Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Last Day in Madrid

Today is my last day in Madrid.  I wanted to make the most of the warm, sunny weather today, so I took a long walk to explore a part of the city which I had not seen, the Madrid Río Project.  

Most major cities in the world were built on bodies of water or on navigable rivers.  Madrid, however, has nothing more than the puny, little Manzanares River.  In the 1970s, the M-30, the city's inner ring highway, was constructed along and even over the river.  In 2008 an ambitious project was begun to tunnel the M-30 underground, and to turn the banks of the Manzanares into a vital part of Madrid's urban landscape.  A new park stretches for over six miles along the river, with gardens, fountains, restaurants, foot-bridges, playgrounds and sports facilities.  Even on a weekday, I found the park to be busy with walkers, joggers, bicyclists and skaters.  

I walked perhaps about one half of the park, starting at the historic Segovia Bridge.  Segovia Bridge was Madrid's oldest bridge.  It was built in the 1500s, and was the main route out of the city.  It was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, but a new bridge was built in its place.  The new bridge is wider, but otherwise follows the same design as the original.

 Madrid's Cathedral stands on the cliffs above the river.  At the far left you can see a portion of the Royal Palace.

I continued south along the river-walk.  Thousands of pine trees have been planted throughout the park.  Foot-bridges connect the two banks.

Along the river stands the stadium of Madrid's other soccer team, "Club Atlético".

I arrived at Madrid's other historic bridge, Toledo Bridge.  It was built in the 1600s.  Such nice vistas of the bridge were impossible prior to the construction of the park.

I had planned to turn back at this point, but a very modern foot-bridge a bit further down the river beckoned me on.

There is much more to the river park.  The next time I visit Madrid, I will have to see the rest of it.

Strolling along the Manzanares River is not as romantic as walking along the banks of the Seine in Paris, and I would not put this park at the top of the list of attractions for a first-time visitor to Madrid.  However, the Madrid Río Project is definitely a wonderful asset to the city!     
Farewell, Madrid!
I'm sure that I will return! 

Monday, September 29, 2014


Today I took a bus thirty miles to the southeast of Madrid to a little town called Chinchón.  Chinchón is little known to foreign tourists, but it is a very popular weekend get-away with residents of Madrid.  Since today is Monday, I practically had the town to myself.

When I arrived around 11:00 A.M., the sun still had not completely burned off the morning fog.

This picturesque town is famous for its 15th century main plaza.  The "town square' is actually circular in shape, and it doubles as the town's bullring.  The barricades and seating were all in place because every October a famous bullfight is held in Chinchón.  Some of Spain's best "toreros" participate, and all the proceeds are donated to charity.


There are more than 200 balconies on the buildings which surround the plaza.  Most of the buildings are restaurants and inns which serve the large numbers of weekend visitors.

Chichón is famous for its culinary traditions.  The restaurants are noted for their roasted meats, typical of Castilian cuisine.  The town also produces "Anís", an anise flavored liqueur. The bakeries of Chichón produce a variety of artisanal breads.  

One rather "risqué" product sold in all the bakeries of Chinchón is "la teta de la novicia" (the novice's tit). 

The bakeries also sell "pelotas del fraile" (Friar's balls), and I'm sure that the "double entendre" is intended!

Overlooking the plaza is the 15th century Church of the Assumption, a sturdy, fortress-like structure that lacks the typical bell tower.

Down the street is a clock tower that was part of a church that was destroyed in the Napoleonic Wars.  There is an old saying... "Chinchón has a tower without a church and a church without a tower."

Looking down toward the plaza from the church...

The streets of Chinchón are a photographer's delight.

On the edge of town are the remains of a 16th century castle which was built for the Count of Cabrera, the local lord.  The castle was damaged during the War of Spanish Succession and the Napoleonic Wars.  For a time it was used as a factory for production of "anís".  You cannot enter the castle, but from here there is a great view of the town and the surrounding countryside.

My trip to Spain is coming to an end.  I took three excursions to towns nearby Madrid... Alcalá de Henares, Aranjuez, and Chinchón.  None of them are on the typical itinerary of the foreign tourist.  But all of them are easy to reach by public transportation.  Each one is unique, and each one is definitely worth a visit!  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

National Museum of Archaeology

Today was a gray, dreary day in Madrid... a good day for visiting a museum.  I had not been to the National Museum of Archaeology since my first trip to Spain way back in the 1970s.  The museum was closed in 2008 for renovations, and did not reopen earlier this year.  I wanted to see what is was like now, because, quite frankly, back in the 70s it struck me as a rather fusty, old place.  I am happy to report that the new and improved museum is spectacular!  Foreign tourists coming to Madrid usually concentrate on its art museums, but the Archaeology Museum is a gem which should be high on a visitor's list.  The collection on display is larger, the displays are more appealing, and the explanations (written in Spanish and English) provide visitors with a much better appreciation for what they are viewing.

