The Telefonica building: Madrid’s first skyscraper

Europe’s tallest building

The Telefónica building is one of Gran Via’s most impressive sights. Standing at 90 meters tall, this stately white edifice was the brainchild of Ignacio de Cárdenas, an architect who took his inspiration from Manhattan’s impressive skyscrapers, but also added his own Spanish touch with ornamental Baroque flourishes. When the project was completed in March 1929 – amazingly for Spain, ahead of schedule – it was Madrid’s first skyscraper and very briefly Europe’s tallest building.

But it wasn’t just there to stamp the identity of the phone company onto Madrid, it also served as an exchange for the entire country. If you’d like to get an idea of what the vibe was like in the building then, take a look at Netflix’s Las Chicas del Cable (Cable Girls) which is set (though not filmed) in the very same building. It’s all about the lives of the female telefonistas manning the exchanges. Though the show is a tad melodramatic for my tastes, it does do a decent job of portraying the spirit of the era, an age in which a few lucky women were finally getting a taste of financial independence.



Civil War target

Just six years after the Edificio Telefónica officially opened in January 1930, civil war broke out and the building was used to house foreign correspondents such as Hemingway. But this was no safe haven away from the combat, the structure was within range of Franco’s troops who were positioned to take the city in Casa de Campo. During the siege of Madrid, artillery fire went both ways and the facade took quite a battering.

The damage from the war has since been repaired and these days, a good chunk of the building has been converted into an exhibition space. While Caixa Forum and Fundación MAPFRE have recently introduced entry fees to their Madrid-based galleries, Telefónica has thankfully remained free to all. If you’re in the vicinity, it’s a great space to visit with a constantly changing lineup of exhibitions. Phone geeks are in for a treat as the building houses a permanent collection that covers the development of telephones and telecommunications devices through the ages.

For a look at how the building was constructed take a peek at the video below which contains bonus footage of an awkward looking Ignacio de Cárdenas, strolling jerkily around the bones of his epic creation.

Keen to find out more about the history of Madrid? See another side of the city with one of my unique walking tours.

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