Madrid Travel Guide – City Which Lives Its Squares and Parks

Translated by Berrak KUREL

This time, we have changed our course to Madrid and Andalusia to know Spain better with its bull fighting, flamenco music and its dance, tapas and sangria, cinema, football and basketball teams, Cervantes, Picasso, Salvador Dali, Lorca and many other world-famous artists that we all know more or less. We were certain we would feel home in this Mediterranean country in Europe, like we have in Italy.

The establishment of Madrid, the fifth most populated city of Europe, as a city and becoming the capital is based on recent periods. For the first time in ninth century by an Umayyad Caliph called Al-Waid I, a small fortress was built in order to rest and to protect Toledo from Christian invasion, where Palacio Real is situated today. The castle was given the name “Mayrit” in Arabic which means ‘water path’. The area for settlement for this fortress remained in Muslims until 1085.



When Toledo was invaded by Alfonso VI of León and Castile, fortress of Mayrit and settlement areas nearby is burned down and destroyed however, Toledo was chosen as the capital. Mayrit remains out of sight for a long time.

After being chosen as the capital city and after the moving of Royal Court to Madrid by Philip II of Spain in 1561; many important buildings were built, population grew and Madrid gained more importance. The gold and the treasure obtained after America’s discovery in medieval, Madrid became richer and grew.

It earned its European appearance during the era of Charles III of Spain in eighteenth century. Castellana Street, Alcala Gate, Prado Palace and Palacio Real are all monuments of this era. Between 1808 and 1813, it is invaded by France under Napoleon Bonaparte’s regime.

Spain has one of the biggest civil wars of the world between 1936 and 1939; hence starts the period of dictatorship in 1975 which lasted 36 years until the death of General Franco. During this era, all government institutions were gathered in Madrid, thus brought Madrid into the forefront compared to other cities.

Madrid in our days is a city both joyful and alive despite of its sad and blood guilty past.

The flight is 3 hours and 40 minutes long from Istanbul to Madrid-Barajas Airport. Since we were traveling as a group, we preferred to take a taxi to get to the city center (took 20 minutes and the price was 30 Euros fix). Our hotel was very close to Gran Via street and Gran Via metro station. After checking in to our hotel, We walked down from the Montera Street where the metro station is. Then we arrived to Puerto del Sol which is situated in the center of the city. There are many cafes and restaurants in this street which is only accessible for pedestrians. Later in the night, the street takes a whole new appearance.

Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun): The most famous square of the city. One of the gates the walls surrounding the city in fifteenth century was located here. The square took its name and semicircle shape from this gate. I was probably disappointed in this square and it was the one I least liked out of the ones I saw before because the buildings around were under renovation.  The statue of ‘Bear and a Madrone Tree’  which is the symbol of the city and statue ‘Charles III of Spain’ are found in this square. A little effort is needed to see the the city’s symbol statue on one end of the square. The square which is a meeting and gathering spot for it people is always crowded because it is right in the center of the city.

“The House of the Post Office” with red bricks in this square which was built by French architect Jacques Marquet in 1766-1768 and was used as the Ministry of the Interior at the time; is also known for the corporal punishments for Franco opponents.

Puerto Sol which bears testimony for many important historical moments such as the suppression of the popular uprising by Napoleon in 1808, the killing of President Jose Canalelaj in 1912, and the 2. Proclamation of the Republic in 1932; is regarded as a demonstration center of Madrid.

The best way to explore this city is to walk, however, it is best to purchase a city tour when time is limited. We bought a city tour ticket (12 Euros) from a stall in the square. Those who have time, may purchase a one or two day Hop On-Hop Off  ticket (21-25 Euros) and explore more of this city.

We arrive at Plaza de San Miguel after walking for some time on Calle Mayor. Our tour which has started from the bus stop at this square, finishes in this stop again. We learn the important areas and the general sketch of the city. La Latina districts drew our attention with its similarities with Istanbul. At the end of the tour, we decide on the shortest route that would take us to the Prado Museum which we have learned about in this tour. We get the chance to see near districts and the famous Bernabeu Stadium of Real Madrid from outside.

