Wednesday, August 17

We have discovered ruins under the Puerta del Sol. It is just a reminder of the secrets under our cities

Puerta del Sol in Madrid is a square that has changed its face countless times, the remodeling now underway is the second so far this century. As happens more often than we think, this remodeling has run into an unexpected finding, remains of constructions in the north of the square. Elbow we say, this more often than it seems, which leads us to ask ourselves, how is it possible that collapsed buildings remain under our feet in cities?

The find.
The found foundations are located in an area, to the north of the square, in which there were constructions before the works that took place in the square in the middle of the 19th century. During this reform these constructions were totally or partially demolished to enlarge the existing space. The remains found would belong to these buildings, although more modern traces have also been found, such as that belonging to an elevator on line 2 of the metro from the 1920s.

Permission to cover.
These structures were evaluated by the Directorate General of Heritage of the Community of Madrid,[whichruledthattheycouldbecoveredwithgeotextileandcleansandThisisacommonprocesstoprotectarchaeologicalremainsbeforetheyarecovered[quedictaminóquepodíansercubiertascongeotextilyarenalimpiaEsteesunprocesohabitualparaprotegerlosrestosarqueológicosantesdesercubiertos

We have just found a very complex network of passageways in a 3,000-year-old Peruvian temple

The Church of Good Success.
Those who have passed through the Cercanías de Sol station may have stopped and spent a few minutes looking at the stained glass window that covers the remains of an ancient temple located on the site: the Iglesia del Buen Suceso. Another of the “victims” of the constant processes of urban renewal that left its mark and that can now be seen. For now you have to pay for the commute to enter the station, yes.

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urban archaeology.
Finds like these are common in Madrid and in cities around the world. Urban archeology can tell us a lot about the way of life of the people who came before us in the cities and in the settlements that preceded them. It can cover an immense temporal spectrum, from prehistoric and ancient settlements to constructions of the 20th century, as in the case of the abandoned elevator in Sol.

It is so frequent that it cannot but lead us to the question of how it is possible that the temporal dimension is so faithfully reflected in the vertical dimension of the settlements.

Decay and burial of buildings.
Usually the archaeological remains of buildings, whether in urban areas or not, usually only cover foundations, pillars and ground floors of buildings. The rest of the construction can fall due to its abandonment or be torn down to make way for new structures. It is common that any remaining value is recovered and recycled, stones, beams, etc.

In abandoned settlements, it is nature itself that covers the remains of the buildings. Floods, for example, can drag sediments that are deposited on these areas, covering them with each cycle of rising waters. In areas further away from the rivers, the vegetation will end up imposing itself, and with it the remains of organic matter that flora and fauna leave behind. Geological activity, volcanic eruptions, landslides… can also end up burying the remains of a settlement. Or even the entire settlement.

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And in the cities?
In cities, it is not natural dynamics but socioeconomic ones that intervene. Houses are also demolished either to build new structures or to open the way to roads and squares. The dynamics of the reuse of usable remains continues to prevail in them.

With all the materials used, the landslides continue to leave many remains behind. When building new buildings, it was not always economical to clean up all these remnants. Covering them with earth and building on top was easier. If it was a question of expanding a square, excavating the foundations of the previous buildings was completely unnecessary, since it would not even be necessary to dig trenches for new pillars and foundations. Building on top was cheaper and easier.

The streets could also be raised as part of the urban change. An example of this is in the city of Atlanta, in the United States. Here, a small shopping area bears witness to this growth, a holdover from where the streets of Atlanda were a hundred years ago.

Without escaping sedimentation.
Further back in time, ancient cities were not immune to sediment buildup. In the absence of modern sanitation systems, dirt could accumulate as the water was reabsorbed by the ground before reaching any sewer.

Preserve heritage.
Cities continually face the dilemma of modernization versus preservation of historical heritage. The total preservation of the environment would make them unviable, unable to fulfill their function. But the archaeological remains still have a lot to tell us about how our ancestors lived.

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Each city also has its own characteristics, history and needs. That is why the evaluation of each finding is necessary to determine what to do in the face of findings. And there are never two alike.

Image | Joe Calhoun, CC BY-SA 2.0

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