Jean Laurent was photographer to Queen Isabella II of Spain from 1860, and here illustrates the modest progressive bourgeois renaissance that attempted to improve the centre of Madrid, which was becoming stifled by the increasing traffic. This photograph of the Puerta del Sol square was taken at ten to three in the afternoon, a time when families would be seated round the table in the midday heat. Laurent captured the moment to immortalise the recently completed improvements to the square, enlarged and enhanced by the installation of a central fountain in 1860, which spouted water thirty up to metres high, forming puddles all over the square on windy days. On the right is the Ministry of the Interior (still with the old clock, which was replaced in 1866 for the present one), and in the background is the Grand Hôtel de París, which opened in 1863 in direct competition with the Hotel de los Príncipes, on the left of the same square. Further back, one can make out the façade of the old Hospital de los Italianos, standing in stark contrast to the modernity of the buildings in the Puerta del Sol of Queen Isabella’s reign.
Almudena Cruz Yábar