I think It would have been  great to experience  football in Spanish culture by watching Real Madrid and Barcelona have a match and wear a Barcelona uniform in this stadium that gave a hell of a time to  Turkish teams during UEFA Champions League. Who knows, maybe one day…

The city is neither too big or small. It is organized, green and respectful towards is past with its historical buildings. Wide streets, squares and parks draws our attention at first sight. I feel like I can almost hear you say that all cities in Europe are likewise. The squares in Madrid and Spain overall reunite history and today and also keep today alive. Also, perhaps our fear of going out and our longing for these type of squares and parks in our own country made them look this attractive  to me. Of course, long nights of summer might have had the same effect too, I’m not so sure.

Basilica de San Francisco el Grande in Los Austrias

Mercado de San Miguel: We visit Mercado de San Miguel after finishing the city tour. This place is a closed bazaar with its metal architecture where you can find many tapas, try sea food, find different sorts of beverages and charcuterie. Our friends who could not resist to the smell of the food here and have tasted them, found the tapas to be very delicious.

Cava Baja: We went to see the tapas restaurants in Cava Baja Street because we were looking for a place near to sit and rest. We didn’t have much trouble finding a place to sit since it was still early for lunch time. Our group divides into two restaurants and everyone is happy with their choice. We have almost ordered everything on the menu of restaurant called ‘TragaTapas’ and our favourites were sauced shrimps and calamari. Cost per person including beverage (Sangria) was 12 Euros.

On the way back, we arrive back at Puerto del Sol by crossing Plaza Mayor. We have learned the routes quite well. Once you get to Puerto del Sol, it is all easy. This time we take the street one before Montera. This street where retail shops and shopping areas are quite frequent, takes as directly to Gran Via.


Plaza Mayor (Main Square): There is a statue built by Philip III of Spain in the middle of the rectangle shaped square surrounded by three storey buildings with many balconies. The first design of the square is done by Juan de Herrera. The square which was used for royal ceremonies, bull fights, inquisition trials and executions long time ago, is now a restless touristic place hosting many local festivals, concerts, and street art.

To those who are curious about it, in one of the galleries on the first floor of Prado Museum, there is an interesting painting of Francisco Rizi which shows the usage of this square in the past.

It is quite possible to see these type of rectangle squares (Herrerian style) surrounded by buildings. which are a Spanish classic. “Place Reial” in Barcelona and “Plaza de la Corradera” in Cordoba are the first squares that come to my mind

The building that has colourful murals, is called the “Casa de la Panaderia – Bakery House”. The building which was used as royal offices in the past, is now the Madrid Municipality. It is used by the Cultural Affairs Unit.

 

We take a short break at this colourful and chirpy square which is surrounded by cafes. However, it would be disappointing to expect the same liveliness at night.

The square leads to arched passageways and streets and other squares. One of them is the arched passageway that leads to Plaza de San Miguel.

 

 





Gran Via: Gran Via which was built by demolishing a city and 14 streets in 1910, is one of the busiest streets with shops of famous brands. Plaza de Espana is on the west side of the street. Calle de Alcala is on the east side. There many buildings with different architectures on the street. The first skyscraper of Madrid Telefonica which is designed by American Weeks and Metropolis building designed by French architect Jules and Raymond Fevrier are only two examples for these buildings.

Live music concerts are performed on the square where Callao metro station is at Gran Via. The square is getting ready for a concert to be given at night.

For art lovers, we have museums of Prado and Reina Sofia on the second day of our trip in Madrid, “Country of Museums”. After arriving in Cİbeles Square (further down on the east side of Gran Via), we turn to Paseo Del Prado and find Prado Museum on this road.

Prado Museum: As one of the ‘must-see’ museums in Madrid and also as one of  the worlds most respected museums, it has a very rich collection. In this museum that hosts important artefacts of North Renaissance  art, you can find works of many important artists such as; Bosch, Rubens, Titian, Raphael, Murillo, Dürer, El Greco, Caravaggio, Ribera, Rembrant, Bruegel. Most of famous Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosh’ work of early renaissance is exhibited in this museum’s collection.

