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Old March 6th, 2012, 12:18 AM   #1
Nolke
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Spanish cities from above in 1855

I'm going to post a series of pictures by French architect and litographer Alfred Guesdon that depict Spanish cities as seen from above in 1855.

For doing this, he used balloons to take photographs of several cities. Back then, photography needed extremely long exposures (in this case, they used collodion process), and as the balloon moves the pictures wouldn't have been particularly great. But it seems that they were good enought to enable him to draw the view, and those pictures would later become litographs.

The reason why this pictures are so interesting for us is that they provide information about how pre-industrial cities in Spain actually were. Because, although some modern transformation can be seen (during the first half of the century the demolishment of many urban convents and monasteries, thanks to a huge ecclesiastical confiscation, had given place to a lot of new public spaces, like new squares and promenades, and there can be seen also some industries, steam ships and railways), the cities of these images hadn't changed much yet.

All the events that shaped the Spanish industrial cities were still to happen (in fact, most of them would start to take place during the decade when the pictures were made or in the next one): spectacular growth of population, the demolishment of city walls, the dissappear of sails in the ports, the development of huge planned city-expansions (like Barcelona's Eixample), the opening of new avenues within the historical cores by demolishing parts of them (like Gran Vía in Madrid), etc.

Let's begin!
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Old March 6th, 2012, 12:28 AM   #2
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I'm going to make some comments of the different pictures and I'm not really familiar with the history of every town, so if anyone wants to make a correction, please do it.



Starting with Barcelona. This town is now becoming the industrial powerhouse of the country and it's probably the only city where the marks of the Industrial Revolution can be easily noticed at these pictures.

All you can see in this image is the old medieval city (Ciutat Vella). In this moment, Gaudí is a very little child and the grand 19th cent. city expansion with its famos grid-plan (the Eixample, or ensanche, planned by Cerdá) was still nothing but a project: it would be finally approved 5 years later.

At left, you can see a very busy port, still with a lot of sails. Then the walls: Barcelona was fortified towards the sea and most of the port instalations were out of its limits, close to the Barceloneta neighborhood (a grid-plan neighborhood, located off the left edge of the picture). Barceloneta had been created a century before, to host the displaced population after part of the old town was demolished to erect in its place a fortress from where royal forces could not only defend the city from external attacks (which were unlikely) but rather for supressing more easily the usual popular rebellions against the crown that took place over here from time to time. The fortress (la Ciutadella or Ciudadela), can't be seen either (it would be next to our position to our right, almost below us) and would be demolished in 1868. You can see it at this 1806 map. On top of its ruins, the city would soon create its first public park (the current Parc de la Ciutadella).

To enter the city, you'd cross a gate, the Portal de Mar, getting into what was the real heart of Barcelona for centuries, where the institutions that really drived the city (the commercial ones) were stablished: Pla de Palau (Palace Square). Along history, several public buildings were erected here, such as the llotja (the trade exchange building), the douane, the consulate of the sea (trading regulator) and the viceroy palace. You can see some of them in the picture.

Beyond, there's the medieval city, with its churches still dominating the cityscape (in the foreground you have the glorious church of Santa María del Mar, and beyond, on the right side, the cathedral). Historically, most of the buildings in this town would have been significantly lower (just 1 or 2 floors). But Barcelona had grown lately despite the fact that it hadn't expanded its surface; its population doubled during the last 50 years, so it became much denser. In the background you can see the reason for this growth: the most peripheral quarters and some of the little towns that surrounded the city were filling with chimmeys. Also, in the bottom side you can see the first railway in mainland Spain, which connected Barcelona with some towns to the north, and its terminal station (close to current Estación de Francia). Other signs of modernization (dating back to the end of the 18th cent.) are the gardens that can be seen at both the lower-left corner (dividing the city and the Ciutadella fortress) and in the linear promenade of La Rambla. This was a former river bed that ran along the first medieval city walls. That preserved it from urbanization and allowed it to progressively become what it is nowadays, a burgeois boulevard, also thanks to the demolishment of some large religious buildings in this area after the ecclesiastical confiscation at the beginning of the century (the desamortización).
And finally, in the background, you can see the Montjuïc mountain with its castle on top.
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Old March 6th, 2012, 12:46 AM   #3
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I have a book with these images!

It's called "Ciudades del globo al satélite". It's an edition of the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, published in 1994.
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Old March 6th, 2012, 01:28 AM   #4
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I've heard about an exposition with the same name actually that was supposed to be great, but I didn't know there was a book about it. Gonna have to check it out, thank you!

Next is Segovia. A very different story...



The view from here should have been pretty much the same in the 16th century, when the cathedral was built and the castle (the alcázar, in the foreground, over the confluence of the two river valleys where Segovia stands) was renovated. It was back then when the alcázar got its typical conical slate roofs that makes it -look so fairy-tale. The keep, where you can see the flag waving, is one century older. But honestly, the view is almost the same also today, as the modern expansion of the city (not very important actually, even if there's a difference between the few more than 5 thousand people that lived here when this picture was made and the few more than 55k that live here now) took place towards the other side of the city limits (where the famous aqueduct is located), leaving an impeccable view of the historic core from here.

