Academic journal article Hispanic Review

STREET SCENES: Foreign Travelers in Madrid (1825-1850)

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

STREET SCENES: Foreign Travelers in Madrid (1825-1850)

Article excerpt

No country is less known than the rest of Europe. (Johnson 365)

Here we fly from the dull uniformity, the polished monotony of Europe to the racy freshness of an original, unchanged country [. . .] (Ford I: 119)

Those who wish to see Spain while it is worth seeing must go soon. (Christmas I: 219)

Overwhelmed by the dark side of enlightenment and progress that was manifesting itself at a rapid pace in the form of capitalism, railroads, and alienated social relations, many travelers of the first half of the nineteenth century were tourists thirsty for diversion and new scenes that contrasted with the ordinary course of life. The "pleasurable instruction" that had characterized travel since the late sixteenth century was replaced by a new mode of movement grounded in the tenets of European Romanticism.1 From now on, cultural difference, immersion in local color, and individual expression would shape the traveler's itinerary. To fulfill these aspirations a new generation of travel writers ventured towards southern Europe and beyond in search of spaces unmarked by industrialism and bourgeois advances. In this way, the same poor travel conditions, urban uncleanliness, religious fanaticism, and political tensions that had persuaded many seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Grand Tourists to bypass Spain came to be celebrated by Romantic travelers who considered the country one of the last reserves of independence and authenticity in Europe. As Richard Ford's assessment of his contemporaries' travel agenda suggests, the contours of the early nineteenth-century Spanish tour were defined by the expectations of the traveling public, namely a cultural landscape saturated with characters and rituals reminiscent of a disappearing traditional society:

Spain's best attractions are those which are characteristic of herself: here all that is imitated is poor and second-rate, and displeases the foreigner, who can see the originals much better at home: he crosses the Pyrenees, too weary of the bore, commonplace, and the uniformity of ultra-civilization, in order to see something new and unEuropean; he hopes to find again in Spain [. . .] all that has been lost and forgotten elsewhere. (1103)

As the epigraphs dramatize about the evolution of the foreign perception of the Bourbon kingdom, however, early nineteenth-century tourism's "discovery" of Spain illustrates the extent to which travel and travel texts played a crucial role in fueling the distortion of points of interest once singled out for their fresh, "untouched" image. In this essay I aim to achieve insight into how the optic of Romanticism ultimately left its mark on the Spanish landscape by setting in motion the refashioning of the country in accordance with the imagined geography eternalized in pages penned by American, SpanishAmerican, British, and French travelers.

The gifted French writer Astolphe Marquis of Custine perhaps best summed up the view of many of his fellow travelers when he wrote in 1831 that "cualquier rincón de España que se quiera describir suscitará sin duda interés; ninguna parte de este país recuerda al resto de Europa: jes España, siempre España y nada mas que España!" (qtd. in Santos 82). One such "rincón" frequented by travelers in the early nineteenth century was Madrid and its surrounding areas. Travel to the capital surged between the years 1825 and 1850, a period framed by the return of Fernando VII and absolutism, and the 1846 double royal wedding of Isabel II with her cousin Francisco de Asis and the queen's sister Luisa Fernanda with the duke of Montpensier. Getting to Madrid had also become easier as the well-trodden and most direct route from Bayonne to Andalusia passed through the city walls. Once there, travel to and around Madrid in many instances was accepted as representative of experiencing the entire country.2 The synecdochical meaning assigned to the capital traces its roots back to the Age of Absolutism and the posterior formation of the modern nations, when the European capitals were promoted as their countries' premier showcase and, as such, their image functioned as a mirror of the entire country (Baker 70). …

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