Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fragments of Patrimony--A Historical Crime?

Museum of the Sewers of Peral / Museo de los Caños del Peral
10/12/11 – Plaza de Isabel II
For almost 3 months I’ve been living north of the heart of Madrid.  A downhill stroll to the center takes half an hour.  If a monsoon of biblical proportions suddenly were to hit Madrid, the flood waters would gush down Fuencarral Street, cross Gran Vía, and carry everyone—tourists, shoppers, men hawking gold, French bulldogs, and the dozen prostitutes on Calle Montera who lean against spindly tree trunks waiting for something, anything, to happen—into the Puerta del Sol.  Fat chance. It hasn’t rained a drop since I arrived on August 1.  

Portion of the aqueduct
In the olden days, ground water flowed down through various aquifers and ravines, and some of it surfaced at a wellspring where the metro station Opera now resides, in today's Plaza de Isabel II.  In the middle ages, this fountain was a handy source of water for the nearby Fortress, later the Royal Palace.  Waters from the “Fountain of Peral” were harnessed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by a system of sewers and an aqueduct (the latter in use until the XX century).   

Old sewer, very clean, in the Museo de los Caños del Peral
A massive public fountain, designed by royal architect Juan Bautista de Toledo in the second half of the sixteenth century, catered to the needs of a growing city.   
Small section of the original fountain on display
For unknown reasons the fountain was buried in the nineteenth century when the Plaza of Isabel II was constructed.  In 1925, builders of the Madrid metro rediscovered it, along with the aqueduct and sewer, but bypassed them all in pursuit of progress.  Then, in 2008, the historical structures were rediscovered during renovation of the Opera station.  This time archaeologists intervened, and prepared some fragments for inclusion in the tiny, subterranean museum that opened earlier this year.  It's free once you have entered the Opera station; the museum entrance is near the escalators that lead to line 5.  A 5-minute video presentation in Spanish provides welcome information about how the structures looked several centuries ago.  Above ground, in the Plaza, there's a modern reconstruction of a portion of the fountain, as well as a plaque with the whole design in miniature.

Computer rendering of the site (from poster in metro)
The Museo de los Caños del Peral is not without blogtraversy. To wit, in Pasión por Madrid, J.J. Guerra Esetena wrote:
The Aqueduct of Amaniel has been brutally truncated.  Only a small fragment is shown, while the rest of the structure, as we have read in other forums, lies in pieces in a municipal warehouse. Nor is the fountain shown in its entirety; only five meters of the original 34 are present.  We are told that the section not in the museum has been reburied.  Is it true?  If this can happen to one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the history of Madrid, judging by the scale and condition of the find, what will happen to other, more minor discoveries? (, 23 March 2011. My translation.)
Lola Madrid commented:
Yesterday I saw the . . . mutilated remains of our historical heritage. . . . Any other European country would have sought a more honorable destiny, where [the remains] could shine in splendor for all to enjoy, not buried or abandoned to their fate at some local warehouse, to further deteriorate... What they have done with these archaeological remains is a real shame. I'm feeling great indignation. ... [t]hey have committed a historical crime. (8 Sep. 2011. My translation)
The Spanish architect Juan Bautista de Toledo also designed El Escorial, the historical residence of the King of Spain and a World Heritage Site. What do you think? Perhaps all 34 meters of his fountain deserve a place in the sun.


  1. Hola Dulcinea:
    Soy Guerra Esetena, de "Pasión por Madrid". Acabo de descubrir tu estupendo blog y me encanta (te he puesto un enlace). Muchas gracias por la cita y por tus artículos, que, a pesar de que no controlo mucho el inglés, son fantásticos.

    Un abrazo, Jesús

  2. Hola Jesús,
    Gracias.. y me gusta tu blog. Hay mucho por descubrir en Madrid!
    Un abrazo, D.

  3. Los detalles que escribes son impresionantes. Me encantan.