It is not amazing that Madrid, Court of an
Empire to be shortly ruined, would become along 19th century into the capital of
the State, on which parochial interests, managed by nobles and tyrants,
predominated over the integration force which is supposed to be attribute of a
It had not been able, it did not have the
strength of integrating the Empire territories and lacked of force to integrate
the different people of an emerging nation.
Without constituting as economical capital
and presiding over the irresistible boost of local interests, Madrid could not
become the intellectual capital.
It had the most thick concentration of
intellectuals and there were plenty of science and culture centres, but Madrid
did not fulfil, ending 19th century, that function of a capital consisting on
elaborate a radiant culture.
If anything, it could be found on it an
acquired culture, a tank of culture which other had filled, but it is nonsense
the thought of Madrid irradiating its spirit.
Madrid not only did not irradiate anything,
but let seep through its rural surroundings. They were the "cockneies"
- typical working-class madrilenian - adopting a farm worker's language or that
big mass of beggars, which found in Madrid their paradise, those who gave tone
to the city.
To walk around Madrid is
"making your way through masses of miserables".
To come out of Madrid is "finding at only six
kilometres away, without any transition, the absolute farm worker".
Non accomplishing the functions of an
economical, politic and cultural capital, Madrid presents as a muddling city,
dusty, frustrated on its own morphology and growth.
As from 1561 it is seat of the court, Madrid
grows any old how. A monarchy on which domains there was no sunset was planning
squared cities, with an irreproachable urbanism on the new world, while was
dealing its own capital as a back yard.
The lodging privilege and same fortress
which was palace for the Austria, prevented the aristocracy to raise on the
capital big palaces or dispose magnificent perspectives.
Its buildings did not exceed of dense big
rambling houses while the streets, with an irregular trace, followed the fancy
line marked by the many churches or convents.
Of course there were efforts to rationalise
growth, mending the network, proposals of magnificent buildings, but the same
fact that one after the other all of them ended filed and forgotten, reinforced
the feeling of frustration and impotence.
There were so many the volumes that could be
written with plans for a Madrid finally non built, a dreamt Madrid, that present
reality should provoke feelings of affliction and discouragement.
It is understood that Madrid could not
resist a comparison with some other big European capitals to which, from the
political exile years or pleasure trips, madrilenian liberals, progressives,
reformers and intellectuals turned their eyes to: mainly Paris, or Berlin or
It is also understood that such a city has
generated so much moan as pessimism woke on the State to which served as
Brake for the economical growth and cause
for the political stagnancy, Madrid was the paradigmatic representation of a
weak, inefficient State, built up by oligarchic groups of politic friends over a
rural society, outdated, withdrawn, engrossed, absent of market and world-wide
The fact that at the end of 19th century
Madrid was the capital of an State which in very few years would lost its last
colonies and raises high protectionist barriers seemed to be condemning the city
to a destiny of motionless capital, closed to itself, happy on its poverty,
complaisant on its purity, impassive on the big events which were turning down
The monarchy capital offered, as per
Mesonero Romanos, an indecorous and repugnant show in the middle of the
splendours court of Carlos IV.
Its general aspect, miserable, dirty,
without any healthiness nor urban police; its market, open only to the
privileged classes; its non existing communications, turning it into an almost
inaccessible capital; its barren streets and walks; its beneficence and
instruction buildings on the most deplorable situation.
Very few modern capitals were worth of so
many and so general moans. And the picture is just the same as the one at the
end of the century: African extremely poverty and filthy social scrap, its
streets are - written at El Progreso newspaper -
All testimonies agree on Madrid been a dirty
and dark city during the whole 19th century, with narrow and unhealthy streets,
with a stingy hamlet, without services, without police; a villa which means
nothing to the world, as Nicolás Malo wrote on 1851.
Madrid is no longer only Court, and old
nobility has come into an uncontrollable economical decline, without having
achieved yet the rank of capital and without a bourgeoisie stating its presence
to mix up their interests and the nation's.
Nation, which for the first time proclaims
as subject on a distant city, Cádiz, does not find a human element to
have support in Madrid.
The monarchy capital is not able to support
on its shoulders the Spanish Nation, and in spite of the disturbance the urban
people make from time to time, it can not give a solid economical and social
structure able to convert it into the capital of an State which personifies the
With a faded nobility despite the brightness
raising from ballrooms; with a bourgeoisie whose higher expectation was to save
as much as to become nobles; with craftsman at stores and workshops and
uncountable mass of poor and beggars, Madrid seems to confirm on 19th century,
the artifice and guilt of its election as Capital of Spain.
Copyright © 2002 by
JLL / JRP
All rights reserved