Author & illustrator: Teddy Wansink
Paris has the Eiffel Tower; New York has the Statue of Liberty. But Madrid almost had this: a 200-meter-high globe in the middle of Retiro Park. This “Monumento a Colón” was designed before 1892 to commemorate 400 years since Columbus landed in the Americas, and to attempt to justify the Spanish Empire at a time when it was crumbling.
The globe was designed by architect Alberto de Palacio, who’d planned a monument of massive proportions: 4.1 million cubic meters in volume and 200 meters in diameter. Palacio was no stranger to extravagant buildings. In fact, he’d already designed the Crystal Palace, Atocha Station, the Bank of Spain and is behind the ornate tile work along the metro’s line 1. But the design of the globe would earn him international acclaim, winning him first prize at the Chicago World’s Fair, even before it was set to be built.
The skyscraping globe was meant to serve as a monument for the people. Around the globe’s equator, there’d be a walkway for spectators to enjoy the views of the city. Inside, the celestial sphere was set to represent the night Columbus first made contact with the Americas. But the crowning jewel adorning the spherical monument was to be a replica of Columbus’ ship, the Santa María, which would house some of the country’s most elegant museums, theaters and restaurants in a nod to Spain’s high society.
In the end, the project’s budget ended up astronomically high and the globe was never built. That failure, however, didn’t stop the wave of Columbus fervor that took over Spain at the turn of the century. From Granada to Salamanca, cities began erecting statues of Columbus. Look no further than the Columbus Monument in Plaza Colón: an unsettling tribute to Spain’s imperialist past that has no place in 21st-century Madrid.
Teddy Wansink is a video editor, writer, and history nerd with a soft spot for Madrid. You can see more of his work here.