The eclectic eclosion of the former Post Office building
The former Post Building, now going by the name "Cibeles Palace", is a two-building complex occupying one corner of the Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid. The buildings are separated from each another by a huge courtyard. Together they boast a total floor area of 44,613 square metres.
The history of the complex dates back to the early 19th century, when Spain's parliament, the Cortes, approved the construction of a building to house the central headquarters of the Spanish national postal service. The award went to a design submitted by architect Antonio Palacios and engineers Joaquín Otamendi and Ángel Chueca Sainz. Construction got under way in April 1907, but the complex was not officially opened until 14 March 1919, in a ceremony attended by King Alfonso XIII and his wife, Queen Victoria Eugenia. The Post Building immediately became a symbol of progress and the modern way of life.
As a sidelight, the complex cost twelve million pesetas to build, nearly three times the initial budget; and it was popularly known as "Our Lady of Communications" because of its grandiose, "cathedral wanna-be" air.
The architectural style of the building is rather difficult to classify; it cannot be slotted neatly into any of the styles established prior to the date of its construction. It borrows elements of the neo-Gothic, the neo-Plateresque and Catalan art nouveau, but it also has a very special character, forging a style of its own. Structurally it owes certain ideas to architects of the calibre of Gustave Eiffel and Otto Wagner.
The exterior of the building is the characteristic white colour of the Novelda stone used in the construction of the façade. The upper cornice is crowned with numerous pinnacles along its entire length, and its decoration displays a marked Viennese inspiration (in the style of Austria's Secessionstil, which began in the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). The ornamental details grow in number as the building rises higher and higher above street level, forcing the eye upward and making the building quite a spectacular sight.
The building has two side towers flanking the main façade that looks out over the Glorieta de Cibeles. There is also a large central tower, 70 metres tall as measured from the street, which houses an electric clock that is lit up at night.
One of the foremost architectonic elements of the complex is the vast entry hall or great main lobby, which is reached through the main entrance, centred beneath a huge rose window. The lobby is the building's most important area, by virtue of its size and its location. There are numerous galleries of semicircular arches with embedded columns, some spectacular stained-glass windows and ceilings painted in different chromatic shades.
Under an agreement between the Ministry of the Treasury and the City Council of Madrid, in 2003 work began on the complex's most recent, fullest restoration. The goal: to adapt the palace for a new career as the definitive headquarters of the Madrid City Council.
The winning restoration project was the one submitted by the team of architects headed up by Francisco Rodríguez Partearroyo, and the project was executed by FCC. No portion of the building was left untouched by the remodelling. Work was done to adapt the palace to meet today's needs and equip it with cutting-edge services and systems, but to keep intact the star architectonic elements of yore, such as the main lobby (where a museum of the city is to be set up in future) and the tiles on the inner stairs (hand-made late-19th-century ornamental Andalusian tiles). Also included was the refurbishment of 771 square metres of stained glass and the stripping of riveted metal beams, formerly covered with masonry that concealed a striking technical capability similar to that which holds up the Eiffel Tower to this day.
As the last touch on the refurbishment work, the courtyard between calle Alcalá and calle Montalbán (also known as the Pasaje de Alarcón) was covered with a great, 2,850-square-metre glass vault, which allows the courtyard to double as a venue for ceremonies and other events. The glass roof was called for in the original design by Palacios and Otamendi, but it was never built until this most recent remodelling.