searching for history in modern Madrid
Madrid Travel Blog› entry 4 of 10 › view all entries
As I wrote in "no offense, Madrid...", I'm a Barcelona person. Part of it is certainly because I'm a medievalist. In the 13th century, Barcelona was one of the most important ports on the Mediterranean, while Madrid was a bump on a log. Madrid didn't come into its own until it became the Spanish capital in the 16th century, and the city's monuments reflect their disparate histories. When I had a few hours to kill in Madrid before catching my train back to Barcelona, I cracked open my Lonely Planet and decided to go digging for some history underneath the very modern city that is Madrid!
I started out in Puerta del Sol, Madrid's central plaza.
The narrow streets south of the town hall took me into the moreria, or Moorish quarter, where the city's Muslim population lived after Madrid (called al-Majrit in Arabic) was retaken by Spanish Christians in the 11th century.
More of Madrid's most important sites can be found in what used to be the Moorish quarter. Heading east from San Andres and crossing Calle de Bailen, you will arrive at Las Vistillas, a magnificent terrace overlooking the gardens of the Royal Palace. There's a nice view from here of Madrid's cathedral, La Almudena, which is just a bit further north along C/ Bailen. The current building dates from the 19th and 20th centuries, but a thousand years ago, another one of Muslim Madrid's mosques stood here.
Continuing along Bailen, beyond the cathedral, is the Royal Palace (Palacio Real), constructed in the 18th century. Even before Madrid became the royal capital in the 16th century, the kings of Castile and Leon had a castle here, which they had captured and modified from the Spanish Muslims. The current king and queen of Spain have never actually lived here, preferring a smaller palace (La Zarzuela) on the town's outskirts, but the Palacio Real is still used for ceremonial purposes and is open to the public. On the eastern side of the palace is the elegant Plaza del Oriente, which contains statues of dozens of Spanish monarchs, nobles, and heroes -- a veritable history lesson in itself!