Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Special report: Carabanchel prison, Madrid

I apologise for the fact that many of the photos are not of very good quality (it's mainly because I did not bring my tripod on this trip).


This summer Ilan and I made a little trip around the Iberian Peninsula (Lisbon, Madrid and Córdoba). We flew with Vueling from Lisbon to Madrid (it was by far the cheapest option), and in their inflight magazine Ling, of all places, we found out about the Carabanchel prison. The magazine had a tiny little notice within a silly feature about "interesting locations for picknicks".

Of course, we had to check it out. Ling had featured a little map of the area, with the metro station Carabanchel (line 5) marked out. On July 23rd we took the metro there, headed northwest of the station according to the map, and kind of followed our insticts. We walked on, past the next station on the same metro line (Eugenia de Montijo), through a somewhat rough park, past a churchyard, and then we saw a high red brick wall. What we could discern behind the wall looked very much like a prison, and very abandoned. We walked around the wall and came to a sports ground. There was a chainlink fence separating it from the prison complex.

Shots through the chainlink fence.

In front of the yellow building there was a kind of basketball court, now covered with wads of barbed wire.

We found holes in the fence, so we entered.

The yard was pretty much being used as a garbage dump.

First we went to check out the yellow building.
It was full of shit. Especially the ground floor was apparently being used as a public toilet.
The second floor was not that bad, though.

But it was rather dangerous. This broken glass pane was waving in the breeze:

Since this used to be a prison, all this aggression against its structures is quite understandable.

There is some amazing art there. This artist has been using the structures very creatively. This is only one of several works by the same artist. Ilan has some more (here, among all his other photos from the trip).

Another nice piece of art.



The spider already broke off.

After exploring the yellow building we walked along the wall.

A couple of families have set up their homes in the ward houses outside the complex. They gave us slightly suspicious looks, but we were respectful to them and didn't bother them, and they did not bother us. A lot of people come to visit the prison, so I guess they are used to it.

Inside the prison gate there are *really* big heaps of garbage.

"R.I.P. - Alejandro aka Sandro - Oscar aka Biti - Siempre en nuestro corazón"
As I later found out, this graffiti was painted especially for a music video that was shot in the prison. The guys are friends of the artist, and they are really dead, but they didn't die in this prison.

The perimeter.

On the ground floor of that part, there was a heavy fire at some point.

Weird patterns in the soot - was someone beating a rope against the ceiling here?

At least the prisoners got a little bit of privacy with the walls in front of the toilets.

Unfortunately part of this statement has been destroyed. What it says is:
"[I am?] condemned [...] kill [...] and assassinate [...] a crime [...] a man and [...] a state."

Close-up on the werewolf graffiti:

The main wings of the prison are connected in the middle with a huge dome, from where the wardens could control all of them.

The wing on the right was never finished, but the rest of the prison was in use for 44 years, as I later found out.

Ilan insisted that since neither of us had health insurance, we shouldn't climb these stairs. :o(

Big-mouthed monster.

"Merry Christmas and the best of the best for '95!"
"The poorer currency with which you can pay your friends is advice; the only good currency is help.
Regards to all, and special greetings to Carlos.
your brother Manolo"

Some hairy guy whom I made pose for me. Of course, the composition is not the greatest - Ilan's nose is right on the line of the roof.

The dome from another wing.

That hairy guy again, in front of some very nice graffiti.

We were mostly interested in the structure itself, so we didn't explore all of the identical wings. But later on I realised that the prison is an amazing gallery of graffiti art. If you're in Madrid and get tired of all those old sexist Christian guys displayed at the Prado museum (though one can, of course, never, EVER, tire of Hieronymus Bosch), why not come to the Carabanchel prison to see some amazing contemporary art full of vibrant energy.
One of the many masterpieces that we missed is a reproduction of the great RanXerox. I don't know in what part of the prison it is, but criSis has a photo of it on Flickr.

We didn't know anything about the Carabanchel prison when we went there, but later on I read up on its history. It was built by political prisoners after the Spanish civil war, and was in use between 1944 and 1999. During Franco's regime it housed a large number of political prisoners. The capacity was 2000 male and 500 female prisoners.
Since its abandonment, there have been debates about what to do with it. The neighbourhood community wanted a hospital and other public facilities to be built in the area, and part of the prison to be preserved as a memorial to the struggle for democracy in Spain. But the authorities wanted to sell the land for development, and apparently the prison will be demolished already in October this year!
According to these plans, on the territory of the prison 650 apartments, a hospital, parks and offices will be built. Neighbourhood groups still fight for all of the area to be used for public facilities, and against the demolition of the whole prison.

Here is the blog of a neighbourhood action group (in Spanish).
The Carabanchel Prison Flickr group, with lots of interesting photos (but some boring fashion photoshoot pictures, too).


ainur said...

That dome is like Panoptikon. As Jeremy Bentham said, "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example" - and he thought it was a great thing.

"Morals reformed — health preserved — industry invigorated — instruction diffused — public burthens lightened — Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock — the gordian knot of the poor-law not cut, but untied — all by a simple idea in Architecture!"

And then people say that Fascism was opposed to the Enlightenment...

Tinet said...

Yeah, it was inspired by the Panopticon concept.
We didn't know the structure was like this, and we couldn't really see much of it from the outside where we entered, so it was really awe-inspiring and disturbing when we discovered it.

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