By Linda Smith
Madrid is the capital and largest city in Spain. The population as of 2011 is 3,269,830 with approximately 17% of the population comprised of foreign inhabitants. Madrid is not only the largest city in Spain, but it comes in sixth, according to BlatentPlanet.com, so it is in the top ten of most populated cities in Europe.
It is said that there have been inhabitants in Madrid that date back to prehistoric times.Although we recognize the present day name as being Madrid, the original name was Mayrit. Madrid was founded by the emir Muhammad, when under Arab occupation. Eventually, Madrid came under the control of Christians during the “reconquesta” of Spain. Madrid, as we know it today was established in 1083 by King Alfonso. Although Felipe II declared Madrid as the capital of Spain in 1561 by way of the Spanish Constitution and it became the capital of Spain in the year 1978. The first democratic local elections were held in 1979. In spite of its tumultuous history, Madrid has become one of the top travel destinations in the world.If you want to get a feel of the culture, the sounds and the food there are multiple festivals such as the week long “Fiesta de San Isidro.” When on holiday in Madrid try their combination of a lottery and a raffle: the “El Gordo” among other events such as the “La Transhumancia” which is a sheep drive.
Madrid is said to have the largest Picasso art collection in the world. Opera is also part of Madrid. The Teatro Real is now home to the Compañía del Teatro Real. The theatre is not only for opera but also classical music performances and appearances from the best of opera singers such as Plácido Domingo.
Throughout the year, Madrid has a multitude of festivals. There are those that are held each year during a specific month that celebrates an historical event, while others may be centered on a holiday or holy day. Many of the festivals occur in the streets, parks or at designated theaters. Try taking the Madrid Vision Bus, a hop-on-hop-off tour bus which will take you past all the city attractions.
Royal Palace and Royal ArmoryThe Royal Palace is a sight to see, it was built on the same spot where the 9th Century Muslim Alcázar once stood. This enormous building which was once the official residence of the royal family is made of white granite and contains 2800 rooms. The Slaleta of Charles III was once a private lunch area and where the “ordinary” were received amidst beautiful décor and chandeliers making you wonder where the royalty and other important dignitaries were received.The largest room is also considered to be the most magnificent, the Throne Room. Today the Royal Palace is used for special ceremonies and other state occasions. The Royal family resides just outside of Madrid in the Palacio de la Zarzuela. During a stroll through the Royal Gardens there are numerous statues such as the equestrian statue of Felipe IV that stands in the Plaza de Oriente and the Statue of Queen Isabel “La Católica” that is located in the Jardines de Sabatini.
The Royal Palace is open to the public which has a choice of a guided tour or to go it alone touring the palace as well as the Royal Armory where you will see weapons, armor and soldiers atop their horses dressed for battle. On Wednesdays visitors may be able to experience the Changing of the Guards.
Madrid is not without an array of historical churches and cathedrals. Each has its own unique architectural design and history including participation in the various events surrounding holidays such as Easter. Until 1993, when the La Aludena became the official cathedral, The Baroque Church of San Isidro el Real, also known as Colegiata de San Isidro el Real had been Madrid’s most senior cathedral. Many of the religious celebrations continue to take place at the Baroque Church of San Isidro el Real.
The oldest church in Madrid is the San Nicolás de los Servitas which is located at 1 Plaza San Nicolás in Madrid. The church is known for its Moorish Mudéjar style bell tower that was built during the 12th century. The bell tower is the oldest part of the church. The church and the bell tower have undergone some reconstruction, yet only the church itself has been reconstructed to a 15th century design. The bell town retains its Morrish style.
The Catedral de Santa Maria la Real del la Almudena is located next to the Royal Palace. The cathedral was begun in 1883 yet not completed until 1993. There is a legend about the Virgin Mary that surrounds this church. It is believed that when the battle with the Moors occurred an image of the Virgin Mary was imbedded within the city walls and only when in the 15th Century Madrid was re-conquered did the walls fall exposing the image of the Virgin Mary. Some believe that the Virgin Mary assisted el Cid to re-conquer Madrid. The image depicting the legend can be seen on one of the Cathedral entrance doors, in bronze.
Basilica de San Miguel is officially named the Basilica Pontificia de San Miguel. The church was built between 1739 and 1745. A crypt was added in the 20th century. Although the architectural style is Spanish Baroque it is considered to be unusual due to a rare unique convex shape that is not seen anywhere in Madrid. By Royal Decree the church was declared to be a National Historical Monument on November 28th 1984. Basilica de San Miguel, next to the Archbishops Palace, plays an important role during Holy Week. Cristo de la Fé y del Perdón and the statue “Santa María Inmaculada Madre de la Iglesia” are carried from the Basilica de San Miguel through the streets.
