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Spain: Barcelona, Madrid, Marbella, Puerto Banus, Seville, Toledo
Madrid, Spain: Legacy of artistic heritage
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Strategically located in the geographic centre of the Iberian Peninsula, Madrid has one of the most important historic centres of all the great European cities. It is a cosmopolitan city that combines the most modern infrastructures and the status as an economic, financial, administrative and service centre, with a large cultural and artistic heritage, a legacy of centuries of exciting history. It has been populated since the Lower Paleolithic era, although it was not until 1561 that King Philip II made Madrid the capital city of his vast empire.
We reached Madrid from Marbella. Since there’s no direct train connectivity between the two locations, we took a taxi from our hotel in Marbella and got down at Malaga railway station. The drive was just about an hour. From Malaga we took the Spanish train – AVE. These are fast trains. It covered the distance of 530 kms. in just 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Atocha is the biggest train station in Madrid. It is the main railway station for commuter trains for the city. It is also the focal point for intercity trains from all over Spain, as well as the country's main station for the high-speed AVE trains. The AVE trains connect different regions, such as Catalonia and Andalusia. Eventually they hope to connect every region of Spain. Renfe, the Spanish national railway company, run the AVE trains. The station is exceptional with its steel and glass construction, not to mention the vivid tropical gardens that line its concourse. In addition, travelers can enjoy viewing the permanent display of sculptures found within the station.
We had to come two levels up to reach the taxi stand. Though there were hundreds of taxis in line, we had to wait a while for big taxi to roll in, since we were 4 travelers, with 2 bags each!
For our 3-night stay in Madrid, we were booked at the very chicly designed Silken Puerta America hotel. The Silken Puerta America is an idea of freedom come true, a meeting space that brings together different cultures and ways of understanding architecture and design. A work of architecture that breaks with the norm by using different colours, materials and shapes. The hotel is a space that invites visitors to dream. A unique project that has brought together nineteen of the best architecture and design studios in the world, three Pritzker awards (the Nobel Prize of Architecture) among them. Each of the floors of this hotel proposes a different room concept. They all play with different materials, colours and shapes to create spaces that bring together the best of cutting edge design and architecture. 12 different floors or in other words 12 ways of understanding architecture and design. Probably, a hotel like no other in the world.
Immediately after checking in, we were ready to explore the town. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, but being summertime, the sun would be out for us for quite some time. The hotel offered shuttle service for their guests to be dropped across Puerta de Alcala – a 20-minute drive from our hotel.
The Puerta de Alcala is a Neo-classical monument and is regarded as the first modern post-roman triumphal arch built in Europe, older than the similar monuments Arc de Triomphe in Paris and Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. It was a gate of the former Walls of Philip IV. It stands near the city center. The square is bisected by Alcala Street, Serrano and Olozaga streets. Its name originates from the old path from Madrid to the nearby town of Alcala de Henares. Madrid in the late 18th century still looked like a somewhat drab borough, surrounded by medieval walls. Around the year 1774, king Charles III commissioned Francesco Sabatini to construct a monumental gate in the city wall through which an expanded road to the city of Alcala was to pass, replacing an older, smaller, gate which stood nearby. It was inaugurated in 1778.
From this gate began our walk for the rest of the evening. Moving along Alcala Street, we touched Plaza de Cibeles - the main junction that houses the Fuente de Cibeles (fountain), Palacio Cibeles and the Naval Museum.
The fountain was designed in 1776 by Ventura Rodriguez and sculpted in white marble by Francisco Gutierrez Arribas (chariot and goddess), Robert Michel (lions) and Miguel Ximenez (adornments) from 1780 to 1792.
Palacio Cibeles, the former communications palace is a colossal building and one of the city's landmarks. Designed and built by Antonio Palacios and Joaquin Otamendi as the headquarters of the Spanish Post Office and Telegraph Company. It was inaugurated in 1909 and since 2007 it has housed the offices of the Madrid City Council. The building combines features drawn from a variety of sources, including Gothic Revival architecture, especially the work of Viollet-le-Duc and the original approach to structure and materials of architects and engineers like Gustave Eiffel and Otto Wagner.
Continuing our walk along the Alcala Street, we crossed the famous Banco De Espana building and then to Puerta Del Sol.
The Puerta del Sol ("Gate of the Sun") is one of the best known and busiest places in Madrid. This is the centre (KM 0) of the radial network of Spanish roads. The name of the gate came from the rising sun which decorated the entry, since the gate was oriented to the east. Right here is the famous clock whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a New Year (in Christmas). The Puerta del Sol originated as one of the gates in the city wall that surrounded Madrid in the 15th century. Outside the wall, medieval suburbs began to grow around the Christian Wall of the 12th century.
In the middle of the Puerta del Sol is a large equestrian statue of King Carlos III, installed here in 1997. The King looks out on a beautiful 18th century red brick building, the Casa de Correos (The House of the Post Office). It was built between 1766 and 1768. In front of the Casa de Correos, on the pavement, is the "kilometer 0" plaque.
