Rarely do so many councilors of the Madrid City Council meet, of all political signs, in a public act like this morning in Plaza de España. More than twenty accompanied the mayor on one of the great days of this year for the city: the reopening of an iconic enclave, closed for two and a half years. In fact, they had come to do the same as the thousands of Madrilenians who had filled the square from the first hour: to see how everything had turned out, to give their opinion and take photos.
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The walk began in one of the great discoveries of the new Plaza de España: its East-West pedestrian and cyclist connection, which allows walking or pedaling from the Plaza de Oriente to the Temple of Debod, on a path where previously there was only road and cars. Starting next to the Royal Palace, the new route opens this Monday, on two levels, one above the archaeological remains found during the works and another next to the Sabatini Gardens, still in the process of reform.
In the lower part, the pedestrian walks next to a pierced mountain that the Madrid City Council is preparing. Inside are the remains of the old Godoy Palace, which appeared during the excavation of the Bailén tunnel and which will be museumized when the work is finished. Because Plaza de España has been inaugurated, but the consistory still does not know when all the auctions will end.
Going down to the square, we find the first novelty: a large-area fountain, although low in height. From it the water flows gently, forming a circle. The original project contemplated two pumps of this type, one smaller than the other, but the changes in the area of the rise of Sabatini meant that finally only one was built.
At this point, the pedestrian has to choose between going down next to the building of the Royal Asturian Company of Mines – through two paths, one next to the façade and the other elevated – or going west, in the direction of the Temple of Debod .
If you turn towards the Cuesta de San Vicente, you will find again the traffic that has remained underground until that moment, which goes up to the Gran Vía.
If, on the contrary, you continue the natural path that leads you to cross the Plaza de España in its southern area, on the old road for cars, you will be able to contemplate several examples of olive trees, in memory of those that were in the northern part of the square and that they were transplanted.
After the olive trees there is a diaphanous part, with lined up and recently planted trees, Fernandino-style streetlights and a children’s play area that opens to the right.
The area dedicated to the little ones is a real swing dome with up to 17 devices to swing from one side to the other, grouped in large baskets, car tires and other types of games. The architects of the project, the union of Porras La Casta and Guadiana studios, have named this area Isla de Barataria, the place of Cervantine literature where Sancho Panza was appointed governor.
Turning to the right to fully enter the new Plaza España and without letting go of the children’s hands, the passerby arrives at a particular wooden castle, full of slides. It is located within one of the stately islets formed under the trees that have been preserved. There are also some manual children’s games and accessible play elements.
This is the shadiest and most covered area of the new Plaza España, because the trees are large and have been planted there for decades. The place is conducive to placing two large islands on both sides to meet around its long bench, present in the entire design of this space that opens Madrid.
From the center of the square, coming from the south, two paths open that go to the monument to Cervantes to surround it. One is wider than the other. Both have granite tiles and some parts of earth, for those who prefer to walk on softer elements.
And we come to the Monument to Cervantes, which has remained without being intervened. Although taking advantage of the works the consistory has given him a good facelift. In front of him there is a triangular flower bed with newly planted plants, in which it looks more brown than green (as in many other gardens in the square, recently planted).
The monument with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza marks the transition from the green square to the great esplanade of Plaza España, a place that lends itself to large events, markets and high concentrations of people in general. As a sign of its potential, on the day of its inauguration it was occupied by a large structure of Madrid’s regional television, which despite its enormous size hardly occupied the available space.
In the western part of the square, the one closest to the Argüelles neighborhood, is one of the most controversial elements of this reform, the future Café de Cervantes, the green hotel establishment still half finished. The City Council affirms that it will have a green roof and the only terrace in this space.
An underground tree has also been placed around the esplanade. It is planted in the first basement, through which you access the car park located under the basement of the square. This infrastructure opens with the new design two elevators and stairs. Several municipal rental venues were scheduled to open in this place, one of them for restaurants. But it is still under construction.
Trees aside, two of the novelties that most attract attention in the reform are the two metal sculptures located on both sides of the esplanade and the posts that hold the spotlights throughout the new facilities.
And where is the fountain that occupied this place? It was known as Fuente de la Concha and many Madrilenians have missed it when they saw the design of the new Plaza España. It is not installed yet, but it will return to this enclave. Only now it will be located in the south instead of the north. Specifically on the way to the Temple of Debod.
We return to the East – West connection that we left before to go to the esplanade. There the works are not yet finished and one of these spaces is the one that will occupy the aforementioned fountain, the work of the Murcian artist Antonio Campillo. It will be in the following hole:
To get here you can go walking or by bicycle, in one of the two-way lanes that facilitate cyclist mobility through the square, in this case the North – South. Next to it, a Bicimad station has been installed, not yet operational.
The part closest to the beginning of the Parque del Oeste and the connection with Calle Ferraz is the most delayed part of the work. There are no deadlines to finish it and apparently there are still several months of work to go. The only thing that seems finished is the surroundings of the Monument to May 2, 1808. The rest is surrounded by fences.
Almost next to the beginning of the Parque del Oeste are the remains of the San Gil Barracks, which are already in place. They are still surrounded by construction materials and away from pedestrian traffic, so there is still time to enjoy them up close.
Another element that is already working is the tunnel that crosses the Plaza de España under its basement. It is another of the great novelties of the project and to which a good part of its budget has been dedicated. It links the streets of Bailén with Ferraz through 1,150 meters of galleries, which the mayor has covered in part this Monday morning. It also has a connection with the Cuesta de San Vicente. The entrance from Princesa is made through Ventura Rodríguez street.
Finally, it remains to review the execution of the bike path that goes up the Cuesta de San Vicente, from its corner to the entrance of Campo del Moro. Most of it runs parallel to the road, although at the level of the sidewalk. When meeting the two existing bus stops on the way up, it passes behind them, invading part of the pedestrian traffic.
The passage through the pedestrian zone is through the underpass, next to the traffic and where the sidewalk used to be. In the project it was foreseen that it would go up to the promenade, which implied a greater slope. A sign that prohibits pedestrian access to this bike lane tries to dissuade walkers from using this underpass instead of climbing the neighboring stairs, although with little success: a municipal operator was in charge of warning pedestrians at the inauguration of that this road was for the exclusive use of bicycles.
And to close, an allusion to some of the complaints that have been heard the most in social networks – not among the people who walked the square this Monday – about the abundance of pavement and the absence of green. Grass is abundant on some of the islets painted green in the project, the ones closest to the España Building.
However, there are still many small trees that will take time to grow – the project includes a balance of a thousand more plants – and abundant land in sight waiting for the grass that has just been planted to germinate. It will do so as long as the pigeons do not prevent it, who like good Madrilenians also came to the premiere to see how their new Plaza España had been to feast on seeds.