By Richard Morley.
So basically, after months of work, nothing has changed and while it might be more aesthetically pleasing to have Columbus face the oncoming traffic coming up from the Paseo de Recoletos, all symbolism has been lost.
Apart from providing work for the unemployed I really fail to see the reason for this.
I have to visit the Plaza Colon twice every week, so I watched while the work progressed with some curiosity. Where he stood before, in the corner of the plaza, visitors could get a close up view of the relief carvings at the base of the column in safety. Now it would be a brave tourist indeed who attempted to defy the traffic for a few digital pictures to take back home.
But this is not the first time he has been moved. Since the time the column was first erected in the late 1800s by his descendants, not by a grateful nation, Madrid seems to have been uncomfortable with wherever they put him.
The monument, base and column by Arturo Mélida and the Italian Marble statue of Columbus on top by Jerónimo Suñol, was erected between 1881 and 1885 in what was then named the Plaza de Santiago, or Saint James’ Square. This was renamed the Plaza de Colón in 1893. With the demolishing of the Royal Mint, which stood on the Calle Serrano side of the plaza, in 1970, the plaza was remodelled into an open, mostly concrete area, and an area known as the “Jardines de Descubrimiento”, the Gardens of Discovery, containing the huge, monolithic monument by Joaquín Vaquero Turcios dedicated to the men and vessels of Columbus’s voyage. At the moment the view of much of these “Macro Sculptures” is obscured by the portacabins of the company charged with the remodelling of the Calle Serrano and the high speed rail link between Atocha and Chamartin. Unfortunately I doubt they will be moving those for some time yet.
All wrapped up and nowhere to go.So, at the beginning of October I watched as Columbus was hoisted from his pinnacle and dumped, wrapped in green netting, rather unceremoniously on the roadside. Then painstakingly the column and then the base was removed slice by slice. Piece by piece each section was laid behind a flimsy security fence in the gutter of the Paseo De Recoletos. One of Madrid’s priceless monuments could have been crushed to dust under the wheels of some passing juggernaut with a single instance of careless driving.
But to give them their due, when all was ready, the new column went up in a fraction of the time it took to get the thing down. Now, pristinely shiny white, the great man now surveys the traffic coming up Recoletos while pointing the way to Atocha Railway station. I suppose this time of high speed trains is a New World of sorts!
Post Script: The base of the old column seems to have proved too tough for the demolishers. They have concreted over the rough surface and left it in place. So, like London's Trafalgar Square, Madrid now has its own "empty plinth". In London it seems to be used for very strange temporary displays. Suggestions below, please, for what Madrid's empty plinth could be used for.
The Empty Plinth.
Yes, I know! I finished the last sentence with a preposition. Please don't comment on that!