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Notes on the Geography of Spain: Madrid: Photo 10

world pictures Spain: Madrid

From the east end of the bridge, the Calle Toledo emerges from a tunnel and leads very nearly in a straight line to the center of the city, about two kilometers ahead.

What lies there? A paymaster wrote to Philip II in 1559 that "everyone says this town of Madrid, ennobled with sumptuous and regal buildings, is the one favored by your Majesty...." That sounds promising, but, as Goitia wrote, "Madrid has always been a city contemptuous of its past, more interested in modernization than in conservation, eager to destroy the visible stages of her progress, lacking in a spirit of continuity and in tranquillity, all characteristics that have made it what it is today, a capital city of few and scattered monuments which hardly ever form a coherent whole, of ill-defined urban unities which, if they ever did exist, were quickly wiped out in its burning desire for constant renewal." And you thought that Richard Ford was acerbic.

They're both dismissing five centuries that began in the spring of 1561, when Philip II, ruler of Europe's greatest empire, moved here from Toledo. Was it a sensible move? There was little on the site, save a fortress begun in the 8th century by the emir of Cordoba. Was the city's centrality on the Iberian Peninsula reason enough for the move? Ford argues forcefully to the contrary: "The gross mistake of a position which has no single advantage except the fancied geographical merit of being in the centre of Spain, was soon felt.... Philip II had neglected the opportunity of making his capital of Lisbon, which is admirably situated on a noble river and sea; had this been done, Portugal never would or could have revolted, or the peninsula been thus dissevered, by which the first blow was dealt to Spain's greatness: thus to Madrid, and its Monkish ulcer the Escorial, is the germ of present decay to be traced." Ford beats his subject mercilessly. "Like everything else in ill-fated misgoverned Spain, whose sun has long stood still, it [Madrid] has been outstripped even by our provincial cities."

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