Urban Spain through Literature: Literary Maps of Madrid and Barcelona

Anyone who has ever traveled with me knows I am a bit obsessed with maps – I’m either wandering around following my route via Google Maps, attempting to get my bearings and update what I refer to as “my internal GPS” (I’m generally very good with directions!), or I’m in the car paging through the good old-fashioned Rand McNally Road Atlas, studying distances, reading population statistics and other trivia, and generally marveling at the massive scale of the midwestern and western US states. I realize now that two of my favorite souvenirs are maps! I wrote about the illustrated map of Mexico I purchased from a Mexico City kiosk last summer, and in this post I’m going to discuss my FAVORITE souvenir from my FAVORITE city, which I framed and hung in my office: a Literary Map of Madrid. A student visited my office at the beginning of the semester and asked me about it, and we spent some time reading some of the quotes, most of which I had only skimmed over a few years ago when I bought it. But paying closer attention to the map and its contents made me want to do a bit more research and find out if I could purchase additional copies. Good and bad news at the end of this post…

Image via Prodigioso Volcan.

So who created this literary geography of Madrid? Artist Raul Arias designed the original Literary Map of Madrid in 2008 for a digital project, and in 2013 it was printed and sold in limited quantities in only two local Madrid bookstores  (I purchased mine at one in Malasaña that summer). The mapa literario is composed of quotes from famous (mostly Spanish) authors about the city, and their words are placed in roughly the urban area to which they refer — Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Pío Baroja, Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Benito Pérez Galdós, Mariana José de Larra, and Ernest Hemingway all make appearances.  Below I’m pointing out two of the quotes from this map that I particularly enjoy — both from Ramón Gómez de la Serna and both dating to the late 1910s to early 1920s.

Madrid es no tener nada y tenerlo todo (Madrid is having nothing and having everything)  — Ramon Gómez de la Serna

Una pedrada en la Puerta del Sol mueve ondas concéntricas en toda la laguna de España  (A stone thrown in the Puerta del Sol creates concentric waves in the entire lagoon of Spain)  — Ramon Gómez de la Serna

Unfortunately, as is often the case with most objects or texts documenting Spanish literary or cultural history, some of my favorite female authors — Carmen de Burgos, Emilia Pardo Bazán, and Margarita Nelken, each every bit as famous in their day as Ramón or Galdós — do not appear anywhere on the map, despite their prolific writing about the modernizing capital. Women are (again!) underrepresented in this 21st-century depiction of urban and literary history, as it seems Soledad Puértolas and Esther García-Llovet are the only two autoras to have made the cut. To do justice to their writing on the city, I decided to feature several additional literary quotations from some of these absent women. And because I love vintage photographs of early 20th century cities, I’m including additional pictures of Madrid from about the same time period as the quote I selected.

The first is from Carmen de Burgos‘ short novela, “El veneno del arte” (1910), and was pronounced in the text by a bohemian artist, nostalgically singing the praises of the city that most inspired him after having just returned after traveling throughout Europe.

No hay como Madrid en el mundo. Las demás ciudades sirven para pasar una temporada, en Madrid, la vida… (There isn’t another like Madrid in the world. Other cities are fine to spend a time, but in Madrid, one’s life.) — Carmen de Burgos

Madrid, 1910 (Calle de Alcala and the future Gran Via). Image via cochesclasicosdehoy.com

The next quote is from one of my favorite books, the 1917  urban novel La rampa, which was also written by Carmen de Burgos. This particular passage refers to the transformation of the city during Carnaval, or La Verbena del Carmen, and it could be placed just north of the city center on Fuencarral and Hortaleza Street, up through the area known as Cuatro Caminos. The narrator in this text distinguishes the urban Verbana del Carmen from those festivals that took place outside the city center. To illustrate this aspect of La rampa I have chosen paintings – one of a rural Verbena celebration in the San Isidro meadow outside of Madrid, created by José Romano Gutiérrez-Solana between 1908-15; and the second of the same Verbena del Carmen referenced in Burgos’s novel painted by Maruja Mallo in 1927. See my previous post for more details on Mallo’s Verbanas.

La verbena del Carmen se introducía en la ciudad, penetraba en ella, era como una invasión de alegría y de regocijo… No era como las otras verbenas apartadas del centro, en un emplazamiento algo alejado. Esta verbena corría por las calles, con la alegría contagiosa que se propaga como el reguero de una traca… (The Virgen del Carmen Carnival entered the city, penetrated it, it was like an invasion of happiness and celebration… it wasn’t isolated from the city like other Carnivals, in somewhat remote locations. This Carnival ran through the streets, with contagious happiness that spread like the tail of a firecracker)
–Carmen de Burgos

A more rural, carnival setting, just outside the city center: “Verbena en la pradera de San Isidro,” by José Gutiérrez-Solana, 1908-1915. Image via Artnet.

The urban Verbena del Carmen, that took place directly in Madrid’s city center. “Verbena” by Maruja Mallo, 1927. Image via Museo Reina Sofia.