Puerta del Sol is also the location of the most famous symbol of Madrid - a 20 ton statue of a bear eating fruits from a tree. The official name of the statue is 'El Oso y El Madrono'. According to legend the original name of the city was "Ursaria" ("land of bears" in Latin), due to the high number of these animals that were found in the adjacent forests, which, together with the arbutus ("madrono" in Spanish), have been the symbol (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree) of the city from the Middle Ages.
From Puerta Del Sol, we walked to another city landmark – Plaza Mayor.
This portico lined square is situated at the heart of Hapsburg Madrid, the old part of the city and one of the capital’s most charming districts. Before Madrid became a capital city, with its wide avenues and boulevards, its footprint consisted of narrow streets, alleys and passageways, which today take us back to the times of swashbuckling swordsmen and medieval rogues.
The foundations of Plaza Mayor were laid, when Philip II's court moved to Madrid, on the site of the former Plaza del Arrabal, where the town's most popular market was located towards the end of the 15th century. In 1617, architect Juan Gomez de Mora was commissioned to create a greater uniformity amongst the buildings in this location, which for centuries had hosted popular entertainments, bullfights, beatifications, coronations and the occasional auto de fe (act of faith).
The statue of the king on horseback is one of the most valuable works of art to be found on the streets of Madrid. Designed by Giambologna and completed by Pietro Tacca in 1616, it watched over the entrance to Casa de Campo for centuries until, in 1848, Queen Isabel II borrowed it for the city, placing it in Plaza Mayor. Only during the two Republics has the statue been removed from what is perhaps Madrid's most emblematic square.
We next moved towards Cathedral De La Almudena and Palacio Real.
The principle church of the Diocese of Madrid, the Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena, is a relatively modern building, started in 1883 and not completed until 1993. Remarkable as it may seem, the delay until such recent times in the building of a cathedral in the capital can largely be attributed to the fact that Madrid was part of the Archdiocese of Toledo, which was reluctant to relinquish it.
Plans for the building were, however, progressed when Pope Leo XIII separated the capital from Toledo in the creation of the Diocese of Madrid-Alcala. Until the current building was completed, the Cathedral was temporarily housed in the Jesuit College church of San Isidro. Alumeda was finally consecrated in 1993 by Pope John Paul II, and remains the only Spanish cathedral to have been consecrated by a Pope.
The cathedral is consecrated to Santa Maria de la Almudena, a name which has Arabic origins: al mudayna, means "the castle". Legend has it that in the 8th century, when the Moors invaded the fortress where Madrid now stands, the people hid an image of the Virgin in the city walls, and only when the city was reconquered in the 15th century did a wall crumble to reveal her presence once again. Some versions suggest that the legendary el Cid found the image in the wall, and the Virgin helped him to retake the city.
The building is a mixture of styles with a neoclassical exterior, a gothic revival interior, and a neo-Romanesque crypt. It is constructed of granite and marble, with a large neoclassical cupola and two towers at the main entrance. The cathedral sits next to the Palacio Real, separated from it by a spacious square, the Plaza de la Armeria.
The Palacio Real, or Royal Palace, is Madrid's largest building and possibly it’s most beautiful. It is located next to the equally beautiful Plaza de Oriente square.
Madrid's Royal Palace is the largest royal palace in Western Europe. It was built on the site of the old Alcazar, the Moorish castle destroyed by fire in 1734, but the site has been occupied since the 10th century by the Moors, who having named the city's Manzanares river al-Magrit ("source of water"), referred to the area as Mayrit which became Magerit, then Madrid. The old city walls around this area can still be seen. The palace was initially designed by Filippo Juvarra to accommodate the court of Felipe V, a total of more than 3000 courtiers. Juan Bautista Sacchetti initiated the building project in 1737 and Francisco Sabatini and Ventura Rodriguez terminated the works. It is surrounded by the beautiful Sabatini and Campo del Moro parks.
Leaving the Royal Palace behind, we crossed the Plaza De Oriente. We planned to walk to Gran Via, enroute negotiating Teatro Real and the buzzing Calle Arenal.
The Teatro Real stands where the old theatre of Los Canos del Peral once stood. Los Canos del Peral was built in 1708 and was pulled down when almost a ruin in 1818 to make way for the new Teatro Real. Construction of the new theatre was erratic for around 30 years due to the lack of funding. Tha half-completed building was used for various purposes in between: a dance hall, the Guardia Civil quarters, a powder store and more.
Queen Isabel II who was an opera lover took an interest in the construction, and in 1848 work restarted in earnest. It was officially inaugurated on the Queen's birthday, November 19th, 1850, with a performance of La Favorita by Gaetano Donizetti. The young Queen called the splendid new structure, Teatro de la Opera.
