Madrid

Like many of us I've been to the Costa del Sol region of Spain loads of times over the years. When I was younger on those first crazy holidays with friends and no parents and more recently taking the time to go beyond the bars and explore a little more of the Andalusia region. You can read all about those visits (no not the drunken ones, I wasn't blogging then) on my Singapore blog here. Other than that, the only other part of Spain I've been to is Santander, on a one night half day visit many years ago. Coincidentally this was also quite alcohol fuelled being part of a New Year's cruise, so I actually saw very little of it in fairness. All this considered then it was definitely time to see more of Spain and a visit to Madrid was planned.

Unfortunately it seems I packed the Scottish weather in my suitcase as it rained a lot during our few days there but this didn't dampen (sorry) our spirits and we still got out and did a lot of exploring. In fact it was only on reviewing my photos afterwards that I appreciated how much we did see, warning then that this post is quite photo heavy as a result. 

First up, somewhere we went to and passed through several times over the few days was the Plaza Mayor. I guess it's not surprising that this was the case as this is a central square in the city. I loved how the square was totally surrounded by residential buildings and cafes with the huge archways (you can see one in the photo below) down narrow side streets serving as entrances. The origins of the plaza go back to 1577 when Philip II arranged for an architect to remodel the previous chaotic square. Since then the plaza has had a number of names, including Plaza de la Constitución and Plaza de la República but was renamed Plaza Mayor at the end of the Spanish Civil War. Presiding over everything in the centre is the equestrian statue of King Philip III which was created in 1616. Like many main squares in cities our guidebook recommended we avoid the bars and restaurants here as they are overpriced. However when the sun finally did come out we couldn't resist stopping for just a couple of drinks and the chance to watch the world go by for a little while.


Madrid is easy to walk around and many of the key sights are all reasonably close to one another. We did use their Metro on one day and once we got our head around the ticketing that was very straightforward too. We were assisted by a very helpful employee who for the four of us got us just the one ticket which had multiple usage on it. Perfect for us to get to our destination and back again but it did also feel a little wrong passing a ticket back and forth over the barrier for each of us to use in turn. It worked though so we weren't going to argue.😆 

As well as Plaza Mayor we walked through many other delightful squares during our stay, the one in the photo below being just one of them, the Plaza de la Villa. Like the Plaza Mayor this one is also enclosed, although only on three sides and is much smaller and more intimate. This square was the permanent seat of Madrid's city government from the Middle Ages until only recently. When we passed through here there was hardly anyone else around and it was almost like walking through someone's private gardens, quite lovely. From here it was just a short walk to the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Almudena and the royal palace.

Plaza de la Villa

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Almudena

Royal palace

The building of the cathedral began in 1879 despite discussions to build a cathedral in the capital beginning as early as the 16th century. However the cost of maintaining and keeping Spain's Empire came first and the building of a cathedral was continually postponed. The site where the cathedral stands was originally occupied by Madrid's first mosque and then by an older church dedicated to one of Madrid's patron saints. In the end the cathedral was only completed and consecrated in 1993! This may explain why from the other side of the building to my photo above it looks a little like two very different buildings have just been joined together. There were many delays in completion including a cessation of construction during the Spanish Civil War with work on it only beginning again in 1950. We didn't go inside so I can't give you any insight on the interior. Have any of you been inside? What's it like? Instead we turned our attentions to the royal palace.

The palace (Palacio Real) is literally next to the cathedral, with a large square stretching out in front of you and the entrance if you want to go in. Walking around the side you'll come to another large square in front of the other side of the palace and beyond that some more formal gardens, the Plaza de Oriente. This side of the palace is a hive of activity with tourists milling around alongside some slightly disturbing characters dressed in costume. The costume was some kind of military looking uniform but designed in such a way that the body covered their head with a hat then suspended above it, so basically a faceless person. We avoided them and I assume they were for the tourists but I wasn't convinced on the look personally, just a touch weird and slightly disturbing.

The palace is the official residence of the Spanish royal family but is only used now for state ceremonies. It is located on the site of a 9th century alcázar, a Muslim-era fortress, when this burned down in 1734 King Philip V ordered the building of this palace. The palace has over 2000 rooms and based on floor area is the largest palace in Europe. The side of the palace facing towards the formal gardens has a very impressive and frankly huge entrance door. It became clear why a couple of days later when we happened to be in the vicinity at the right time to catch the changing of the guard. The soldiers on horseback come through this door so obviously it needs to be large enough to accommodate a horse and the rider on its back. From the formal gardens of the Plaza de Oriente you can walk through to squares with various cafes and restaurants, very important after a morning of sight seeing!

Plaza de Oriente


Loved the windows and balconies of so many of the buildings in Madrid, this one caught my eye with the parasol decorations

If you're visiting Madrid you should head to the Retiro district of the city, if nothing else than to explore the park that bears the same name. One way of approaching the park is via the Plaza de la Independencia where the impressive 18th century gate of Puerta de Alcalá stands. The gate is regarded as the first modern post-Roman triumphal arch and is older than its more well known cousins, the Arc de Triomphe and the Brandenburg gate. Just beyond the plaza and gate is the Parque del Buen Retiro.

Unfortunately for us when we entered the park and obviously weren't likely to find much shelter the heavens really did open. Luckily it was, at least, a warm rain as obviously we were all dressed in summery gear and not really for downpours. As a result we probably didn't see the park at its best and if the weather had been better I'm sure we'd have looked at a lot more. Nonetheless though we had a short walk around before making our way as quickly as possible back to our hotel.

The park is huge, so it was a shame we saw so little. It was laid out in the 17th century, originally as the preserve of Kings, Queens and their intimates before being opened to the public in 1868. It has a couple of cafes in it, which in good weather would probably be great for people watching. We did stop for a coffee (this was before the weather went really downhill) but it was mainly because we were looking for a toilet. The coffee though was, not surprisingly, well worth the stop in slightly dodgy weather.

One of the unexpected parts of the park that we did hunt out was the statue of El Ángel Caido (the Fallen Angel) which is a statue of the devil. Not surprisingly perhaps it's one of only a few statues of the devil anywhere in the world and even more interestingly it stands at 666m above sea level! If I return to Madrid I need to return to this park to see more.

Puerta de Alcalá

El Ángel Caido

We were here at the end of August but look at that those Autumnal leaves on the trees!

O
ne of the most surprising discoveries for me about Madrid is that there is an actual ancient Egyptian temple right in the city! The temple originally stood fifteen kilometres south of Aswan in Upper Egypt very close to the first cataract of the Nile. With the construction of the Aswan dam in the 1960s there was a threat of flooding to the temple from the rising waters of Lake Nasser and UNESCO made an international call to save this and numerous monuments and archaeological sites. As a gesture of thanks to the Spanish archaeologists who worked to save these sites the Egyptian state gifted the temple to Spain in 1968. This makes it one of only a few pieces of ancient Egyptian architecture that can be seen outside of Egypt and the only one in Spain and I had absolutely no idea it was even here! You can go inside it but on the day we went it wasn't open. However it was pretty impressive just to view from the outside.

We had a great few days in Madrid, what are your favourite parts of this lovely city?

Templo de Debod


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