Madrid is known for having the most extensive parks and gardens as well as “green zones” in all Europe. There are 40 parks within 33 million square meters or 617763.454034 acres. The many parks in Madrid such as the Madrid Botanical Gardens which educates and entertains can be found at Plaza de Murillo close to the Prado Museum. The Casa de Campo is another enormous urban park containing a zoo and amusement park. The Parque del Buen Retiro is the largest park in Madrid and offers endless facilities and interesting statues. The Sabatini Gardens are attached to the Royal Palace and are an example of a more manicured garden.
The Royal gardens consist of Campo del Moro and the Sabatini Gardens. Campo del Moro is a beautiful garden behind the Royal Castle, with only a small entrance in the back. This Royal Garden with all of its beauty is the perfect garden for those who prefer a bit of solitude amidst the beauty of nature. While strolling along you’ll come across the Carriage Museum maintains a collection of the Royal carriages.
The Retro Park is among the most popular in Madrid. It is a fun park with plenty of live entertainment as you stroll along by jugglers, sidewalk artists, musicians and fortune tellers. The park also consists of two buildings that survived the Napoleonic wars, which are now museums full of Spanish military historical events as well as an art museum that displays 19th and 20th century art. There are some interesting statues and buildings which include the “El Angel Caído” and the “Palacio de Cristal” that is built in glass resembling the “Glass Palace” of London.
Those who enjoy fine art, can enjoy it all day long in Madrid. However not everybody is a connoisseur of fine art. There are those who prefer a specific period or style of art. Maybe you have never had the opportunity to experience an art museum or exhibits. Madrid has art everywhere from statues in the various gardens to buildings with various styles of architecture. Depending on individual tastes, there are three art museums within walking distance of each other that will suit the novice as well as the art connoisseur. The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Reina Sofia, and Museo del Prado together make up what is called the “Golden Triangle of Art.”
The Thyssena-Bornemisz Museum is located in a neoclassical building which was once the residence of the Duke of Villahermosa in the early 19th Century. The building was used as office space for a bank later in the 20th century until it was purchased by the state which transformed it into an art museum. The history of art is shown here from the early painters such as Flemish through to 20th century pop-art. Some of the paintings that can be found at the Thyseena-Bornemisz Museum are Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, “Swaying Dancer” by Degas, and works by Picasso which includes “Harlequin with a Mirror.”
The Reina Sofia is considered to be the primary home of Spanish art by artists such as Picasso. One of the most famous works by Pablo Picasso “Guernicz” can be found here. The museum also houses a free library that is full of books, recordings and videos centered on the arts. The museum is thought to be haunted! The building, which is over 200 years old, was at one time a hospital. It has been reported that in the central part of the museum employees have heard voices and whispers, as well as seeing apparitions during the night shift in empty areas.
The Museo del Prado, considered to be an equal to the famous Louvre, is the home of 14th through 19th century European art by famous artists such as: Velazquez and Goya. The Museo del Prado is near the beautiful Retro Park.
A visit to Madrid is not complete without seeing La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas which is located in the Gunidalera Quarter of the Salamanca district in Madrid. The architect for this ancient looking building was José Espeliú, who integrated the Neo- Mudéjar style into his design for this enormous building. The building construction beginning in 1922 was not completed until 1929. Although the building was inaugurated in June, 1931 the building, after several closings, did not open permanently until 1939 after the end of the Spanish Civil War. The Plaza Toros Las Ventas is the third largest bullring in Spain seating 25,000 people. The first bullfighter “Aguililla” faced Hortelano which was the first bull to rush out into the bullring. The Municipal Band was the first band to play España cañi and pasadoble – the first music to be heard by the crowd in this bullring. It is said that the most enjoyable bullfighting to be seen is in the months of May and June, during the San Isidro Festival.
If you’ve ever seen on T.V. Spanish football fans celebrating a win by jumping in a fountain then it was here at Plaza de Cibeles. The central fountain dates back to 1700’s and stands in front of the Palacio de Comunicaciones (1909) which now functions as the Madrid City Hall. The fountain features Ceres the Roman god of fertility riding a chariot pulled by lions. Other significant structures on the Plaza are the Bank of Spain (1800’s); the baroque Linares Palacio (1873) and the Buenavista Palace (1777) which is now the head quarters of the Spanish Army. The square is located in the Paseo de Recoletos area. The streets which converge here are the Paseo del Prado, Calle de Alcala and Paseo de Recoletos. If you were to follow the Paseo de Prado from here you would get to another beautiful fountain, this time of Neptune, which stands in the Plaza de Canovas. Other popular plazas in Madrid where the locals gather are Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol.
