The capital of Spain is beautiful in many ways. Madrid surprised me with its majestic architecture and heritages. It has preserved the look and feels of many of its historic neighborhoods and streets; The vibe is indeed, quite different from Barcelona and the discrepancy is obvious.
The architectural style in Madrid had evolved over time. For example, the Metropolis building is built in French style and the Edificio Grassy is eclectic, while Telefónica Building is art deco with baroque ornaments. Do you want more? The Capitol Building is an expressionist, and the Palace of the Press is another example of art deco. Explore the Golden Triangle of Art, located along the Paseo del Prado, comprising three world-class art museums that brought us through an artistic journey from old to new. The high-rise buildings, like the Gate of Europe, in La Castellana, created a striking skyline in the modern day.
We visited Madrid during Easter. Beyond the delicious food, the Golden Triangle of Art, we stroll through the historic center, soaking in Spanish royalty, culture, and history. Here are some of the best places to do so.
Puerta del Sol
Our journey began in the Puerta del Sol, or Gate of the Sun. The public square is the focal point, literally – because this is the center of the radial network of Spanish roads. Restaurants, cafes, hotels, and souvenir shops are all here, making it one of the best-known and busiest districts in the city. Among all the plaques, sculptures, landmarks, monuments, and signs, the statue of the Bear and the Madroño Tree stands out from the crowd and becomes the heraldic symbol of Madrid. Designed by sculptor Antonio Navarro Santafé, the statue represents the main heraldic symbols of the city and of Spain.
We stayed at the Puerta del Sol and it’s a convenient spot to be, as it is in close proximity to all the historic sites in Madrid’s old town. Walking down Calle Mayor, the cherry trees were blossoming to celebrate spring (It was Easter after all). The shops and cafes alongside were flaunting things that most Spanish love – food and football. We had a bite over some delicious tapas, Serrano ham, sangria, and churros, and look at the souvenirs of the Real Madrid CF, then we entered another landmark, Plaza Mayor. It is the central plaza located blocks away from Puerta del Sol, in an exact rectangular shape, surrounded by three-story buildings having 237 balconies facing the plaza.
The plaza is also a venue of numerous events, it was a prosecution site during the Spanish Inquisition period, and it is a site of a market, football match, and even bullfighting in the present days.
Royal Palace of Madrid
This is the residence of the Spanish Royal Family, mainly used for state ceremonies. The Roya palace is huge – so much so it is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area, with 135,000 square meters of floor space and 3,418 rooms. I felt tiny standing at the Plaza de la Armería in front of the structure!
Royal Palace 101
The palace was built in the 19th century by order of King Felipe V on the site of the old Alcazar fortress. The palace was completed in the year of 1764. The Palace was designed by a number of architects over the year, and the great staircase is a stunning feature designed by Sabatini, as well as the southeast wing. The architecture is somewhere between the Baroque and Neoclassical styles.
The interior is notable for its wealth of art and the use of many types of fine materials in the construction and decoration of its rooms.
The Grand Staircase, the Royal Library, the Royal Pharmacy, the Royal Armory, the king’s and queen’s apartments, the Royal Chapels, and the Crown Room are filled with exquisite frescos and valuable collections of art and artifacts of the Spanish Empire from the 13th to 19th century. Of particular note among its numerous rooms are the Royal Guards’ Room, the Columns Room, the Hall of Mirrors, and King Charles III’s room. It also contains paintings by Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, El Greco and Caravaggio.
It’s too bad that photography was prohibited in the palace!
On the opposite side of the palace stands the Almudena Cathedral. The Catholic church is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid. Plans to build a cathedral in Madrid started as early as the 16th century and yet the project was delayed due to many reasons, and the construction of the Almudena Cathedral had only begun in the year 1883, ceased during the Spanish Civil War, and finally completed in 1993.
The cathedral has a Baroque exterior that matches the façade of the Royal Palace, and a rather modern neo-Gothic style interior, with chapels and statues of contemporary artists, from historical revivals to “pop-art” décor.
After our visit to the Royal Palace, we explored the nearby area, which is full of art and fashion. There were sculptures and statues everywhere, and the old buildings were rejuvenated with modern paintings and frescos. Interestingly, we saw a bunch of mannequins displayed on the balcony of a building. After our dinner at Restaurante Botin, we were just in time to catch the Easter Holy Week Parade – The Catholic Brotherhood in capirotes marching through many cities in Spain.
“Capirote” is a pointed hat of conical form and a part of the uniform of some brotherhoods during Easter observances and reenactments. Historically, the capirote was used by the holy office of the Inquisition, the arrestees wore a paper capirote in public as a sign of humiliation. When the Inquisition was abolished, the symbol of punishment and penitence was preserved in the Catholic brotherhood.
The Holy Week in Spain is the annual tribute to the Passion of the Christ. The parade performs penance processions on the streets during the last week of Lent, and it is now also a tourist event that attracts visitors from all over the world to attend the parades.
We visited the park when we were exploring the art museums the other day, and then we decided to go back and row a boat in Retiro Park Lake.
El Retiro, or the Buen Retiro Park, which literally means “Park of Pleasant Retreat” in Spanish, is the largest park in the heart of Madrid, and truly an escape from all the hustle and bustle of the ever-partying Madrid. The magnificent park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late century when it became a public park, and therefore it is filled with sculptures and monuments.
Besides, don’t miss out on the free concerts on Sundays because there’s always a big gathering inside the monument. Musicians are playing bongos, cajón drums, and didgeridoos, it’s like a party!
So that day, I row the boat, chased the geese, and rolled on the lawn, never had I thought that I would also see some extraordinary natural phenomena, in the middle of a pleasant day.
It came so sudden that I didn’t know what it was. We stood in the center of the park and I thought it was an eclipse. People were running and screaming and then every living soul deserted the park. It was silent… no more quaking and chirping until I saw hail dropping down as we ran to a tiny pavilion by the lake in awe. Quickly though, the rain weakened. The sun came back out, and so did the people and animals, as if nothing had happened. That was quite an odd five minutes that I had in my life…