El Barrio de Salamanca – Origins
El Barrio de Salamanca with its neat appearance and very high standard of living it the most stately area of Madrid where aristocrats, journalists, actors and politicians live. What is the origin of this neighborhood?
The name of Barrio de Salamanca is due to José de Salamanca and Mayol, or so to say, the Marquis of Salamanca. He was one of the greatest magnates of the second half of the 19th century. A kind of Rockefeller who got rich and ruined three times. He had properties in Paris, Rome, Lisbon, the Philippines, in addition to several palaces in Madrid. His life provides materal for some epic, picaresque tale, all peppered with much altruism for the city.
On one occasion he would say; “Madrid is getting thinner. It is so small that a man cannot go in the street. He always has the misfortune of meeting all of those not dear to him. ” And walking outside the Puerta de Alcalá, the marquis decided to invest in his project. It is curious to think that beyond the Puerta de Alcalá, there was nothing, and that 220,000 souls crowded the city at the beginning of the 19th century and 300,000 by 1850. To extend the city in an orderly manner, the Castro Plan was designed in the mid-nineteenth century. The idea was to build a expansión area for Madrid, also segregating neighborhoods by social class.
The idea of the marquis was to create an aristocratic neighborhood that followed the architectural models increasingly used in other European capitals. The urban grid design was at that time an innovation in Madrid. It seems that they forgot about the chamfers, but well that’s fine.
Running water and heating were among the most important innovations that the new neighborhood had. And on top of that, the toilet. The bedrooms would be spacious and bright. The most luxurious, the ground floors. And of course interior courtyards to refresh the appartments. The streets would be 20, 25, or 30 meters wide depending on their importance. One of the most important events was the creation of the first tram line, that since 1871 communicated this area with the rest of the city.
The urban business did not go well at all, since Salamanca died bankrupt in 1883. However, in 1890, 75 noble families already had their residence in the neighborhood. By 1910, there were 138 between barons, dukes, marquises and counts. At present Salamanca periodically continues receiving members of high socity exiled from other countries.
Nowadays the Barrio de Salamanca is one of the most exclusive areas with the highest standard of living in Europe. The quadrant between Recoletos / Castellana, Principe of Vergara, Serrano and Jorge Juan is known as “the Golden Mile”. There are boutiques like Loewe, Armani, Prada, Versace, Chanel, Gucci, Dior, Tiffany or Bulgari. The Marquis of Salamanca would not live long enough to see his dream fullfilled, but at least his name will always be immortalized in the aristocratic neighborhood of Madrid.
If you want to know more about this área of Madrid, including Puerta de Alcala and Parque del Retiro, feel free to take our Free Tour Madrid.