We get the chance to see works of many Spanish painters, Diego Valazquez who was known as the “Painter of Truth” and Francisco Goya who was regarded as the first painter of Spanish modern era. “Las Meninas- The Ladies in Waiting” (1656) is seen as the most valuable painting in Prado.

 

“The Third Of May” (1808) painted by Francisco Goya when he was 62, symbolizes the day Frenchman slaughtering Spanish civilians.

Reina Sofia Museum: A contemporary art museum where many photographs, paintings, statues, graphite and different work could be found. Work of many artists such as Salvador Dali, Miro and Pablo Picasso are exhibited in this museum.

The most valuable painting in the museum is “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso. Just like the best literary work describing the cruelty of war is “To Whom The Bell Tolls”, the same description comes alive in “Guernica”. Taking pictures is allowed in the museum, however it prohibited in the hall where Guernica was exhibited. Therefore, I am pasting a picture of it I found on the Internet.

Some paintings  from Salvador Dali, Solana, Picasso
   

               

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                 

                                  
 

















For more information you can read “Museums” that I have written.

After Reina Sofia Museum, we cross the Caudio Moyano Street to get to Retiro Park. There are second hand book stalls on this street.

Buen Retiro Park: The 350 acres of park belonging to the Royal Family, was opened to public near the end of nineteenth century during Alfonso XII of Spain’s ruling. A perfect spot to be inside the city but also feel away from it.

 

We spend around 3 hours in this park which we entered from the Angel Caido gate on the south and exit from the Indepencia Gate on the north of the park.

You can see many people skating around, cycling, reading and sunbathing in this parl where many book fairs, concerts and exhibitions are held.

 There is an artificial lake on which you can get on a small boat and on which the monument of Alfonso XII is found.

There are two art galleries inside the park.

Palacio de Cristal: Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) which was built as a greenhouse for exotic plants on 1887, now hosts temporary exhibitions for modern day artists. Some pictures from the gallery of “The Rocket and the Abyss” of Damian Ortega that coincided with our visit.

Palacio de Velazquez: It was built by Velazquez Bosco between 1881-1883 for a national exhibition, and was later continued to use for exhibitions. The building is neoclassic, has red bricks and tiles on the exterior. Today, it hosts exhibitions of Reina Sofia Museum.

“The Forest of Remembrance” built by planting olive and cypress trees for each person who have lost their lives in the attack on 11th of March 2004, is also situated in this park.

The Independencia Gate on the North side of the park, leads to Plaza de la Independencia and we see Puerta de Alcala (Alcala Gate) on this square. You can get to “Retiro” by taking the metro from here.

 

Alcala Gate: A three-arched monument built between 1774-1778 as the East side gate of the city during Carlos III’s ruling. This neoclassic monument which resembles triumphal arches of Roman architecture was designed by Italian architecture Frencesco Sabatini.

We see a group performing by dancing and singing on Calle de Alcala, when on our way to Cibele Square.

Cibele Square: It takes its name from the statue of Cybele Goddess of Fertility in a car being pulled by lions in the middle of the street. It is still not clear what the goddess of fertility of Phrygians who had settled in Anatolia. The square is surrounded by buildings of architecture similar to Palacio de Cibeles, Banco de Espana, Palacio Buenavista and Palacio de Linares. It doesn’t show clear because it could not fit into the frame. Palacio de Cibeles draws attention as it was the most magnificent building of the square. This square is also known for its celebrations for Real Madrid’s victory.

  

We contiune our tour as it doesn’t get dark early in summer and go to La Latina.

La Latina: I loved this place since it resembles Istanbul with its rough streets and its overall air with many bars, cafes and restaurants.

Aren’t the cautious peddlers in Latino so familiar?

With my dear friend Şengül, we adore the colorful sweet store (La Cyre Gourmande).

