How Madrid lost its mojo
A great capital with fine museums and a lively vibe is grippedby an identity crisis
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, a favourite with location with tourists, but visitor numbers to the city were down 22 per cent in August compared to the same month last year.
It sits, grey and unpainted, just outside central Madrid, on the city’s northeastern industrial outskirts. With one side of its semi-circular roof tilting skywards, it could be a massive, unfinished concrete spaceship.
La Peineta stadium was supposed to be at the heart of Madrid’s drive towards economic recovery and renewed global recognition. But since the International Olympic Committee’s decision last month that Tokyo should host the 2020 Games, it has become just another symbol of the city’s faded lustre.
The building will, one day, be home to Atlético Madrid football team. But it was also meant to be Madrid’s Olympic Stadium. It stands opposite the uncompleted skeleton of the Centro Acuático, which would have hosted the games’ swimming competitions.
Madrid’s third consecutive failure to stage sport’s biggest event was a devastating blow. But it’s not the only reason that Madrileños feel their city has lost its mojo.
“People feel very down at the moment,” said Sandra Astete, a lawyer. “Madrid needs to do something to improve its identity – politically, socially and culturally.”
Sonia Felipe Fernández, a fashion designer, agrees. “There’s a feeling nowadays that we’ve lost the excitement we used to have,” she said. “We had a lot of that 20 years ago, Madrid was a very exciting city. But now it’s becoming calmer, more normal.”
This is perhaps inevitable, given Spain’s ongoing economic crisis. On October 23rd, the Bank of Spain announced that the country had finally emerged from a two-year recession. But the recovery is weak and unemployment remains at 26 per cent. Yet Madrid seems to have suffered more than most and it is now in the red to the tune of €7.5 billion.
Cinemas, theatres and music venues have also been closing. The annual Madrid jazz festival, which over the last 30 years has drawn artists such as Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman to the Spanish capital, has just been cancelled, only weeks before it was due to start.
A very public spat between local authorities and the promoters of the event over venues and money played out just as Barcelona’s own jazz festival was getting under way, reflecting how that city seems to be thriving in comparison.
“Madrid lacks a coherent, attractive cultural agenda and what’s more, it seeks to privatise venues and apply market rules to the field of culture. It wants to get rid of anything that isn’t profitable in
noted jazz critic Carlos Pérez Cruz wrote on his blog.
Madrid has never boasted many major landmarks, but its plethora of museums, restaurants and bars have traditionally made it an atmospheric, lively and enjoyable place to visit.
But 1,500 bars and cafes have closed down in Madrid and the surrounding region in the last five years and visitors are not coming in the droves they once did. The Richard Rogers-designed €6 billion Terminal 4 at Barajas airport is not seeing the kind of traffic that was hoped for when it was completed in 2006, and Barcelona airport has surpassed the capital’s as the nation’s busiest.