A Cultural History of Madrid: Modernism and the Urban Spectacle

By Deborah L. Parsons | Go to book overview

1
Introduction: The Castizo Metropolis

In 1992, less than two decades after emerging from the Fascist dictatorship of General Franco, Spain announced its cultural and specifically urban renaissance with tripartite force, hosting the Olympics in Barcelona, the World Exposition in Seville and the European City of Culture in Madrid. From the reactionary authoritarianism and stagnancy of the Franco years, Spain was suddenly the centre of the vision of an integrated European heritage, a status judiciously shared out across the representative cities of internally rivalrous cultural identities. Ten years on and Barcelona has become an icon of the ‘new’ Euro-urbanity and a model for Leftist policies of design-led urban regeneration. After a long history of stubborn resistance to European influence, however, Madrid retains its political hegemony but, to international eyes at least, cannot compete with the cosmopolitan style and cultural aura of the Catalan city. ‘Madrid is not a city of ancient charm’, declares one Guardian travel article, going on to recommend that it is instead ‘a place whose present is generally more interesting than its past’. 1

A cautious erasure of the political resonance of the past, and a determined emphasis on the consumerist neutrality of the present, typifies contemporary publicity of the city. It is not only Barcelona's architectural heritage and regeneration that has made it a favourite example within the urban policies of Leftist European governments. In its layout, its monuments and the imperial grandeur of much of its official architecture, Madrid bears testimony to a succession of more or less autocratic rulers and regimes; not least Philip II, who first chose the unprepossessingly positioned city as the home of the Hapsburg court in the sixteenth century. Of the most recent, however, General Francisco Franco, there is a conspicuous absence. Resisting the onslaught of the Nationalist forces until the last days of the Civil War, Madrid was nevertheless declared by Franco, following Philip before him, as the symbolic capital of his own vision of a centralised imperial regime, its local urban identity submerged under a myth of universal ‘Spanishness’. Today, with the exception of a single statue, the Fascist dictator has been carefully removed from the city's official cultural memory. If the Franco years were a ‘time of silence’, marked by the censorship and repression of all that challenged the values of the New State, they have now themselves been silenced by the narrative of a democratic, eurocentric Spain. 2

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A Cultural History of Madrid: Modernism and the Urban Spectacle
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • 1 - Introduction: The Castizo Metropolis 1
  • 2 - Madrid, ‘Villa Y Corte’ 13
  • 3 - The Nineteenth-Century Capital 33
  • 4 - City of Contrasts 57
  • 5 - Cosmopolitan Lights 77
  • 6 - Urban Cosmorama 93
  • 7 - Epilogue 105
  • Notes 109
  • Select Bibliography 121
  • Index 127
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