A Cultural History of Madrid: Modernism and the Urban Spectacle

By Deborah L. Parsons | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Cosmopolitan Lights

Modern technology resulted in a fundamental transformation of the temporality and spatiality of urban life. The electrification of public lighting and trams, along with the development of the metro, the telegraph, the elevator and the cinema, reconfigured the physical form, social culture and subjective experience of the city. As electricity illuminated Madrid by night, the first skyscrapers pierced its skyline, and the metropolitan railway transported passengers through its subterranean depths, practices and perceptions of urban space were profoundly altered, the city becoming at once newly ordered and newly mysterious. For if electricity, epitomising progress and scientific technology, illuminated, rationalised and standardised the urban landscape, it was also a strangely invisible phenomenon, an ether with the power to annihilate time and distance, made manifest through the spaces and machines of the city.

Electrifying Space

Electric light was first used publicly in Madrid in celebration of the wedding of Alfonso XII in 1878, when the streets and buildings of the Puerta del Sol were illuminated with electric lamps, providing a spectacular stage for the performance of modern monarchical splendour. The general electrification of the city began five years later with the inauguration of the Sociedad Matritense de Electricidad, created by the city council to provide lighting in the Ministry of War. The network covered a broad central area, including the Puerta del Sol, its surrounding streets, and the Parque del Retiro, illuminating previously familiar public spaces with an unusual brilliance. As David Nye argues, it is important not to underestimate the initial impact of electrification on the urban populations of the late nineteenth century, to whom newly electrified cities would have seemed almost supernatural spaces, illuminated with a strange light ‘at once mild and intense, smokeless, fireless, steady, seemingly inexhaustible’. 1 On the one hand regulating and disciplining city space, electric light was also enabling, opening up the previously illicit night world to the respectable public and encouraging a new phenomenon of urban night-life. In the Puerta del Sol, for example, where shops often traded until late in the evening, many of the cafés and bun-shops would remain open throughout the


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
A Cultural History of Madrid: Modernism and the Urban Spectacle


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 129

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?