Prado: a dream becomes a neighbourhood

(A walk among Guayacan trees, little palaces and sitting lions)

 

Old El Prado, Medellín. Photography Obando

 

 

 

By Reinaldo Spitaletta

Translation by Adriana Elgueta

 

The architectural diversity, with old houses built according to bourgeois ‘good taste’, at a time when the city still watched screenings of the film Under The  Sky of Antioquia (1925), whose frames did not come to show what was going to be the most beautiful neighbourhood (or barrio) in Medellín. According to its founder, Ricardo Olano, one of the features of the neighbourhood named in 1926 as neighbourhood El Prado.

 

El Prado was born under the guidelines of a ‘garden city’ and, as Olano himself warned, the eccentricity of its first inhabitants has made it into a mix of dreams and realistic awe. To walk its 50-foot wide streets, with front gardens and tree lines that still respect its founder’s plans, is a whole sensational experience, as we shall see.

 

Someone strolling by could only just make out the mahogany windows or curly cumin plants, wrought iron, closing gates and flapping wings, Belgian stained glass, a feast for the eyes, a banquet of aesthetic dimensions. If the wanderer has an appreciation for gates, well, say no more. Arched, rectangular, enormous, with gigantic door knobs in the shape of a lion’s head or a devil, some already altered by spurious rails due to sudden new changes. Prado has meandering streets, with blunt corners, towers and spires, Spanish and English tiles, two and three-storey houses, some like little palaces, others like medieval castles, including the odd one resembling a steam boats like those that slice through the waters of the Magdalena river with their tropical music and with the pride of the elite heritage.

 

 

Swiss-style chalets and the occasional reminiscence of Scottish architecture, there still are some lampposts with an air of tango about them, or a Parisian street. The pedestrian, or perhaps said another way, a kind of flâneur, or experienced wanderer, would observe Republican features, European and some colonial vestiges in the façades of the buildings. Rosette windows, cornices, decorations with triumphant leaves, strange flowers that evoke those from a book by the Catalan writer Mercé Rodoreda. Although a little neglected today, everything is possible in its geography.

 

 

Prado, whose first street (or carrera as they say in Colombia) was the continuation of the old Palacé, at a corner of which Darién built his first mansion (today metamorphosed into the Church of the Holy Spirit, erected in 1957, with a red bougainvillea vine which could be the biggest in the city), Joaquín Cano’s house still shows such luxurious distinctions of Medellín’s high society. Olano promoted the planting of yellow and lilac Guayacan trees, the first spread through the streets. Cadmio trees so that the breeze from the Sugar Loaf hill spreads wafts of scents throughout the neighbourhood. Various types of peppers complemented the garden, which was later elaborated with casco’evaca trees.

 

Prado Window. Photography Carlos Spitaletta

 

In the only neighbourhood in the city declared Cultural Heritage, you can find the house where one of the most famous engineers from Antioquia lived, Juan de la Cruz Posada, whose mansions still stands on the corner of Palacé and Belalcázar, currently occupied by a fashion shop known as Casa Prado.

 

The neighbourhood, bordered by Popayán (street 50C, although some extend it as far as Neiva, 50D), San Martín (street 46), Cuba (street 59) y Jorge Robledo (calle 65) grew from a spine formed by Palacé (street 50), with other streets parallel to it, like Venezuela y Balboa. Perhaps the strangest of buildings in the barrio is the Egyptian Palace, designed by Nel Rodríguez for optometrist and astronomer aficionado, Fernando Estrada, in Sucre between Cuba and Miranda streets.

 

Built like a little palace from Luxor (Egyptian town that houses the ruins of Thebes), its owner, a lover of the culture and history of the Fahroe named it Palacio Ineni, after the Royal Princess of such noble family. Pink granite pictograms y hieroglyphs, an observatory, Masons meetings in its upper romos, central patios with various lounges surrounding it made the residence of the founder of Óptica Santa Lucía, the most curious one in Prado. Today, however, ruin threatens her.

 

To walk through this barrio of eclectic architectural styles, is to find a little Arabesque in Casa Blanca (Balboa and Darién) and Welsh castles, like Casa Walsingham, on the corner of Balboa and Jorge Robledo Streets and diagonal to the mansion where Mrs Luz Castro de Gutiérrez lived, the venue for the Miss Antioquia beauty pageant in the old days.

 

Although Prado still conserves its lush greenery, today it’s a mixture of old people’s homes and convents (there are 22), with artistic hubs, psychiatric, oncology and pediatric clinics. Its only park, Olano, boasts two ceiba trees and new gardens. Its founder’s residence is now the seat of Faculty of Education of the University of Antioquia, in Balboa and Jorge Robledo. To enter through its gigantic arched gate is to negotiate a maze on two enormous levels.

 

Almost all Prado still has is worth a visit. It tells stories, it conveys emotions. There are sitting lions and bohemian lofts. Turrets and mansions that appear inhabited by ancient ghosts. Its aged splendour still shines on many of the old houses, sometimes unbelievably so. Its thick trees still harbour birds, to stroll through its scenes is like the experience of walking into the past, to the days when presumptuous families of Medellín’s elite built the area seeking comfort with exquisite taste. It was and, despite its decadence, it still is a “dream that became a barrio”.

 

(At ninety years of age, a historical neighbourhood worth preserving)

 

Church of the Holy Spirit. Photography Carlos Spitaletta

 

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