Everyone loves a good old ‘did you know…?’ story, so here are six incredible historical discoveries that are still in evidence today. Store each of these old photographs in a primely positioned corner of your mind and walk the streets of Madrid seeing double. It might take you a while you get anywhere, but it’s unacceptable to be in a rush here anyway.
ATOCHA’S ‘SPAGHETTI JUNCTION’
It’s hard to imagine that Madrid had its very own spaghetti junction just outside Atocha station, and even more mind-boggling to imagine that this complex network of roads is now underground. Madrid plans to move many more of its major roads to below street level and turn them into public open spaces like the Madrid Río development, which now hosts dozens of native bird and plant species that hadn’t been seen in the area for decades.
THE TEMPLE TO ISIS SAVED FROM FLOODING
Templo de Debod was built in Egypt around 2,100 years ago and dedicated to the goddess Isis. By 1964, when this photo was taken, it stood abandoned and in a state of ruin, destined for a watery grave in a newly dammed reservoir near the Nile. In recent years, Spain had rescued many other Egyptian temples from abandonment, so Debod was offered to Madrid as a thank you. It now stands at one of Madrid’s highest points, defiantly watching the sun set every day… quite a contrast to its previous underwater sentence.
THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN THE WORLD
This is a Nazi at a kiosk in Madrid in 1958. Otto Skorzeny was once officially the most dangerous man in the world, until he retired here in Madrid. And why was it that he chose to live here?
“I am not a political refugee. I’m in Spain simply because I like it. Spain is my second country and I will finish my life here.”
After 20 sun-drenched, sangria-soaked years, Otto died of lung cancer in 1975, right in time for the end of the dictatorship just four months later.
MADRID’S OLD LONDON BUSES
Did you know that Madrid’s original fleet of double-decker buses were actually red London buses painted blue? If you’d like to see them unaltered since the day they were decommissioned – complete with vintage adverts, wooden seating and old-fashioned ticket machines – they now reside in EMT’s transport museum.
THE WOMEN ON THE HALFTH-FLOOR BALCONIES
Given we’ve never seen anyone standing on the halfth-floor balconies just off Plaza Mayor, this photo is a very fun find.
THE FRIARS BURIED INSIDE A METRO STATION
Just a few metres behind Tirso de Molina’s yellow platform walls lie the disturbed remains of around 200 friars. They’d been laid to rest under an old convent that stood on Plaza Tirso de Molina before being demolished in 1834.
Fast-forward almost 100 years and this old convent had been lost in time – very few remembered it and there were mostly only spooky rumours of its existence. When construction of the metro station began in around 1920, the workers had no idea that they were digging into a graveyard, and when they accidentally exhumed the friars, they fled with horror.
After much debate over what to do with the remains, they were finally unceremoniously dumped behind the walls of the station platforms and sealed in.
Some say they can still hear the ghosts of these souls while waiting for the last metro home…
Read about the ‘metro of the dead’ and the ‘graveyard of the poor’ in Madrid’s lost stories (Vol. II).