Latest ObsessionLost & Found

Latest obsession: Madrid’s ‘hidden’ drinking fountains

24 June 2018
Outside Tapas Bar Los Dolores

Madrid’s drinking fountains are beautiful, carefully designed and soaked in history. But, you’ve probably walked past dozens thinking very little of them – perhaps you thought they were miniature monuments, a fire hydrant or an electricity box.

They don’t exactly do themselves any favours by being so subtly tucked into dark corners or camouflaged into walls. Many are also disconnected, living on as nothing more than a ghost of Madrid’s more generous past.

GHOST FOUNTAINS

Each fountain costs around €6,000 to install, in addition to ongoing maintenance costs. When one eventually breaks – either because the tap has jammed or the pipes beneath have become contaminated – money is often saved by simply leaving them out of order.

Another money-saving measure across Madrid has been to convert the grander drinking fountains into water features that recycle their water, leaving it unsafe to drink.

The Cruz Verde fountain below was once said to have the best water in the whole city and was one of Madrid’s major water-collection points, with 144 water carriers stationed here at one point.

Cruz Verde fountain and barrels, 1864

Cruz Verde fountain and barrels, 1864

Today, this fountain does little more than provide a soundtrack of running water for the nearby terrace.

Plaza de la Cruz Verde

Plaza de la Cruz Verde today

Here’s another grand fountain in action, once upon a time, with locals queueing up to fill their wooden barrels. Below that we see the fountain today, with its taps switched off.

Fuentecilla on Calle Toledo, 1900s

La Fuentecilla on Calle Toledo, early 20th century

Fuentecilla monument

La Fuentecilla monument today

La Fuentecilla taps

La Fuentecilla’s taps are now turned off

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT

There are currently around 1,600 drinking fountains in Madrid, although if we only count those that work, there are far fewer. It’s partly because of this slightly intentional inconsistency that the city as a whole has grown accustomed to overlooking its fountains. Often, the only way to spot a drinking fountain is if you’re lucky enough to see a thrifty person using one, or a child playing with one.

And it was this eureka moment in the middle of a quiet street in Tetuán, when a toddler decided to push a fountain button and stand under the tap, much to his mother’s horror, that inspired me to embark on a mission to document every drinking fountain I came across on my no-frills adventures around Madrid.

What I didn’t realise when I began this journey, however, was how diverse the designs would be. So, without further ado, here’s a month’s worth of Madrid No Frills adventures captured in 18 drinking fountains, with 15 unique designs, all hidden in plain sight.

15 UNIQUE DESIGNS

Let’s start with one of our favourites: the two-sided fountain built during the Second Republic. It’s a curious fountain because nobody knows why Franco didn’t demolish it during his reign, as he did with almost every other symbol of opposition parties.

Plaza Nelson Mandela

Plaza Nelson Mandela

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the stone fountains have become a lot more minimalist.

El Río

Madrid Río

But just around the corner, there’s a much older stone fountain, simultaneously acting as a bollard to stop rogue car-parking.

Parque de la Arganzuela

Parque de Arganzuela

Also near the river, there are a series of pyramidal fountains in Parque de Peñuelas.

Parque de Peñuelas

Parque de Peñuelas

Meanwhile, at the bottom of Huertas:

Outside Tapas Bar Los Dolores

Outside Taberna La Dolores

And in the heart of Malasaña:

Plaza de San Idelfonso

Plaza de San Idelfonso

To the top of Calle Segovia:

Calle de San Justo

Calle de San Justo

And down at the bottom of Calle Segovia:

Jardín Muralla Árabe

Jardín Muralla Árabe

In the middle of El Rastro, this small stone fountain often gets buried on Sundays by a scarf stall:

Plaza de Cascorro

Plaza de Cascorro

You might also struggle to spot this one on Sundays in El Rastro, buried deep within a labyrinth of second-hand clothes stalls.

Plaza de los Carros

Plaza del General Vara de Rey

Here’s a more modern drinking fountain, made – I think – of cast iron:

Plaza del General Vara del Rey

Plaza de Carros

And its sister, around the corner from Cava Baja:

Calle del Almendro

Calle del Almendro

And a cousin in front of an abandoned building in the barrio of Villaverde Alto:

Villaverde Alto

Villaverde Alto

This one is right opposite the Prado, should all that queueing leave you thirsty:

Outside El Prado

Outside the Prado

One of the grandest working fountains I’ve discovered so far sits next to the lake in Retiro Park:

Retiro Park

Retiro Park

Here’s a brand-new drinking fountain installed last year near Plaza Mayor (spot the map-wielding tourist on the right):

Calle Cava de San Miguel (near Plaza Mayor)

Calle Cava de San Miguel (near Plaza Mayor)

There’s even a sort-of drinking fountain in Mercado de la Cebada, mostly used by fishmongers hosing down after the Saturday Seafood Party:

Mercado de la Cebada

Mercado de la Cebada

And, finally, this beautiful fountain, which spurts from the lion’s mouth but is sadly disconnected – for now:

Calle Ribera de Curtidores

Calle Ribera de Curtidores

Over the next few years, the city hall has promised to fix up 583 drinking fountains and install a further 180 throughout Madrid, so the hunt for Madrid’s unique drinking fountains is not over.

STAY HYDRATED, NO-FRILLS STYLE

I always carry an aluminium bottle with me but often leave the house without even filling it up. It’s thanks to my recent obsession with Madrid’s drinking fountains, and to this drinking fountain map, that I now know I’m never more than a five-minute walk from one, and nor are homeless people. One of the biggest but hidden problems facing homeless people around the world is where to find clean drinking water but, at least in Madrid, this is not the case.

And, if you ever can’t find a working fountain, however, just pop into the nearest no-frills bar and ask the waiter to fill up your bottle. So here’s to the death of the plastic bottle and the invasion of the Madrid zero waste movement!

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