Madrid sacrifices palace for car park

Madrid's city fathers were unrepentant yesterday after authorising the destruction this week of the remains of the city's first royal palace, belonging to 16th- and 17th-century Habsburg monarchs, to make way for an underpass and a car park.

The remains of two facades uncovered deep in the bowels of Orient Square in the ancient heart of the capital were bulldozed in defiance of a vigorous last-minute campaign to halt the work. The square, once the favourite venue for Fascist rallies, fronts the present-day royal palace and has been a building site for years.

One of the two directors of the excavations, Manuel Retuerce, resigned over the destruction. He had submitted a report to the regional government urging them to conserve the remains, which he described as "unique in the history of Madrid", and proposing that they be integrated into an ambitious redevelopment of the square.

Earlier this year work was suspended for further excavations and a half- hearted exhibition mounted to canvass public opinion. But the regional authorities were more concerned to improve the city's chronic traffic problems. They took the advice of the other director of the project, Esther Andreu, who suggested that if the best parts of the remains were removed and kept, there was no need to preserve the site. "I see no problem in continuing the work in this area," she concluded.

The conservative Mayor of Madrid, Jose Maria Alvarez de Manzano, said yesterday that the remains "were not worth preserving" and that "if there are traffic problems in this part of town, it is the fault of those who are obstinately trying to prevent anything useful being done for the city."

A number of experts, including the director of the Prado Museum, Fernando Checa, tried to stay authorities' hand in recent days, emphasising that the finds were the last traces of a palace from Spain's Golden Age in which several artists, including Diego Velazquez, had lived. One historian has identified the background of Velazquez's masterpiece The Spinning Women as being the chapel of the destroyed palace.

But Mr Alvarez de Manzano said yesterday that Madrid was full of such buildings.

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