You can also see the towers of the city's romanesque churches, the walls winding on the hillside and some of the churches and monasteries outside the walls.

But this is not such an interesting picture anyway because, as I said, you can still go and enjoy this view with your own eyes (the fact that this isn't the view from a balloon but from a nearby hill really helps).
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Old March 6th, 2012, 01:35 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nolke View Post
I've heard about an exposition with the same name actually that was supposed to be great, but I didn't know there was a book about it. Gonna have to check it out, thank you!
The good thing about the book is that it has not only images from spanish cities but also from other countries in Europe and from the US. It's a stunning book, you should try to get it.
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Old March 6th, 2012, 08:21 PM   #6
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And this is Málaga.



This the view from the Gibralfaro castle, a moorish fortress on top of a mountain. From here you can see the whole old city of Málaga. Most of the current historic core developed originally under islamic domination as the port had a lot of trading activity with the rest of the islamic Mediterranean. After the christian conquest in 1487, the port would lose its importance as it lost affinity with its former commercial partners, and so did the city. But they both would reborn later, in the 18th c., after the deregulation of trade with the American colonies (prior to that, certain cities had a monopoly on this). Towards the end of that century, Málaga had more than 50k inhabitants and, when this picture was drawn in 1855, it had more than 80k.

So what you can see in the foreground of this drawing are the two moorish fortresses: the Gibralfaro castle (defensive) and the alcazaba (which was rather a fortified palace), located down the hillside. Just in front of the alcazaba you can see a huge square-shaped building, that's the douane, built in the 18th c., whose size proves that the harbour was becoming something important. And beyond there's the city, dominated by its unfinished 16th c. cathedral (you can see it lacks a tower and a roof, among other things), built on the site of the former main mosque.

At the left edge of the town, close to the sea, you can see a tree-lined avenue, that's the Alameda Principal, an area developed during the 18th c. with a more rational understanding of urbanism and architecture; another sign of early modernization that proves the economic revival of the city by that time. The traders would establish themselves over there, turning it into the new city centre.

The seafront was something beautiful back then because, as you can see, the old town reached to the very shore. Along the years, the city gained a lot of land to the sea and so the old city got further away from it (the shore now reaches the position of the ships in the picture). In fact, the whole town lost its connection with the Mediterranean as an ugly and (until recently) inaccesible modern harbour was created there, although it's gained space for creating more appealing things, like a park.

It can barely be seen, but in the right edge (just below the Spanish flag) there's one of the nicest examples of public squares created on open wastelands (like the site of demolished monasteries, which was the most usual, but this is not the case) by the beginning of the century. It's surrounded by harmonious buildings, all with the same volume, and with an obelisk in the centre: Plaza de la Merced, where Picasso was born.

At last but not least, in the background you can see several chimmeys. Well, this town, nowadays mostly known for massive (and tacky) beach tourism and located in the very poor Andalusian region was actually one of the first cities in Spain to get a decent industry (steel and textile) what would give it a certain burgeois ambiance. Sadly, it wouldn't last much... Its industrial sector failed before the end of the 19th century.

By that time, Málaga could have been considered a gorgeous, or at least a very interesting city. Unfortunately, the remains of that old town were harshly mistreated during the second third of the 20th century. Pretty much everyone in Spain nowadays think that Málaga is an ugly town, and while that's unfair, it probably means that there's something wrong with it. It suffered way too much.
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Old March 7th, 2012, 02:35 AM   #7
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wonderful
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Old March 7th, 2012, 04:58 PM   #8
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Toledo



This is almost the same as Segovia: an old medieval city with an outstanding setting, on top of a hill dominating a river valley (the Tagus river in this case), in which the two most prominent buildings are the alcázar (fortified palace), that in Toledo also had its last renovation in the 16th. century, and the cathedral (this one built in the 13th c.). So, just like in Segovia, this cityscape had barely changed sinced the 16th century and hasn't changed much today either. And also like in Segovia, that's possible because the growth of the city (which again, wasn't very significant) took place in the opposite direction to this view. No wonder why both cityscapes are among the cliché postcards of Spain. I think the only significant differences with today's view is that in this picture you can see how the Alcázar (as other buildings) was in a really bad shape (it's missing the roofs on the corners) and the remains of a Roman aqueduct over the river in the right side of the view, just in front of the brige, that's been mostly lost (I couldn't find out why).

There's a difference between those two towns though, but it can't be perceived in these images: although there're some specific examples of mudéjar (moorish art done under christian rule) there, Segovia is entirely a christian city, with a christian street plan, where romanesque is probably the dominant style; in Toledo, you can find a typically islamic urban plan (chaotic) and mudéjar is its essence. Toledo is one of the symbols of cultural cross breeding in Spain.

Something particularly interesting in Toledo are those tall bridges that cross the valley gorge (both date back to medieval times).

