Pantheon of Illustrious Men in Madrid  


The Panteón of Hombres Ilustres is the cloister of what was going to be the temple of the royal court: the new Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Atocha. Its construction was encouraged by the express wish of the queen regent, María Cristina of Habsburg. The architect Fernando Arbós y Tremanti (1840-1926), whose designs for the construction of the pantheon and the basilica were chosen at public tender in 1890, was commissioned to build it.

The initial design, in the Neo-byzantine style (recreating the Italian medieval architectural style), was very ambitious as the building would be the venue for royal ceremonies. Construction work began in 1892, but the high cost of the project in addition to the need to carry out another large-scale building project – the Crypt of the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Almudena – meant that work was concluded in 1899, with only the church-pantheon and the bell-tower (campanile) completed. The historic building complex would be completed after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) with the construction of the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Atocha (1951) to replace the church which had been destroyed in the struggle.

Representación del proyecto de Fernando Arbós
Representation of Fernando Arbós’ original design

After it was officially opened, the remains of celebrated statesmen were transferred to tombs there. The following is a list of persons whose tombs are currently housed in the pantheon:

    Manuel Gutiérrez de La Concha, Marquis of Duero
    Antonio de los Ríos y Rosas
    Práxedes Mateo Sagasta
    Antonio Cánovas del Castillo
    José Canalejas
    Eduardo Dato
    Agustín de Argüelles
    José Calatrava
    Juan Álvarez Mendizábal
    Diego Muñoz Torrero
    Francisco Martínez de la Rosa
    Salustiano Olózaga

Other remains buried in this pantheon were those of Juan Prim y Prats (1814-1870), José Palafox (1775-1847), which were taken to Zaragoza in 1958 and deposited in the Basilica del Pilar, and those of Francisco Javier Castaños (1758-1852), which were taken to Bailén town (Jaén) and deposited in its Church of the Encarnación with the original mausoleum in 1963.

The building has a square ground plan comprising three galleries, at the intersections of which there are two semi-spherical domes and a very well-kept interior garden, with beautiful arcades and stained glass windows which give onto the galleries. On each gallery there is a central door leading to the garden. Entrance to the building is through a square hallway located in the middle of the Eastern façade, at the ends of which are situated the two domes that project over a geometrical body which concludes with a pediment.

Arquería de la galería Norte y jardín interior
Series of arches in the North gallery and interior garden.
Alzado del proyecto original de F. Arbós de las tres fachadas exteriores que constituyen el claustro
Elevation of the original design by F. Arbós of the three exterior façades constituting the cloister.

Aspecto del cuerpo que sustenta a la cúpula Sur
View of the section supporting the South dome.
Cúpula Norte vista desde el Paseo de Reina Cristina
North dome seen from the Paseo de Reina Cristina.

The building is surrounded by a garden and a retaining wall along the top of which runs a beautiful iron railing, which encircles and closes off the grounds.

Arbós’ bell-tower (campanile) was also completed in 1898 and, although it has been separated from the cloister building since 1962, it is integrated into the Ramón Andrada school, which was opened in 1970. It comprises a first section with a larger ground plan with an arcade. On this first section the body of the bell-tower, square section and with the same building materials and layout as the pantheon rises. This second section ends with three blind arcades on each side. Above, there are three open arcades with cornice. The tower is completed by a balcony with a balustrade with a simple low section leading onto this balcony, and above it there emerges another section highly decorated with columns and an oculus, ending in the metallic pyramidal chapitel.

La torre-campanario La torre-campanario
The bell-tower (campanile), of great aesthetic beauty, is currently surrounded by school buildings.

The architectural style of the buildings, the constructions techniques and the different nature of the stone materials employed, make of this monumental complex a notable element within late 19th century Madrid architecture. With this project, Fernando Arbós sought to break with the traditional building method and style current in Madrid up to that time. He argued that “in the construction of a church designed as a basilica not only should the use on the exterior of stucco work, paintings, plaster and lime mouldings and all kinds of artificial stone be prescribed: materials should also be employed which, regardless of their shape and simply because their class, lend magnificence to the building. If this occurs on the outside, the marbles, mosaics, bronzes, artistic stained glass windows and al fresco paintings would contribute on the inside to obtaining the magnificence characteristic of a basilica”.

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