Let me welcome you again on a personal journey around the amazing Madrid! Like I wrote in my last posts, it is impossible to describe this unique city in just a couple of lines so I am going to spread my impressions over a couple of entries. Today, I would like to share with you some of my favourite Madrid corners.
And before I begin, just a small note on the side to mention that apart from all the history and fun the city has to offer, something I honestly enjoyed during our stay in the Spanish capital was the super-efficient public transport system, particularly the underground that takes you to any corner of the city. The Puerta underground station is one of the oldest in Europe and considered a historical monument. Line no. 1 opened there as early as 1919 and just a couple years later, lines 2 and 3 followed.
OK, so where to start? Maybe exactly there, the place where everyone seems to meet – Puerta del Sol which is located right in the middle of the Spanish capital. It is the busiest square in the city and the statue of the symbol of the town – a bear climbing a small tree – is just the perfect selfie spot. The Puerta offers a variety of attractions, from classical monuments, through historical buildings to never-ending street festivals and events. One interesting fun fact is that this is also the location of the famous Kilometre 0 or Km 0 (look for it right in front of the main post office). It is the centre of the radial network of Spanish roads and marks the start of any road distance from the heart of Madrid.
The central point of the square is taken by the monument of the Spanish king Carlos III, an incredibly beautiful old fountain where the locals rest and enjoy their time and, speaking of spending time – a famous clock whose bells mark a really curious Spanish tradition. It looks like every bell strike is there to consume 1 grape on the night of the new year’s eve. This is thought to secure prosperity for the coming year. So, remember – exactly 1 tasty grape per strike until you reach 12 on the new year’s eve and you will not be forgotten by Lady Fortune 😊.
Interesting stories continued, can you guess who, or rather what, is the patron of the city? It is a sweet bear trying to climb a strawberry tree. According to the legend the original name of Madrid was ‘Ursaria’ (‘land of bears’ in Latin), due to the high number of these animals living in the forests around, and bears have been the symbol of the town since the Middle Ages. The same goes for the strawberry trees that were abundant in the area at the time. When you are visiting, find a moment to see the statue but beware of the crowds around it – it is not that huge and can be hard to find. The Puerta is a must-have for any tourist and is so worth seeing. It is as impressive as it is romantic, and the beautiful statues, the fountain and many cosy cafés around give it a lot of charm. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is also the reason for the many, many tourists to visit so expect a crowd. I personally am not able to stay there for longer than maybe one hour because it can be a bit too much to take. So, after we shot some photos, we moved on into the quiet little streets that surround the square.
Right next to the Puerta you will find another famous square – Plaza de la Villa, which is a small, but really charming, historical heart of old Madrid. Here, you will have a chance to see the town’s oldest buildings. One of them is a famous house called Casa de los Lujanes and a tower – Torre de los Lujanes, both dating XV century and built in the elegant Gothic-Mudejar style. I read somewhere that the Tower was used as a local prison in XVI century. Now, that’s a proper ‘room with a view’.
The Plaza is also home to the XVII century Casa de la Villa (which is the largest building located at the square and is used as the Town Hall) and the XVI century palace Casa de Cisneros. And, of course, what would a Spanish square be without a stunning looking monument to match? Here, right in its the heart, you can treat yourself to the magnificent statue of a famous Spanish admiral and commander of the Spanish fleet – Alvaro de Bazan.
Just a short walk away from the Puerta, you will land on Plaza de España – a beautiful and spacious square at the western end of Gran Via. It used to be a military garrison in XVIII century but after that the city realised how representative it looks, it was turned into a pedestrian precinct. It now seduces tourists with its many stores and expensive looking apartments. Two famous landmarks here are the Edificio España – a colossal, 115m tall and counting 25 floors skyscraper from early XX century (at the time of its construction it was the tallest building in the capital; now 8th) and the Torre de Madrid which is currently the tallest building in Madrid. The 36-storey tower was built in 1957 and stretches over 142 metres into the sky. Now, that must be one awesome view from the rooftop!
And if you are a book lover, watch out! This is also the place where you will find the monument of Miguel de Cervantes – author of the romantic novel Don Quixote. It stands at a neat little pond and features both, the figure of Don Quixote and his loyal companion Sancho Panza. Left and right of the heroes, slightly at the back, you can see two statues of Dulcinea – Don Quixote’s great love. This monumental tribute to Cervantes, along with the massive skyscrapers towering over the square give the place an unforgettable charm. Unfortunately, this is yet another place popular with the tourists so finding a moment to shoot some unobstructed photos and enjoy some quiet here will be tough.
After our rest in the park we went on to the Plaza Mayor (Eng. Main Square). It’s a huge area surrounded by tall buildings. I did not count myself but I heard there are exactly 237 balconies facing it. Is this not crazy? And who counted it, I ask?
Historically, this place used to be a large market and only King Philip II’s decision changed it, that is when the king moved the capital of Spain to Madrid and decided to change the Plaza into something more. The transformations continued, king after king, and the image of the place changed as well. Philip II’s monument is right in the middle of the square so, yeah, lots of changes. At least, what we see now has supposedly not changed since 1790s.
Over the years, the square has been witnessing so many important celebrations and events. You could see the infamous Spanish Corridas going on, incredible theatre plays, crown ceremonies as well as executions – you name it, it has probably happened there. And now? Now, the tourists shoot their selfies here, and happy-looking men and women sit in the many cafes, sip their drinks and enjoy free time…
And last, but not least, I need to mention the beautiful Plaza de Cibeles, which is more a busy intersection than a regular square but still so worth seeing. In its heart you will find the stunning Fuente de Cibeles (Cibele’s Fountain) which shows the majestic Phrygian Goodness of fertility Cybele standing proudly in her chariot carried by two lions. The elegant Palacio de Cibeles (Cybele’s Palace), formerly known as Palacio de Comunicaciones (Palace of Communication), is now the seat of the Madrid City Council. I need to mention that even though this is pretty much a huge roundabout, there are so many lovely cafés and restaurants around it, that you will not have trouble finding a cosy place to feed your eyes and enjoy the view and have something tasty to treat your taste buds as well.
I am so sure that Madrid is full of many more unforgettable places and even more hidden gems that I still need to discover. It is one of my beloved cities on the map of Europe and if you have a chance to visit, do not hesitate and go for it! It has so many beautiful faces to show, and stories to tell, and it actually seems like every corner you turn it just gets prettier and prettier. Madrid amazed me with its sophisticated style, class and charm that I had not seen anywhere else before. If you know of any fantastic spots of the Spanish capital, let me know in the comments below and I will be happy to follow your steps.