One of the most beautiful features of this 17th century plaza is the arcaded walkways surrounding the symmetrical square plaza. The square which was originally outside of the city walls has functioned as a market, a bullring and an execution venue over the years. Today it is just a pleasant gathering point for open air cafes and often sees street performers and other celebrations.
The plaza’s central feature is the large stone arch which once served as the entrance to the Monteleon soldiers barracks. During the War of Independence (from France) Captain Daoiz and Captain Velarde lead an uprising from this Plaza, their efforts are remembered by their statues which stand in the plaza. In the late 19th century the plaza gained fame for its bohemian art scene with many leaders in the fields of high fashion; film and theatre gathering here. The square also has a popular nightlife. Madrid does not have what many of us know as Independence Day on July 4th. However, they do celebrate Dos de mayo on May 2, which represents the day the people, with the assistance of the English and Portuguese, rebelled against the Napoleon, on May 2, 1808, due to the French occupation, resulting in the Spaniards regaining control of their city. The celebrations take place at the site of the Monteleón artillery barracks in the Plaza del Dos mayo square. Those who celebrate sit back with their drink, tapas, and possibly sip on Sangria. There are plenty of fireworks, as well as displays of military feats as part of the celebration.
The paranormal may not be of huge interest to most but haunted houses and castles fascinate almost anyone. Madrid does not fall short with its legends that are associated with an array of haunted sites. There are stories of ghosts in hotels and even private homes.
The Palacio de Linares home to the Casa de America was built in the 1800’s and has its own story of a sordid love affair and family issues that have resulted in stories of a ghost that walks the halls at night. Joseph Murga was a businessman that owned the building, his son fell in love with a woman and Joseph Murga was against the marriage. Once the father died the son married the woman he had fallen in love with. However, it turned out that the young woman was the daughter of Joseph. The Pope did not annul the marriage but ordered the couple not to live as man and wife. The couple has long passed away and it is believed that their ghosts continue to roam the building.
The Casa de las Siete Chimeneas (House of Seven Chimneys) is now known as the Spanish Ministry of Culture, which is located in Plaza del Rey 1 but it once was the home of a man by the name of Captain Zapata and his wife Elena. The captain was away fighting in a war when his wife not only died, but her body disappeared. The legend about Doña Elena is that her ghost continues to roam the palace. There are other legends such as one about the Marquis of Esqullache who was involved with the revolts in 1776. It is said that a butler was killed while attempting to protect the Marquis from a mob that had invaded the palace. Those who have seen the apparition believe it is the ghost of the butler who is looking for his master, the Marquis of Esquilache. The legend continues with those who claim that ghosts are seen walking amidst the house’s seven chimneys at night. There are other stories of deaths that occurred in the palace that included bodies being hidden or buried within the walls. During reconstruction the skeletal remains of two bodies were discovered.
Semana Santa (Easter) is one of the holiest days in all of Spain. One of the traditions is to celebrate what is called the “Passion of Christ.” The various churches take religious icons and statues marching them through the streets the most important being the icon Cristo de la Fé y del Perdón and the statue “Santa María Immaculada Madre de la Iglesia” which is carried from the Basilica de San Miguel through the streets.
On Holy Thursday, one of the most important traditions is when the religious images of the Virgin Maria Santísima de la Esperanza and Jesús del Gran Poder are brought out of the Basilica de San Miguel by the “costaleros” who are applauded by the crowd as they make their way through the crowd appearing to be on their knees.
Holy week ends on Easter Sunday with the finale being “Tamborada del Domingo de Resurección” when the Brotherhood that has been selected, assembles dozens of drums of all shapes and sizes and beats out a constant rhythm, which comes close to shaking nearby homes. The drum sounds represent the earth tremors that are believed to have occurred when Christ died on the cross.
During the months of February and March there are dance festivals. Most of us are familiar with Flamenco dancing, possibly from the movies. Festival Flamenco Caja, Madrid is a celebration of this wonderful dance and the music that accompanies it with the best Flamenco dancers and guitarists. The performances are seen at La Casa Encendida and the Teatro Circo Price. March is the beginning of the bullfighting season. The Madrid en Danza Madrid’s dance festival runs from March 15th until the 30th of April as part of the bullfighting festivities. As the bullfighting season comes near to the end a bull run occurs along with Toro de la Vega which ends with a traditional bull sacrifice in the streets.
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- Blue Skies and Tapas (ketik06.wordpress.com)
- The Spanish Royal Family Preside Over Pascua Militar 2012 in Madrid (VIDEOS) (royalcorrespondent.com)
- Iberian UNESCO (deltiolog.wordpress.com)