In 1925 it was realised that the building's foundations were suffering from damage caused by underground water flow. Due to funding problems it wasn't until 1965 that the Teatro Real finally reopened. However, it was no longer dedicated to opera; it was merely a concert hall as well as being the headquarters of the Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid. Temporarily abandoning its opera roots, the Teatro Real hosted the 14th Eurovision Song Contest in 1969. The performers had to compete for dominance on stage with a striking metal sculpture created by Spain's leading surrealist artist, Salvador Dali.
In 1988 the Teatro Real was closed once again for extensive refurbishment. Nine years later in 1997 it once again opened its doors to the public, this time as a world class opera house. There was much acclaim for the styling, which reflects a 19th century look and feel. It is considered by many to be one of the finest stages in the world for opera with excellent acoustics.
Gran Via (great way) is an ornate and upscale shopping street located in central Madrid. Today the street is known as the Spanish Broadway, and is one of the streets with the most nightlife in Europe. It is known as the street that never sleeps. It leads from Calle de Alcala, close to Plaza de Cibeles, to Plaza de Espana.
The lively street is one of the city's most important shopping areas, with a large number of hotels and large movie theatres, however in recent times many of these theatres are being replaced by shopping centres. The street is also noted for the grand architecture of many of the buildings. It is considered a showcase of early 20th-century architecture, with patterns ranging from Vienna Secession style, Plateresque, Neo-Mudejar, Art Deco and others.
After spending an hour on Gran Via we had dinner in one of the Indian restaurants. Post dinner, we took a taxi to reach our hotel.
For the next day, we had purchased one-day pass on Madrid City Tour – a hop-on-hop-off bus service. They have 2 routes. Blue (Madrid Historico) and a green (Madrid Moderno).
After breakfast, we took the hotel shuttle to be dropped at Puerta De Alcala. From here we took the Green route. The round trip took us around the ‘modern’ section of Madrid. It covered many museums including Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museum, Art Museum, the towering buildings – namely BBVA, Picasso and Europa and of course the Famous Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
We alighted at Puerta De Alcala, crossed the street and hopped on the Blue Line. Since we had already explored the main sights of Historical Madrid, we just took a short ride on the bus to alight at Palacio Real. The drive took us all the way through Gran Via.
For the rest of the day, it was exploring the famous Las Rozas Village, known for its shopping at nearly 100 luxury boutique stores. The village is about 45-minute bus ride (Shopping Express) from Plaza De Oriente (Opp. Palacio Real). The bus departs at 11 AM; 1PM and 3PM and returns at 5PM and 8PM every day. There’s a charge for the ride and tickets can be purchased online. A day well spent.
The next morning, on our special request, the hotel shuttle dropped us at Atocha Station. We were to take a train to Toledo in the afternoon. We had a couple of hours on hand to explore the Parque De El Retiro, which also had an entrance from opposite the train station.
The Buen Retiro Park is a large and popular 1.4 km2 (350 acres) park at the edge of the city centre. A magnificent park, filled with beautiful sculpture and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake and host to a variety of events, it is one of Madrid's premier attractions. The park is entirely surrounded by the present-day city.
Close to the northern entrance of the park is the Estanque del Retiro ("Retiro Pond"), a large artificial pond. Next to it is the monument to King Alfonso XII, featuring a semicircular colonnade and an equestrian statue of the monarch on the top of a tall central core.
Among the many rose bushes of all kinds stands the Fountain of the Fallen Angel, erected in 1922, whose main sculpture El Angel Caido is a work by Ricardo Bellver (1845–1924) inspired by a passage from John Milton's Paradise Lost, which represents Lucifer falling from Heaven. It is claimed that this statue is the only known public monument of Satan.
The few remaining buildings of the Buen Retiro Palace, including Cason del Buen Retiro and the Salon de Reinos, now house museum collections. The Cason has a collection of 19th and 20th century paintings, including art by the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla.
Since assuming its role as a public park in the late 19th century, the "Parque del Retiro" has been used as a venue for various international exhibitions. Several emblematic buildings have remained as testimony to such events, including the Mining building, popularly known as the Velazquez Palace (1884) by architect Ricardo Velazquez Bosco, who also designed the Palacio de Cristal ("Crystal Palace"), a glass pavilion inspired by The Crystal Palace in London, undoubtedly the gardens' most extraordinary building. Built along with its artificial pond in 1887 for the Philippine Islands Exhibitions, the Palacio de Cristal was first used to display flower species indigenous to the archipelago. The landscape-style gardens located in the former "Campo Grande" are also a reminder of the international exhibitions that have taken place here in the past.
We got out of the park from the other end and had to take a taxi to return to the train station. Our fast train was to depart at 2PM. We would be in Toledo in 35 minutes and expected to return to Madrid later in the evening.
The next morning we would leave for Barcelona.
Madrid Image Gallery Photo viewer
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