The third quote I’ve included below is from Margarita Nelken’s 1923 novel La trampa del arenal, which also takes place in central Madrid. In addition to general references to Retiro, Puerta del Sol, Calle Princesa, and Moncloa, several streets from the traditionally lower- and working-class, castiza neighborhoods of Lavapies and Embajadores, just south of the city center, are specifically mentioned by name. The street references in this text not only evoke a very particular urban atmosphere and encourage the reader to “map” the action of the narrative, but they also function as a means of characterizing the protagonists in terms of their social class. Salud, for example, is a social climber from this area of the city – “ni artesana ni burguesa” – who manages to obtain a job in a wealthier neighborhood. Yet as she walks home to her poorer neighborhood at night, the narrator establishes a parallel between the divided city center and the doubling or splitting of Salud’s identity:

Al volver a su casa por la noche, en cuanto bajaba la Concepción Jerónima y se internaba en el mundo que todavía no había dejado de ser el suyo, experimenta la desazón del que está a punto de perder la esencia misma de su existencia…  (Upon returning to her home at night, as soon as she went down Concepción Jerónima Street and entered that world that was still hers, she experienced the unsettling feeling that she was about to lose the essence of her existence)
— Margarita Nelken

The working-class neighborhoods of Lavapies contrast sharply with the rapidly modernizing city center in the Madrid of the early 20th century. Phot of a Plaza en Lavapies, circa 1920. Image via Twitter @SecretosdeMadrid.

Finally, Matilde de la Torre‘s description of entering the city by train from Asturias in 1936, from her memoirs of her years serving in the Republican Courts from 1936-38,  is beautiful and poetic… but it is also followed immediately by uglier, darker references to incipient, brutal Spanish Civil war: smoke is also visible from afar as a result of recent artillery shots and bombings… large trucks transport dead bodies through the city streets at night… and families are divided as the men leave to fight and protect the city by day, possibly not returning at night:

La ciudad se presenta de repente a nuestros pies, como sábana urbana que se tendiese bajo nuestra caída del cielo. (The city appeared suddenly at our feet, like an urban sheet thrown out below our fall from the sky) — Matilde de la Torre

Madrid, 1936

Now that I’ve retrieved these words for this blog post and located them within the map composed of male authors, maybe I’ll do a mini crafting project in my office one of these days and add these lines to my framed “Mapa literario de Madrid” with a few elegant neon post-it notes!!!! Returning to the Literary Map, when I was searching for information on the Mapa Literario de Madrid last week, I discovered that Arias had also created a new Literary Map of Barcelona just this year (2017), and it is currently available in bookstores in Barcelona and Madrid, along with the reissued Literary Map of Madrid. The Barcelona map, modeled after the shape of Antoni Gaudí’s mosaic salamander in Barcelona’s Parc Güell, contains quotes — in both Spanish and Catalan — from 34 authors, including Jaime Gil de Biedma, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, and Jacint Verdaguer. I appreciate the more symmetric shape and layout of this map, and also the addition of landmarks like the Sagrada Familia and Torre Glòries (or Torre Agbar).

Image via Prodigioso Volcan.

You can purchase each poster-size, 24 x 36-inch map via La Central’s online store by simply typing “mapa literario” into the search box.  The GOOD news is that copies are available for under 13 euros, which is about what I paid for mine in Madrid 4 years ago. The BAD news is that shipping to the US is an additional 25 euros. So the “Literary Maps” of Madrid and Barcelona can be obtained relatively easily, but with a hefty international shipping cost that puts the purchase of one map at around $45.00 US, which makes them something of “investment posters” if you also plan to frame these rather large images. Although buying the two together reduces the impact of that flat-rate shipping… hmmm… this actually sounds like a good start to my standard Christmas-shopping practice — one item for me, one as a gift…!

Do you have any favorite literary quotes about Madrid or Barcelona – particularly from women writers? Have you read any of the many “urban novels” set in these Spanish cities – which ones?


Carmen de Burgos. “El veneno del arte” in La flor de la playa y otras novelas cortas. Ed. Concepción Núñez Rey. Editorial Castalia, 1989. pp. 219-70.

—. La rampa. Stockcero, 2006.

Margarita Nelken. La trampa del arenal. Editorial Castalia, 2000.

Matilde de la Torre. Las Cortes republicanas durante la Guerra Civil. Madrid 1936, Valencia 1937, Bacelona 1938. Ed. Francisca Vilches-de Frutos. Fondo de Cultura Económica de España, 2015.
** I reviewed this book for Feministas Unidas and blogged a shorter, illustrated version of that review here in early 2017.










About Dr. Rebecca Bender

Spanish professor
This entry was posted in Art, Feminism, History, Literature, Modernity, Spain, Women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Urban Spain through Literature: Literary Maps of Madrid and Barcelona

  1. ensondeluz says:

    Gracias Rebecca, no sabía de estos mapas, me los procuraré cuando vuelva a Madrid en octubre, los dos, por ser madrileño y nieto de abuelo de Barcelona. Saludos. Ramón

  2. Pingback: Mapa gastronomico | Rebecca M. Bender, PhD

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