A Cultural History of Madrid: Modernism and the Urban Spectacle

By Deborah L. Parsons | Go to book overview

7
Epilogue

Madrid finally fell to Franco's Nationalist forces in March 1939, after almost three years of siege, starvation and bombardment. The decades that followed were characterised by misery, repression, strict censorship and, as Camilo José Cela writes in his novel La colmena (‘The Hive’), a ‘yawning, remorseless emptiness’. 1 Under the policies of the dictatorship, development was brought to a halt and Spain distanced from modernising Europe, as a counterfeit and homogenising national traditionalism was promulgated by the early Francoist propaganda machine. At the centre of this ideology of fake hispanidad stood Madrid, its own cultural myths of identity repressed or subsumed under the New State's decision to make the city the capital of its Castilian-based nationalism. Economic need resulted in a less isolationist stance in the 1950s, facilitated by political agreement with the United States, but it was not until 1975 and the death of the Caudillo that Spain began its transformation into what would become ‘surely the most modern of societies’. 2 ‘“Madrid is the centre of the universe and everybody comes here to have fun”’, announced Almodóvar, describing the premise of his film Laberinto de pasiones (‘Labyrinth of Passion’, 1982). 3 A statement that he claimed was made ‘in one of the least imaginative moments of my life’, it has yet come to define and shape the city's contemporary identity.

Manuel Castells provides a detailed summary of the beginnings of a new urbanity in Madrid in his case-study of the urban protest movements of 1970s Madrid in his The City and the Grassroots (1983). 4 The development of Madrid as an industrial city in the 1960s had brought with it a massive increase in immigration. New housing provision was concentrated largely on the urban periphery, in a concentration of poor-quality high-rise accommodation blocks that offered few of the basic social amenities of urban life. By 1974, as Castells records, 54 per cent of the Madrid population lived in sub-standard housing, often little more than shanty-housing. 5 The result was collective urban protest under the Madrid Citizen Movement, in which ‘social revolt and spatial innovation’ were brought together in public demand for, in Lefebvre's words, ‘their ‘right to the city’; for better quality and more affordable housing, improved infrastructure and neighbourhood services, the protection and conservation of the historic centre of the city, and an improved social and cultural life. 6 The local authorities responded, replacing

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