Philip II insisted that Madrid have a port. So he devised a crazy plan to bring her the Atlantic

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If all roads lead to Rome… Why couldn’t Madrid have at least one that connected it directly and, above all, navigable with the Atlantic? The idea sounds macaronicbut for a time it seemed to collect all the logic in the world in the head of the king Philip II.

He had reason to love him, of course. At the end of the XVI Spain received baited ships with the generous treasures that came from the Americas in the form of precious metals, spices and wood that were unloaded in the south of the country. From there they had to continue to Madrid, seat of the courtin a journey almost as complicated and dangerous as the voyage across the Atlantic.

In its trip to the center of the plateau the carts had to cross paths that today would take even the most painted of hiccups, badly preserved roads and that got muddy every time it rained. As if that were not enough and as a cherry, there was the constant stalking of the bandits of Sierra Morena. Result: transport was complicated, not without risk, and the merchandise became more expensive.

Felipe II wanted to remedy all that.

And he thought he knew how.

in Flanders He had seen the benefits that could be obtained from river transport thanks to locks and canals, elements that, he concluded, could well be used in the Iberian Peninsula. In the 16th century there were no swamps to hinder the passage of ships, the flow of the rivers favored it and… —here is the key— Portugal was under the government of the Austrianswhich made it easier for Madrid to look not at the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Cadiz or the Bay of Biscay, but directly to Lisbon.

With an eye on Portugal

Nicole Reyes 3wxfvdyi6ac Unsplash

Bridge of April 25, which crosses the Tagus River estuary in the Lisbon area.

The father of the idea, the mastermind in charge of convincing the many skeptics and carrying out such a technical challenge was the Italian John Baptist Antonellia military engineer who had already served under Carlos V and was noted for his fortification designs.

In April 1581 Antonelli obtained a royal certificate that gave him carte blanche with a clear purpose: “to recognize and see the Tagus River from the town of Abrantes […] to Alcántara to check how it could be made navigable”. the ultimate goal of the company, however, went beyond the Portuguese border or Extremadura. What was suggested was expand channels so that the boats could navigate the Tagus from Lisbon to Aranjuez and continue from there through the Jarama and Manzanares.

As detailed by Pedro Choker In the diary ABCthe idea, tremendously ambitious, was to enable a navigable route of about 600 kilometers that would overcome 650 meters of unevenness.

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Antonelli did not beat around the bush and shortly after presented King Felipe II in the Cortes of Tomar a project that would allow the Tagus to be crossed between Lisbon and Alcántara, in Extremadura. The idea liked Austria. And so much so that he liked it. Savoring the advantages that the project would bring to trade, its benefits for the Royal Treasury and even the prestige that it would give him beyond the borders of his empire, the monarch did not take long to roll out the red carpet to Antonelli.

Three months later Felipe II released funds and instructed the mayor of Alcántara and the Castilian authorities to put the things as easy as possible to Italian.

Two years later, in 1583, Antonelli concluded the works to condition the Tagus between Alcántara and Abrantes and in 1584 Felipe II himself traveled from Madrid to Aranjuez to see with his own eyes how that company was progressing. he was so excited and to whom he had trusted so much. Early ’88 —remember the Royal Academy of History (RAH)—a test was even organized with seven barzas that traveled in 15 days between Toledo and Lisbon.

Did that mean that the project was already on track? Did the people of Madrid see how Felipe II’s dream of seeing the galleons arrive at the gates of the capital was fulfilled? Was the Manzanares riverbank prepared for a display of docks, docks and mooring bollards?

Not quite.

Philip II

Portrait of King Philip II.

The delirious dream of Philip II ran into three implacable enemies: death, lack of funds and… England. And all three struck in such a short time that they knocked out the plan.

The first setback came in March 1588 with the death of Antonelli. The replacement from him at the head of the project was taken by his nephew, Christopher de Roda Antonelli, but the company no longer raised its head and barely ten years later its other great promoter, Philip II himself, died. The project was also not favored by the enormous investment allocated by Austria to the Spanish Armada” with which he intended to bend the pulse of England or the serious economic difficulties that the state treasury went through.

If that scenario was not complex enough in itself, some time later, in 1668, it was added the “divorce” with Portugalwhich complicated a project that he aspired to skip The line. The dream of opening a navigable channel between Madrid and the Atlantic in the 16th century was simply frustrated. From revolutionary infrastructure it became curious chapter in the historical chronicle of the Austrians.

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Of course, the idea continued to kick in for a long time after Felipe II and Antonelli were buried.

Throughout the following decades, other renowned technicians and monarchs of the house of the Bourbons, such as the engineers Luis Carduchi, Carlos Lemaur, Felipe IV, Fernando VI, Charles III, Carlos IV or Fernando VII, also proposed improving river communications, although not always looking at Portugal. Interest shifted to the south or even to the waters of the Cantabrian. His efforts also left a mark perfectly visiblestill to this day.

Fruit of that desire to improve communications are, for example, the Royal Manzanares Canal, between the Toledo Bridge and the Jarama River; the canals of Aragon and Castile or Guadarrama’swhich aspired to create a waterway for more than 700 kilometers that linked Madrid and Seville by river and for which the gigantic gasco damnow in ruins.

Images | Nicole Reyes (Unsplash) Y Manuel MV (Flickr), Prado Museum

If all roads lead to Rome… Why couldn’t Madrid have at least one that connected it directly and, above all,…

If all roads lead to Rome… Why couldn’t Madrid have at least one that connected it directly and, above all,…

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