MADRID (Reuters Life!) - Madrid’s landmark Gran Via boulevard celebrated its 100th birthday on Monday, having overcome a turbulent century in which it has been the scene of civil war and dictatorship.
Millions of locals and tourists stroll the Gran Via every year, following in the footsteps of Orson Welles, Gary Cooper and Ava Gardner, whose photos hang in the Museo del Chicote bar a few blocks from the cinemas where their films were premiered.
Hundreds crowded the Gran Via to watch King Juan Carlos unveil a model of the avenue on the spot where his grandfather, Alfonso XIII, laid the first stone one hundred years ago.
“Everything in Madrid has happened here, and if something has not happened here, then I dare say it is because that something has yet to settle in Madrid,” Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon told El Mundo newspaper.
The king strolled along the Gran Via to a bookstore opposite the Telefonica building, the former telephone exchange from where Ernest Hemingway sent reports during the 1936-39 Civil War as Madrid was bombed by future dictator Francisco Franco’s troops.
The 89-meter-high building was Madrid’s first skyscraper, and symbolized plans for the Gran Via to emulate New York’s Fifth Avenue or Paris’s Champs Elysees.
The boulevard is still a barometer of economic, political and cultural change in Spain. Today, the big cinemas are in decline, but visitors flock to the designer-label outlets, cafes and theatres staging musicals.
One of the most famous events on the Gran Via took place in 1928, when bullfighter Diego “Fortuna” Mazquiaran was called in to deal with an escaped bull which had gored several passers-by.
Alejandro Amenabar, director of the film “Alexandria,” halted the daily flow of 50,000 cars on the Gran Via in 1997 to film a scene from “Open Your Eyes,” starring Penelope Cruz.
Work on the Gran Via began in 1910 after years of debate and three failed plans, and over the years would require the leveling of 48 old streets.
Building continued in 1931, by which time Alfonso III was in exile and Spain had become a republic. The Gran Via’s 1.3 kms were not completed until 1954, by which time Franco’s dictatorship was under way.
The boulevard’s name has changed with history and politics. During the Civil War it was known as Soviet Union Avenue and in Franco’s time was named after Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of Spain’s Fascist Falange party.
The Gran Via got its original name back in 1981, five years after Franco died, when Spain had restored democracy and was on its way to joining the forerunner to the European Union.
Madrid’s Gay Pride march is now the biggest annual event held on the boulevard.
Writing by Martin Roberts