Few tourists visit Spain's Panteón de Hombres Illustres (Pantheon of Illustrious Men), although the monument is easy to spot at the corner of Paseo de Reína Cristina and Calle de Julián Gayarre, near Atocha train station in Madrid. Though lovely, it resists easy explanation, yet it's not so odd as to be an attraction for oddness's sake, and that may account for its lack of renown.
I live around the corner, and admission is free, but even we neighbors only occasionally visit, sometimes just to sit and read the newspaper the little garden in front. The Pantheon is too solemn and beautiful for more.
Its story begins in 1837, when San Francisco el Grande Church was named Spain's Pantheon of Illustrious Men, similar to the Panthéon of Paris. But nothing more was done.
Then in 1869, a commission of experts, including the Governor of Madrid, Salustiano de Olozaga, was charged with finding the remains Spain's illustrious men like the painter Velázquez to bring to the church. They had a month to do it. They found that quite a few, including Velázaquez, were missing, and others were not about to be disturbed, but they gathered up a dozen, such as the writer Quevedo, who were solemnly deposited on deadline. But the project was soon abandoned and they were returned to their places of origin in 1874.
Finally in the 1880s the Queen Regent María Cristina decided to build a royal basilica and pantheon on the site of Atocha Basilica, which had fallen down due to neglect. In 1888, the project was awarded to architect Fernando Arbós y Tremanti. Work began in 1892. A bell tower and the pantheon-cloister was built in splendid Neo-byzantinian style. Then money ran out in 1901, and nothing more was constructed.
But since 1902, twelve semi-illustrious men have been resting in the Pantheon — that is, men who changed the course of Spanish history for good or ill, though you may not have heard of them. (None of Spain's illustrious and semi-illustrious women rest there.) They are:
José Álvarez Mendizabal, 1790-1853, prime minister and economist.
Agustín de Argüelles, 1776-1844, prime minister who helped write the Constitutions of 1812 and 1837.
José María Calatrava, 1781-1846, prime minister, another author of the 1837 Constitution.
José Canalejas, 1854-1912, prime minister, assassinated.
Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, 1828-1897, six times prime minister, assassinated.
Eduardo Dato e Iradier, 1856-1921, three times prime minister, assassinated.
Salustiano de Olozaga, 1805-1873, prime minister, another author of the 1837 Constitution, diplomat.
Antonio de Ríos Rosas, 1812-1873, prime minster.
Manuel Gutierrez de la Concha e Irogyen, Marquez de Duero, 1808-1874, general, killed in battle.
Francisco Martínez de la Rosa, 1787-1862, prime minister and author.
Diego Francisco Muñoz-Torrero y Ramirez-Moyano, 1761-1829, helped write the 1812 Constitution and abolished the Inquisition, died in prison.
Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, 1825-1903, leader of the1868 revolution, eight times premier.
They are housed in a striking building of black an white stone, with mosaic walls, stained glass windows, domes with murals in two corners, and a rose garden inside the cloister. Atocha School, not an architectural masterpiece, abuts the Pantheon and surrounds the tower.
Six men rest in the cloister's mausoleum in the garden, which is topped with a statue of the goddess Liberty thirty years older than the one in New York harbor. The others lie in extravagant monuments by renowned sculptors Agustín Querol, Pedro Estany, Ponciano Ponzano and Mariano Benlliure.
They rest in peace, since visitors rarely come to marvel at this fragment of what was meant to be a landmark.
Find A Grave entry, with biographies and more photos.
Patrimonio Nacional site with information on visiting hours and location.
Photos in Wikipedia Commons.
— Sue Burke
Also posted at http://www.sue.burke.name