The most pressing needs of Madrid, once the
revolution had achieved victory, are to assure public order and to offer solid
guarantees to the neighborhoods, to capital investors, to commerce and industry,
and secure trustworthy city police, and proffer ways to carry out public
Fernández de los Ríos, who
trusted the revolution itself would transform Madrid, insisted no less in the
need for good order, as if he would like to condense into his urban planning,
the dual content of the people's movements of Madrid. "Revolution
The sovereign authority of the revolution
had to show itself early, in rapid actions that would lay foundations for the
future of Madrid, and before bureaucratic resistance would come out in contrary.
But that urgency and radical rush to propose
measures, could not appear to be in conflict with good order. To act rapidly
and to act with order in the substance of the project, that will convert Madrid,
for the first time, into a "Capital worthy of the
Nation, worthy of Spain."
Although on occasions it may give another
impression, revolutionary aims for the transformation of Madrid did not seek to
wipe the slate clean in order to begin from zero, but to proceed with all the
demolitions that would be necessary, - and these were not few, -
with the objective of opening out space for the great and urgent reforms of the
Fernández de los Ríos, whom
the City Government had recalled from Paris to take over Counselorship of
Constructions, brought from his long exile the identical impressions and the
same cherished aim. Before him, it was Mesonero Romanos, and after him, Manuel
Azaña will feel the same.
Paris is again, and always will be, a mirror
in which people of Madrid, travelers like Mesonero, exiles like Fernández
de los Ríos, or scholars such as Azaña traveling abroad for study,
contemplate their own city and then are obliged to look away. Political
revolution and a new social order, the razing of monasteries and construction of
sumptuous buildings, magnificence and rationality. It was necessary to take the
city to the operating table.
Even with all these cosmetic acts, all that
had been done in Madrid did not amount to more than a temporary cure, not yet
up to bringing the sick patient back to health. It would be necessary to take
the city to the operating table.
With Paris of the Second Empire as model for
the great capital that he desired for Spain, and with the map of Madrid spread
out over his work-table, Fernández de los Ríos felt no qualms at
all when it came to making a list of buildings condemned to be torn down.
Churches and chapels held prime place but military barracks were not far behind.
It is required, as most urgent of only one
of many proceedings to come, the demolition of the convent del Carmen, the
church of San Luis, the Monte de Piedad - Pawnshop controlled by the
State, - the convent of the Descalzas Reales, the churches of San Martin,
of Santa Catalina de los Donados, and of Santo Domingo.
But let no one, - warns the reformer,
- be surprised by the magnitude of the enterprise, for on getting rid of
these very old buildings, the grounds, cleared of houses and rubbish, leveled
off and cut into streets and squares, will double in value.
Such is, on reviewing all accounts, the
urban substance of revolution with order. Knocking down buildings,
- writes Fernández de los Ríos, - will enrich us.
What could be called revolutionary in the
first of these postulates, - it is necessary to proceed immediately to
demolition, - becomes perfectly bourgeois and capitalistic in the second,
with objectives that land should multiply in value.
Times have changed, cities are no more than
an agglomeration of mankind who live active lives and who are ready to pay
double if, in order to produce, exchange, circulate or enjoy themselves, they do
not meet vexations or obstacles in their way.
The city obtains this space to make speed
more possible, which is the peak manifestation of new wealth won by the
Expropriate to demolish, demolish in order
to increase value of the ground, for when such happens, the streets will build
themselves. The substance of revolution, as dreamed by Fernández de los Ríos
and his progressive friends, could not have been defined with more economy of
It is significant that, on arrival to
municipal power of a democratic politician like Nicolás María
Rivero, should belong the honor of carrying into practice this idea of "Capital
of a Nation," which had germinated in the head of a revolutionary of the
years of the fifties.
Writer and journalist, founder and director
of several publications, typical example of that professional middle class that,
like the new mayor, had forged his way through Madrid by pen, press, or as
lawyer or politician, - or all of these, - and who senses the
right moment has arrived to act surgically on the remains of this old city of
convents and palaces, abandoned to its luck by the Moderate Party.
No sigh of regret for what would have to be
torn down. That long list of convents and churches had no meaning when compared
to long, straight streets, market-places, the widening-out that their
destruction would permit, with the speeding-up of traffic and merchandise, with
the prosperity that this new valuation proclaimed.
Do not talk now of reforms in the interior
of the city, small and timid, such as those that had been proposed up to then,
especially those proposed in the Castro plan. For each block of demolished
buildings, there will be a corresponding prolongation of a street, the opening
of a square, a plan lined-up. Wide, even monumental streets, overflowing with
trees and gardens, with connections between representative buildings, symbols of
the new capital of the nation.
First, they had to seek new locations for
the miserable seats of not a few official institutions, among others, of the
City Government itself, which by its traditional character of being a
"service corporation for the kings" had
placed elegant buildings at the disposition of the Crown, while itself
remaining in its old Town House.
Then, once that worthy buildings were
occupied, it would be necessary that communication between them be made by
streets no less representative of a worthy nation.
Then they brought back the old,
- more than a century old, - project to unite by prolonging the
Calle de Bailén, the Royal Palace with the church of San Francisco el
Grande, proposed place for the National Pantheon of Illustrious Men.
Madrid would, at the same time, have
buildings symbolizing the nation and would have thus great, straight avenues
which would allow rapid movement for traffic, and wide perspectives.
Once the convents were demolished and the
dynasty driven out that had converted the city into a mere Court, with reference
to the nation the idea of Madrid emerges now in all clarity and without
reservation, as linked to a new national sentiment that would find in the
capital its place as a political, administrative and symbolical seat. Its new
center of power.
Copyright © 2002 by
JLL & JRP
All rights reserved.