 Only the Victorian exterior of the museum remains the same.

I personally thought that the two most impressive parts of the museum were the sections dealing with the Iberians and Romans.

The Iberians were the earliest historical inhabitants of Spain.  Their culture was influenced by the Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians who built trading colonies along the coast.

In the museum courtyard is a reconstructed Iberian burial monument.  Using the surviving pieces from the monument,  archaeologists have put together what it must have looked like.


There is a large collection of Iberian carvings.  Most of these pieces were found in grave sites, and most of them portray women.  Women held an important place in Iberian society, and family ancestry was traced through the female line.

The largest of these Iberian sculptures is a piece known as the "La Dama de Baza" (the Lady of Baza).  It dates from around 400 B.C. and represents an Iberian queen or noblewoman.  Traces of the original paint can still be seen.  A hole in the side of the statue would seem to indicate that it was used as a receptacle for the cremated remains of the woman.

The star of the museum is this Iberian bust known as "La Dama de Elche".  The enigmatic lady also dates from around 400 B.C.

I have long been fascinated with the Lady of Elche.  When I was in college I wrote a short story in Spanish about the statue and submitted it to a literary contest held by Sigma Delta Pi, the national Spanish honorary society.  In my story the lady is an Iberian queen, and she falls in love with a Greek sculptor who was taken prisoner by the Iberians.  She has the Greek sculpt her likeness.

I was reading the descriptive information about the bust, and I was quite surprised to learn that archaeologists now consider it quite likely that "La Dama de Elche" was carved by a Greek sculptor!

Since Spain was one of the most important provinces of the Roman Empire, it is not surprising that the museum has a large collection of Roman artifacts from Hispania.  You will find everything from everyday household objects to impressive pieces of sculpture and mosaic floors.

The museum also has a sizable collection of Romanesque and Gothic religious art from medieval Spanish churches and monasteries.

The renovated Archeological Museum is a new jewel in Madrid's crown of museums.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Prodigy of Nature

Today I visited the house of one of the giants of Spanish literature, Lope de Vega.  Although he is not well known in the English speaking world, he is considered the greatest Spanish playwright, and one of the most prolific writers in all of world literature.  He was the author of 18,000 plays, all written in verse.  His incredible literary output earned him his nickname "The Prodigy of Nature."  Many of his plays were quickly written, and their quality is uneven.  However, at least 80 of his dramas are considered masterpieces.  He was a contemporary of Cervantes (his bitter rival) and many of the other great writers of Spain's Golden Age.

(image from the web)

Lope de Vega was born into a poor family in 1562.  He demonstrated his intellectual brilliance at an early age.  By the age of five he was reading Spanish and Latin, and he wrote his first play at the age of twelve.

His personal life was filled with plenty of drama.  He was involved in scores of scandalous love affairs; one of them resulted in his exile from Madrid for eight years.  Lope served in the Spanish navy, and was fortunate to have been on one of the few ships of the Armada that made it back to Spain.  He married twice; both wives died in childbirth.  After his second wife's death he joined the priesthood, but that did not stop him from continuing his amorous adventures.

He married his second wife for money, and was able to buy the solid, brick house which today is a museum.  He lived here for 25 years until his death in 1635.  The house is located on a narrow street in old Madrid.  In Lope's era the street was named Francos Street, but today, ironically, it is named after his literary enemy, Cervantes.

The garden behind the house is planted with trees and plants mentioned by Lope, and still contains the original well. 

The interior of the house is furnished with 17th century antiques.  Except for a couple of paintings, none of the objects in the house actually belonged to Lope.  However he did leave a detailed inventory of his household possessions, so it has been possible to recreate more or less what his home looked like. 

The neighborhood where Lope lived is today known as Las Letras, because so many great literary figures once lived here.


Less than two blocks from Lope's house there is a plaque which marks the location of the home where Miguel de Cervantes lived and died.  

Around the corner is the building where another great Golden Age writer, Francisco de Quevedo, lived.

The next street over from Lope's house is today named Lope de Vega Street, but here stands the Church of Las Trinitarias where Cervantes is buried.


 A couple blocks away, is the Church of San Sebastián, the final resting place of Lope de Vega.

 I wonder if there is another neighborhood anywhere in the world where so much literary talent lived and died within a couple blocks of each other!