Madrid’s ‘killer’ tornado of 1886

Author: Leah Pattem

On Wednesday May 12, 1886, according to several reports at the time, the whole of Spain woke up to strong storms. By 6pm that same day, a tornado touched down in the capital and began a diagonal line of destruction between the then-town of Carabanchel and Madrid’s city-centre Retiro Park.

Coined the ‘killer’ for the 47 lives it claimed, the tornado hit Carabanchel Alto first, continuing towards Carabanchel Bajo and the Manzanares, destroying the river-side laundrettes and killing many of the women working there. It continued ripping up land, trees and houses on its way to Puente de Toledo, then Puerta de Toledo.

The Palace of Vistalegra © La Illustración Española y Americana, May 22, 1886

Curiously, the tornado spared Atocha Station leaving the steel and glass construction largely undamaged. The ‘killer’ pulled away only after tearing through Retiro Park, destroying 400 trees in the Botanical Gardens, razing the building where Casa de Vacas now stands overlooking the park’s rectangular lake, and damaging the barrio of Ventas. You can read about the storm in detail here.

A year later, the Crystal Palace, which housed Madrid’s Human Zoo, was built – an odd move given the previous year’s damage but, perhaps they thought lightning won’t strike twice in the same place.

What remains of the tornado damage is limited to artist illustrations which, following Storm Filomena in 2021, no longer seem hard to believe.

Drawing © La Ilustración Católica, 25 May 1886


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