
If the Madrid mansion on the first floor of
a sumptuous building in or around the Recoletos-Castellana district is proof of
the success of the business bourgeoisie, the hovel in Embajadores or the heights
of Moncloa, the shack of La Elipa or los Tejares de San Sixto or of the area of
las Injurias, the row-house of Peñuelas or the Paseo de las Acacias, is
the most outright proof of the failure of Madrid, to convert itself into a
capital worthy of a nation.
During the thirty years from 1870 to 1900,
Madrid offers to whoever approaches its environs, in the absence of lovely
streams, - which were missed by Lucas Mallada, - only a picture of
misery and abandon that evokes to everyone only a dung-heap.
An African capital, more than a European,
say over and over again the novelists, journalists and hygienists. A good
example of it, certainly, are those row-houses, hovels and even caves which
exist a little everywhere, in old slum areas and in the new proletarian
nothing sadder, nothing less worthy of the approaches to a large city, than the
environs of Madrid," said a French guide, speaking to travelers in
The days of the people's revolution seem
long past and Madrid has lost the opportunity to convert itself, like Paris,
into a capital worthy of the Nation!.
Copyright © 2002 by JLL
All rights reserved.