Sunday 26 May 2019 – Friday 31 May 2019 – Medinaceli to Madrid
On our way to Madrid we decided to take a detour to Medinaceli a small village along a ridge in Castilla y Leon region just off the A2 motorway. It is a 2-kilometre winding, climbing section up to the village but the view on the approach is spectacular as well as the view from the town.
The first thing you see as you approach the top of the ridge is a huge Roman arch. It is a very impressive Roman Triumphal arch and is constructed in stone using a technique called Opus. It also is the only three-gated Roman arch still standing in Spain, built in the 1st to 3rd centuries AD.
Past the arch to the north is the remains of an old Arab castle possibly built in the 14th century and used to strengthen the walled town. It is said that Almanzor, the powerful and feared leader of Islamic Spain, was buried here after his downfall in Calatanazor. The only gravesites we could see over the wall were of past residents of Medinaceli.
Further along is the Arab Door or as it is now known the Puerta del Mercardo, the only walled entryway still standing out of the initial four. The door is quite small because it was used for defensive purposes and it was also one of the most frequented entryways for merchants that would come to sell their products. It has a pointed arch with a Gothic Mudejar style, but the foundations are Roman.
We wandered through the narrow streets noticing that the majority of houses were constructed of stone
and came across an almost pentagonal shaped square called Castilian Square which is surrounded by beautiful buildings, the Council House -Alhondiga and the Ducal Palace built in the 16th century. A quaint quite little village especially on a Sunday.
We spent 4 days investigating Madrid and its monuments. Each day we walked to the metro and caught it into the old town. The service is fantastic with a train coming every 7 to 10 minutes. Once you get your bearings the subways are easy to navigate. The service is very well patronised and is quite full regardless of the time of day.
- Plaza Mayor
- Free Walking Tour – around the Old Town
- Mercado de San Miguel
- Royal Palace
- Murallas (Arab City Walls)
- Puerta de Toledo – Toledo Gate
- Basilica of San Francisco el Grande
- Prado Museum
- Teatro Flamenco Madrid
- Chocolateria San Gines
- Reina Sofia National Museum
- Retiro Park
Plaza Mayor is a rectangular shaped square built in the 1560s but due to several fires was completed in 1853. It has been the site of a bullring, executions, coronations and even inquisition trials but today, underneath the arcades, it is mainly tapas and wine bars, cafes and restaurants. There are nine entrances into the plaza and the building is three stories high with a total of 237 balconies looking on to the square which are mainly residential.
On Saturday June 1 Madrid is hosting the Champions League Final in football between two English sides, Tottenham and Liverpool and Plaza Mayor is gearing up for the festivities. They have erected a small football stadium with stand and a variety of other sections for entertainment. In the Tourist Office in the plaza is the Champions League cup on display with 4 or 5 security guards surrounding the area. It certainly is going to be a huge affair. It was a very busy place today because every Sunday under the arches there is a coin and stamp collecting market as well. This area is only going to get busier as the day of the final draws near.
Free Walking Tour
We find going on a walking tour in the major cities is a great way to acquire our bearings of the layout of the place, see the sights, gain historical background and obtain recommendations on the must-see sites to visit and places to eat, which are not tourist oriented. We also find a ‘free’ walking tour is usually conducted by a local who has lived in the city for most of their life and, because it is tip based do a really indepth tour.
The tour began in Plaza Mayor where all the hype of the cup is revving up. I hadn’t noticed the façade on a section of the building above the Tourist Office until it was pointed out. The murals have been renovated over time and represent mythological figures connected to the history of Madrid. Each of the nine entrances into the plaza has a plaque with the street name depicting the product which was sold in this street, such as Calle de Botoneras (buttons and sewing items).
On the outskirts of the plaza is Palacio de Santa Cruz which is currently the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain. It was built between the years of 1629 and 1636. It was originally used as a Mayor’s Hall and then a Court Jail.
In the heart of the historic centre is Plaza Perta Cerrada (Closed Door Square) which is one of the gates from the former Christian Wall located here during the Middle ages. This entrance had a lot of corners and recesses that facilitated the hiding of thieves and robbers as travellers passed through this gate, so it was closed down. There were also crosses on many of the streets as milestones placed at the entrances to cities and towns. All of the crosses except this one were removed between 1805 and 1808.
Close by is Sobrino de Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records; the certificate sits in the window. It was founded in 1725 and is famous for its roast suckling pig cooked in the original ovens dating back to 1725 mentioned in a Hemingway novel. Apparently, Spanish painter Francisco Goya was a waiter here before going to art school and American writer Ernest Hemingway was very good friends with owner and would frequent often. If you come before 12 midday you can go on a tour of the rooms, see the ovens and wine cellar. There are photos in the window of them. Unfortunately, we were too late, and the lunch crowd had just started to arrive.
Another area, the Plaza de la Villa are three buildings built in different centuries, The Tower and House of Lujanes, Casa de Cisneros and the Casa de la Villa. The Casa de la Villa has two doors because it served as two functions- the seat of the municipal offices and prison where King Francis 1 of France was supposed to have been imprisoned. The three different styles make this square very unique.
Almudena Cathedral is a huge Catholic church which began in 1875 but had many redesigns over the years and was not completed until 1955. It is very picturesque but not a great deal of history.
We finished our tour at Plaza de Oriente across the road from Palacio Real. In the park there are enormous statues of Spanish Kings crowned by the Royal Palace and were meant to be placed on top of the Royal Palace but were too heavy and a bronze statue depicting Carlos III of Spain on a horse. The rear of the horse is solid bronze and the front is hollow. The construction of the bronze statue required two geniuses of the era; Diego Velazquez (design was based upon his painting) and Galileo (calculations of the stability).