These are the kind of Castilian cities (inland region) that were filled up of monuments during the middle and modern ages, as they were so important back then, and that have been superbly preserved thanks to the fact that the growth of the country has concentrated in the coast since the beginning 18th century due to commerce, industrialization or beach tourism. After the deregulation of commerce with the Americas, the country, specially the crown of Castile, ceased to be inward-looking, moving its activity from the interior to the coast in order to create ties with the rest of the world. And that was a death sentence for inland cities like Toledo, which in addition happened to be too close to Madrid as to keep any regional centrality.
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Old March 8th, 2012, 05:08 PM   #9
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Oh...fantastic stuff, please continue.
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Old March 8th, 2012, 05:34 PM   #10
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wow!! wonderfoul thread!!
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Old March 16th, 2012, 05:20 AM   #11
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Excellent thread !!!

The drawings are amazing and the comments are great as well.....

Keep them comming pls!
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Old March 16th, 2012, 08:33 PM   #12
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Thanks for the kind comments!

Next is Cádiz






Cadiz was a fortified island (it's actually a tombolo) in the middle of the Atlantic. Despite it's supposed to be one of the oldest cities in Europe, this isolated town didn't have any relevance after the fall of Rome and until the 18th century. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Seville had the monopoly of trade with the Americas while the southern Spanish coast couldn't develop under the fear of the constant attacks by Berber pirates and English and Dutch privateers. But sailing up the Guadalquivir river to reach Seville was kind of problematic and, as the pirate activity relaxed in the 18th c., the House of Trade of the Indies (Casa de Contratación de Indias), the institution that controled the state monopoly of trade, moved to Cádiz in 1717. And hence the little town became a vibrant city, going from about 2 or 3 thousand inhabitants to more than 80k in 1787 (not to mention that around the bay where the island of Cádiz is located, other cities, some of them completely new, reached almost similar sizes, and that's just because the Cádiz island was to small to host all the economic activity that it atracted; so altogether the different cities located in different islands and coastal promontories surrounded by marshes of the bay of Cádiz, all of them part of the same urban thing, made up what was the biggest Spanish city of its time by far).

In the 19th century, when this picture was made, much of that dinamism had vanished. It had been so since the already mentioned deregulation of commerce (the end of the city's monopoly) but still its port was buoyant. You can still see so many ships, many of which constituted the link between Spain and its last colonies in the Americas, like Cuba, whose capital, Havana, is supposed to be an exact replica of Cádiz (or viceversa...). Its coastal fortifications, its architectural styles and colors and the lack of significant buildings older than the 18th c. make Cádiz look like a colonial city.

In this two pictures you can see the continuous line of the so-called castillos and bastions along the waterfront. Specially, you can see the Castillo de San Sebastián with the lighthouse, in its own islands united to the city by an isthmus in the second picture, facing the Castillo de Santa Catalina which is next to the beach of La Caleta ("the little cove"). In the first picture, there's the dense frontline of buildings facing the sea. This town had a unique burgeois ambiance, filled with traders from all of Europe. On top of the traders' house, there were watchtowers that can be seen in the picture (particularly the tallest of them, by the area shaded by a cloud, named Torre Tavira): from them, the rich traders could control the departure and arrival of their ships. But the most important protuberances are the churches like in anywhere else and, particularly, the two towers and the big dome of the cathedral.
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Old March 16th, 2012, 10:23 PM   #13
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incredible!! thaks for all that information!
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Old March 17th, 2012, 07:43 PM   #14
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Thanks, you're welcome

El Escorial



Not much to say about urbanism in this case. This isn't even a city but a little town that grew around the huge and famous palace-monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial, the seat of the Spanish habsburg kings, by the mountains close to Madrid. El Escorial is a square-shaped building with 14 courtyards and a huge basilica within, whose dome and front towers dominate this view. It was designed by the royal architect of Philip II of Spain (Juan de Herrera) in the second half of the 16th century. Its sober style would later have a huge influence in Castilian architecture, so much so that slate spires like those in the corners of the building have become one of the hallmarks of the region (you can see them, to name some example, in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid). Around the palace-monastery you can see several buildings with a rational design that were built in the 16th and 18th century for administrative purposes. And you can also see the gardens (no doubt they were small in comparison to the building, but originally this was supposed to be in the middle of a wooded area anyway: the abundance of animals to hunt was probably one of the main reason for stablishing the complex in this area).

Nowadays, there would be more houses in this view, more roads, that river in the bottom left corner doesn't exist anymore. But, all in all, it's pretty much the same.
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Old March 17th, 2012, 09:03 PM   #15
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A fantastic thread, thanks for giving all the information! Where did you get those fantastic images from?
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Old April 8th, 2012, 02:34 AM   #16
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very interesting to see those cities during the 19th century!
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Old April 9th, 2012, 05:48 PM   #17
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Nice thread!
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Old April 14th, 2012, 05:33 PM   #18
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This is a really great informative thread!!
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Old April 16th, 2012, 03:31 PM   #19
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I would love to see more!
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Old April 19th, 2012, 01:36 AM   #20
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great thread!! have you anything from Palma?
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