07 July 2014

Madrid: an art attack!

To say my second day in Madrid was rich in art is a huge understatement.

After a leisurely breakfast, I headed off towards my major destination of the day, the Prado Museum – but I hadn’t gone more than a block before I got drawn off my planned route by the sight of two quadrigas of horses and charioteers on a rooftop. And then I was seduced further down the street by four Caryatids in a building entrance.

Calle del Alcala, one of the major roads through the older part of the city, is lined with magnificent buildings. There is the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, a former palace dating from 1773; there is the 17th century Church of Las Calatravas; there’s the spectacular Fine Arts Circle, considered the prime example of Art Deco in Madrid, with its tower and Vasallo’s statue of the goddess Athena Pallas. Even the Ministry of Education building and the headquarters of the central Bank of Spain are superbly decorated. And then there’s the Cibeles Fountain, designed by Ventura Rodriguez to represent the Earth Mother, and the amazing Palacio de las Communicaciones, the former General Post Office. I was almost overwhelmed by Madrid’s artworks before I even got to the Prado.

And what a place the Prado is! A fairly plain building outside but inside it’s overflowing with masterpieces by the world’s greatest painters, with a particular emphasis on the Spanish masters and on religious paintings. I must have seen at least twenty different versions of the last supper and hundreds of the holy family -- one version even included a parrot! I found the layout of the buildings a little confusing and, in the end, it was difficult to tell if I had seen everything but I really was overwhelmed by the magnificence, the richness, the splendour of it all.

I was glad afterwards to spend some time contemplating the more simple architecture of the Church of San Jeronimo el Real, adjacent to the Prado, and then to while away an hour or more in the Botannical Gardens, a haven of green and pleasant botanical lands, with its pretty paths lined with manicured box hedging and luxuriant plantings, its huge shady trees, and its birds, bees and butterflies. A peaceful oasis!

Time for a late lunch, so I found a small plaza lined with outdoor cafes and enjoyed a delicious salad and a cold drink before losing myself, literally, down the meandering side streets and alleyways. It was nice just to wander, to check out the small tavernas and quaint shops, to people watch, to enjoy the colour and exuberance of this wonderful city.

Eventually I emerged from the labyrinth to find myself directly in front of the parliament building, which helped me orientate myself and find my way back to the hotel. I was hot and a little foot-sore so enjoyed a couple of cold beers, some nibbles and more people-watching at the hotel’s cafĂ© before calling it a day. Madrid, te amo!

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