EL Rastiro: It is a very vast open bazaar, very similar to “Nişantaşı high-end flea market” located in the streets around Calle de Toledo on Sundays. For those who love shopping and antiques, it could be very interesting.  You can find unique souvenirs for acceptable prices such as fans, castanets and magnets in this bazaar. To look around more comfortably, it is best to arrive early, because it could get too crowded. We took a taxi to get there, but it is possible to get here by metro with ‘Latina’ station.

On our way back from Andalusia, we saved Palacio Real for the the last day of our trip. We perfected our trip to Madrid with this beautiful palace. From Puerta del Sol, we headed toward west on Calle del Arenal and arrived at Plaza de Isabel II and at the palace near Teatro Real quite easily.

Palacio Real: The palace which was the official residence of King of Spain until 1937, was only used for official ceremonies. Spain is governed with parliamentary monarchy. The king who has symbolic authority lives in Zarzuella Palace upstate.

First, there was a castle built by King of Toledo for defense in ninth century. The neoclassic palace what V. Felipe wanted to build after the burning down of this castle in 1734, was completed in 1755. The Royal Palace hosted administrators during the Franco Era and the Republic era. It has approximately 3500 rooms, and is more glorious on the inside than on the outside. If we had enough time to properly see the biggest Royal Palace of Europe ( such as its throne room, rooms of Carlos III and Carlos IV, dining room and the ceramic room), I would have definitely wanted it. You need a lot time spared to do so.

As we have visited the Palace, I should also say that Sabatini Gardens, Gardens of Campo del Moro, Muralla Arabe where monuments remaining from Muslims from Medieval rest, Basilica de San Francisco el Grande and Plaza de Espana can ve visited.

 

Statue of Felipe IV on a horse in Oriente Square in front of the Palace.

Statues on the way for the Palace.     

Teatro Real in front of the Palace where opera and theatre shows are held.

 
Almudena Cathedral: The construction of the Cathedral which was initiated during Alfanso XII in 1883, lasts longer than an 100 years due to civil wars, economic reasons (It did not interest rich Spanish people because the name of the donators were not to be announced) and etc. It was only completed in 1993. Actually, this construction was decided long ago. Initially Madrid’s first mosque and a chuch built by one of the Saints of Madrid called Santa Maria de la Almudena on the place where the Cathedral is built. After King Felipe II made Madrid the capital city, plans for a new church were being made. Even though the permission was given and the construction began, it never continued.

 

When King Alfanso XII lost his first wife Maria de Las Mercedes, the construction of the cathedral started again as a memorial and a grave for her. The cathedral has an eclectic architecture in which various architectures worked for a long time. The exterior was made to be neoclassic to be in harmony with the Palace in front of it. Neo-gothic and neo-romanesque architecture was used for interior architecture. Ceiling decorations and he altar stone from sixteenth century directly attracts attention. It is the only Spanish cathedral sanctified  by Papa 2. John in 1993. However it was officially opened to public with the marriage ceremony of the current King Felipe and Letizia Ortiz in 2004.  It is different than most of the other cathedrals and has a more modern architecture, therefore this Roman Cathedral deserves to be seen.

Atocha Train Station: The biggest train station of Madrid with a botanic garden inside it. It has an interesting architecture with cast iron, bricks and glass materials. Our paths crossed with this beautiful station frequently on our way to Toledo and Cordoba and on the way back from Andalusia.

191 people were dead because of the Al-qaida attack in 2004. For that reason, serious security precautions are enforced in train stations in Spain. Belongings go through X-Ray machines. It is possible that you may miss your train if you arrive at the last minute to the station because of all these security checks.

Personally I think that the energy of squares, parks and streets of Madrid effect you as well. In order to properly enjoy the city and open air venues, I advise you not to visit in winter.

There are many other venues and many other flavors to taste in Madrid other than Plaza de Espana, Plaza del Dos Mayo, Plaza de Santa Ana and etc. I don’t know if I convinced you to visit here but I would certainly want to come back to Madrid with another destination but this time especially to follow the footsteps of Cervantes. I have completed my ritual for this. I took a picture in front of the “Bear” statue which is the symbol of the city, and guaranteed my return.


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