The tour was a great introduction to Madrid and as we were the only two on the tour it was very personalised.
Mercado de San Miguel
At the end of the tour we had tapas at Mercado de San Miguel the oldest and last remaining iron market hall in the city completed in 1916. Inside there are a variety of stalls offering fresh, seasonal products (sushi, fish, oysters, chocolatiers, pasta, pizza, wine bars, beer house and cocktail carts) and it was extremely busy today. There was an amazing variety of food and wines at reasonable prices.
Royal Palace of Madrid
On our way to visit the Royal Palace of Madrid we passed the Teatro Real (Opera House) completed in 1818 and is considered to be one of the finest opera places because of the acoustics.
The Royal Palace is the official residence for the Royal family, but these days it is used for state ceremonies. It was built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Just walking around the outside is very impressive with its vast courtyard behind elegant iron fencing. We paid for an audio guide which was great as it explained the main parts of the place as well as the history.
The palace interior has many highlights and is decorated and furnished with valuable period furniture and artwork. The main staircase has 70 steps and was designed by Sabatini. The Throne Hall has a stunning ceiling mural and in the Royal Chapel there is a collection of antique string instruments. In the dining Room there is a display of the food trays used for state functions. In all there are an astonishing 2,800 rooms with approximately 50 open to the public.
Outside, but part of the Royal Palace, is Sabatini Gardens which are open to the public.
Murallas (Arab City Walls)
Dating from the 9th century, these fortifications were built to protect the Moorish settlement and are a reminder of the first city limits. They originally surrounded an area of around 4 hectares, around a small castle or fort where the Royal Palace now stands.
Puerta de Toledo
The Toledo Gate is a free-standing gate 19 metres high and has three archways with the central arch the tallest. It was the main gateway on the road towards the city of Toledo in past centuries. It was started in 1812 under the Napoleonic government halted and then restarted under Napoleon’s successor Fernando and completed in 1827. On the central arch the emblem of the City of Madrid is held up by two angels and there are various military victories of the era on the other two arches. It is a very busy roundabout with five roads leading into it.
Basilica of San Francisco el Grande
This convent complex was built between 1761 and 1768. It is an enormous basilica with one of the domes painted by Goya and the main dome is the third largest in the world. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside the church (well maybe some).
This museum has a magnificent display of masterpieces by great European masters such as Goya, Velazquez, Raphael and Rubens (among other major Italian and Flemish artists). Donned with an audio guide to help us walk through the maze of 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures we began our three-hour journey. There are no photographs allowed and each room has at least three guides who constantly roam the corridors in watch of those who fluant the rules. Hence, I could not take one photo of Velazquez’ Las Menias and The Seamstresses, Goya’s tapestry cartoons he made for the Royal Tapestry Factory nor the Black Paintings he painted on the walls of his house La Quinta del Sordo. The sheer scale of the collection is daunting, and it would have to be one of the finest museums in Spain.
Teatro Flamenco Madrid
We attended Teatro Alfil Theatre to watch a Flamenco show. We were shown to a table for two in a small theatre along with other tables of diners. After ordering drinks, we settled in to see a performance which consisted of five people whom either played the guitar, sang or danced. The voice of the soloists is an instrument in itself, then add the clapping of the hands, the movement of the feet and a guitar to create an unbelievable performance. They certainly could convey the feeling of the soul (pain, loneliness, love and even death) through the dancing, singing and playing. The dresses worn by the bailaoras (female dancer) were very striking and they outlined the beauty of her movements. The show went for an hour, but it seemed like it had only begun. It was very different from the last time we saw a Flamenco show which was very touristic.
Chocolateris San Gines
Our tour guide asked us if we had tried the chocolate churros and recommended Chocolateria San Gines which is open 24 hours and is renowned for its chocolate with churros. It has served predominantly chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros) since 1894.
After waiting for ten minutes in a line which went out the door and into the street, we ordered one chocolate con churros. The interior is very quaint, decorated with mirrors and green wood panels, with green velvet chairs and marble tables. The hot chocolate is served in Spanish style – thick, dark and strong – and the churros – deep fried batter, similar to a light, crispy, long doughnut, cut to length by the staff -and is served hot and freshly cooked, ready for dunking. It was quite sweet and thick, but delicious. We are glad we only ordered one because we had trouble finishing it.
Reina Sofia National Museum
The Reina Sofia National Museum is Spain’s national museum of 20th century art. A large part of the collection is work by contemporary Spanish artists including our favourites Picasso, Dali and now Miro. Sofia covers the periods that are not examined in the Prado Museum.
The museum highlights Picasso’s Guernica and Woman in Blue and Dali’s Landscapes at Cadaques. Unfortunately, no photographs are possible of Picasso’s works (guarded by guides again) but you can take as many photographs of Salvador Dali’s work, which I did!
I went in search of Crystal Palace which is a greenhouse constructed in 1887 inspired by London’s famous Crystal Palace, but the park is so big (1.4km²) I could not find it after an hour of walking. However, I did find a semi-circular colonnade monument to King Alfonso XII and an artificial lake where you can rent a boat.
We had a great time in Madrid discovering the city, sampling the local food and tapas, seeing a traditional flamenco show, absorbing the Spanish culture and travelling on the metro. Unfortunately, we missed out on seeing a bullfight but hopefully we might see one in Pamplona when we return.