Downtown Madrid was once foremost a testament to the immense wealth that the Spanish kingdom had amassed – it’s dressed to impress.
First there’s the art: The Royal Palace – the largest in Western Europe, now a museum. The Del Prado – home to an impressive collection of Spanish art created during the centuries when the Spanish monarchy seemed to rule the world with masterworks by El Greco and Goya to name just 2. And the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia – home to the Guernica and a comprehensive collection of Spanish art spanning from the late 19th century to today with works not only by Picasso but also Dali, Miro and others.
And then, Gran Via! Let me reveal a secret: I love architecture! It’s not the kind of love that would allow you to play ‘Name the architect.’ with me. It’s just that I love to see me some beautifully thought through and well executed houses. At that I usually am mostly into simplicity and clear lines. But sometimes the craftsmanship required for elaborate decorative elements gets to me. So if you’re anything like me you’ll be gasping for air by the time you’ve reached the end of Gran Via, the Plaza de Cibeles. Most of the buildings along Gran Via were erected in the early 1900s up to the 20s – the Golden Era and the same time the first skyscrapers sprung up in New York, Chicago or Detroit. The style is quite similar. Just that height was replaced with more decorative details. Like the Metropolis Building: walking up from the Plaza de Cibeles you can’t miss it (the sheer number of photographs I took of the building is proof…). First you only see the dome with the golden elements and the angel on top. But getting closer you see the pillars, the windows,…
However, the Madrileñan didn’t want to leave it at showing off some past wealth. They are working hard to combine their heritage with modernity. This again is shown in architecture but also in how the spaces created are used.
My favorite example of this is the former ‘Communication Palace’ at the Plaza de Cibeles, a building that at the beginning of the last century was the center of communication in Spain. The building is now the city hall. But instead of just restoring the beauty of the old building they added new modern elements like the atrium roof while highlighting some of the old craftsmanship like the tile work around the staircases and the stained glass windows. In addition to the architectural changes they also made the building a public space by providing large lounge areas where you can go and read all the main European newspapers for free, surf the internet on iPads – for free – or enjoy an art exhibition. And to follow through on the concept of ‘public space’ everyone is invited to submit their own ideas for the building.
Finally some travel advice:
Make the Plaza Mayor one of your first stops and go to the visitors center: there you can play with a computer and let it give you a personalized visiting plan for the city based on number of times you’ve been there, time available and budget.
Many of the places mentioned above can be visited for free on certain days of the week or during certain hours. Just check their websites (those times are usually also displayed outside the venues).
The best sunset gazing spot is definitively the Temple of Debot. So pack up a picnic basket, bring some friends and enjoy!
One of the best views of the city (that also comes for free) you get from the tower of the Communication Palace. Get your ticket from the information desk. You have 15 minutes – cameras, ready, go!
Today’s title is brought to you by 30 Seconds to Mars: