MADRID, Spain        by Ian Stuart Campbell FSAI HonFRIAS


Madrilenos sometimes confusingly describe their city as Spain's foremost seafood 'resort'…..challenging? Unique among European Capitals, Madrid is far from sea, and does not even boast a navigable river.

4 Festival of Spain crowds

Madrid however has grown and prospered. Excellent transport links now ensure shellfish from the west highlands grace tables here fresh within hours - even before products from Atlantic and Mediteranean sources.

In European terms Madrid was a late starter. It emerged from dusty oblivion when Philip II inexplicably established his royal court here in 1561. A tiny 20,000 population grew to service this court, but industrial revolution largely bypassed Madrid until railways arrived, (late C19th.) and more significantly electricity which transformed drainage and water supply.

Madrid's tale is therefore modern. Rapid growth from half million (1900) to three million+ (1970); a second Spanish Republic; two world wars; dictatorship; and ultimately, democracy. The resulting eclectic architecture encompasses grandiose French flourishes, Art Deco, and austere concrete high rise, giving an exhilarating North American flavour particularly along Gran Via.

1 View north Gran Via

The commercial centre retains artisanal units, markets, general stores, and the ubiquitous cafe culture. Boulevards cope ably with snarling traffic around the Almendra (central almond) but ongoing improvements should combat pollution and benefit pedestrians.

Simplification of planning procedures now lump "Commercial" and "industrial" categories together as "economic," avoiding change of use permits. Buildings over 100 years will lose automatic protection with Planners favouring remodeling in a further bid to stimulate development.

Thus far Europe's largest department store ‘El Corte Ingles’  thrives relatively uncompromised by planning or architectural considerations. Likewise the neoclassical Congress of Deputies  has grown to fill its urban wedge to a sharp design by Rubert de Ventos, Oriol Clos and Josep Parcerisa. The new wing (1990) makes an emphatic point - as, we trust, do Politicians within?

Any dearth of architectural antiquity is well compensated elsewhere. Long queues for The Prado; the Reina Sofia where Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ resides, and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum ensures top table status for Madrid in art and cultural tourism beside Paris, Florence, and Amsterdam. Season tickets boasting 50+ further galleries and cultural venues invite visitors to stay longer or return sooner, - an expanding and prestigious business.

Madrid's responses allocate impressive investment in public transport infrastructure, in particular the innovative bright spacious Metro stations featuring simulated natural light. Already one of the world's most extensive metro systems, the ongoing plans promise fully integrated public transport linking trams, metro, and rail across the entire city.  Progressing Metro and public realm works is a recipe for major disruption as Madrilenos already know from experience. It might however, be worth discomfort if results match the regeneration of Mercado de San Miguel. Designed by Alfonso Dubé and Diez, this covered market featuring an iron frame, wooden roof and granite floors opened in May 1916.

In 2003 a group of entrepreneurs formed 'El Gastrónomo de San Miguel', acquired the neglected building, and in 2009 reopened with thirty-three traders selling fresh produce, specialty foods, chocolates, cheeses, liquor, wines, sherries, et al.  An architecturally charming oasis of decadence.

© stuart campbell 2021