City of Contrasts
From the perspective of the Plaza de Oriente, wrote Vicente Blasco Ibáñez in La horda (1905), Madrid ‘looked like an imposing capital city, a major metropolis’ [parecía una capital portentosa, una importante metrópoli]. 1 During the first decade of the Restoration, guided by the authoritarian and repressive conservatism of prime minister Cánovas del Castillo, Spain experienced a period of political stability, economic confidence and bourgeois prosperity. Madrid was again required to reflect and express the values of a new regime, and the end of the nineteenth century witnessed a monumentalising of the urban landscape that showcased the grandeur and authority of the triumphant monarchy. Development was predominantly concentrated along the Paseos del Prado, de Recoletos and Castellana, with the Ensanche also receiving renewed support, with more concerted expansion of the district of Salamanca, and the rapid and extensive growth of northern suburbs additional to the original Castro plan, such as Chamberí and Argüelles. Confirming the relocation of power and wealth from the traditionally aristocratic west of the city to the institutional and commercial hegemony of its eastern strip, was a lavish programme of civic building, including the completion of the Biblioteca Nacional and Museo Arqueológico (1892), begun under the reign of Isabel II, the construction of a new building for the Ateneo (1884), and the building of the imposing headquarters of the Banco de España (1891), the Bolsa (the stock exchange, 1893), and the Ministerio de Agricultura (1897), all in the architectural style of eclectic classicism characteristic of Second Empire Paris.
If classical monumentalism was the favoured style of official and state buildings, construction in iron and glass, as elsewhere in Europe, became the emblem of functional architecture; notably for market buildings, and for the railway stations of Delicias (1880), Del Norte (1888) and Atocha (1892). Espousing industrial and technological progress in their very existence as much as in their purpose, these yet peculiarly diaphanous buildings formed a distinctive architectural aesthetic of metropolitan modernity. The Restoration city's practice of triumphalist self-display was perhaps epitomised, however, by the very unutilitarian Palacio de Cristal, designed by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco as an exhibition hall for the Exposición de Filipinas in 1887. Reminiscent of the design if not scale of Sir Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace of 1851, the glass and iron structure of the Palacio de Cristal embodied national optimism and technological progress, ebulliently yet ironically