In the houses of historic Madrid, the most extreme poverty coexisted with absolute wealth.
As we already know, (and if you don´t, come and discover it with us on the Historical Tour), Madrid was a tiny town until the 16th century, when King Felipe II from one day to the next, chose the City of Madrid to become the Capital of the Spanish empire! So, yes, from that day on, the history of our city changed forever.
La Villa became a great city and many, many people moved to Madrid. All kinds of workers, aristocracy … so, of course, we had a problem. Madrid was too small to host all these people. So because of this extreme situation, people started to live in a really interesting way giving birth to the houses of historic Madrid. The city, the streets and even the buildings were shared between the poor and the rich of the capital. In Madrid, poverty and luxury used to coexist.
Let’s start by talking about our most disadvantaged citizens of Madrid, the people with the worst possible situation. These people used to live all over the city, not just in the suburbs outside the city centre. It was normal to find them living in almost any area of the city, but usually in two types of houses and buildings. the mud houses or the so-called “corralas”.
From the 16th to the 19th century, the centre of the city of Madrid was in enormous chaos. Many small and narrow streets, without order, without basic services (such as running water or sewage) … a big mess suffered especially by the poorer citizens who used to live in the small houses built by mud and straw that were originally built for cows and goats, so imagine the kind of life these poor people had. These types of houses of the historic Madrid were very common in the suburbs, but today it is difficult to find some. They were similar to some that we could find in during the 60’s in Madrid.
But we can still visit the other type of building where our normal and poor citizens lived in the city, the famous ones, the “corralas”. This building was square in shape with two or even four floors, and in the middle, a large garden shared with the common well and latrine. the houses that could be rented in these corralas were always very small and often more than one family lived there.
This is how most of the population of the city used to live in the houses of the historic Madrid. In these really poor and extreme conditions. No water, no lights, not even a toilet… this is how the workers, Day labourers, fruit sellers, peasants, cleaners, servants … our people, used to live.
Now, this housing segregation could not only be found in areas of the city but also within the buildings where the wealthy family or owners used to occupy an entire floor on the first floor, while basements and attics were destined to rent to poor people. But … why were they organized like that? nowadays we all love to have a beautiful attic in the main city centre of any big city, right? Well, the reason why it’s easy, it´s because of a modern quotidian thing that in those centuries did not exist, the elevator! That is why the most desirables apartments were those in which the tenant did not have to climb a large number of stairs and had good lighting, which completely ruled out basements and attics. While the floors destined for the wealthy people were equipped with all the services they could require, the spaces for the humble people were small and barely had a mattress. They had no kitchen, which they had to share and it was at the end of the dark hallway. The other option they had was to install a stove or two in their room (with the dangers that included).
The layout of these buildings used to be about four floors plus the attic. On the ground floor, we used to found a store, the first floor, for the landlords or rich families and finally the basement and attics for the underprivileged class.
This arrangement in buildings gave a curious morphology to the streets of Madrid since people from different social strata lived in the same street. it was easy to find people of money, merchants, people with stable incomes and the most humble people of the capital all together at the mase buildings, neighbourhoods and areas.
If you thought that this story about the houses of historic Madrid was cool, we invite you to join our free tour Madrid to keep knowing more secrets and funny stories about the beautiful city of Madrid! See you in Sol square under our light blue umbrellas!