I had the opportunity to travel to Spain in January of 2019. This may seem like an unusual time of year to travel however, I found Madrid to be memorable and the people friendly. The weather was cool, sunny and pleasant. The crowds were low and I am thankful for the time I was able to spend with my college age daughter before she started her study abroad program in France. This was our first time in Madrid and we shared many Lasting Impressions.
Working on my sketching and experimenting with watercolor, I have included a few from my travel sketchbook.
The is the Metropolis Building which sits at the beginning of the Grand Via, the big shopping street in Madrid. On my first day, I arrived in the late afternoon with the sun going down and captured this sight with a quick photo. The Metropolis Building’s main features include the bright white façade, which is lavishly decorated with sculptures and various ornaments, as well as the spectacular dome on top with a gorgeous statue of the Winged Victory. This building is a wonderful example of Beaux Arts architecture – an extremely elegant French style characterized by conservative lines and impressive sculptural elements.
On my fist morning, I walked to the Plaza Mayor to meet with a walking tour. This impressive square is the most historic of the Spanish capitol. It was built during the reign of King Phillip III during the 16th and 17th centuries. After suffering fire three times, the square (actually rectangle) is what we see today surrounded with a series of arches and entrance’s as well as a centerpiece statue of King Philip III. The Casa de la Panaderia is the building which stands out with it’s twin angled towers and unique frescoes. These frescoes tell the story of bullfights and executions that took place at the Plaza during the Spanish Inquisition. Today the plaza has been used for special events and celebrations as well as an annual Christmas market.
Highlights from our visit
Beginning in the Plaza Mayor and ending in the Puerta del Sol, our tour cover the main highlights of historic Madrid. An excellent way to get your morning started!
The Palacio Real de Madrid, or Palace of Madrid, is home to the Spanish Royal Family. Located in central Madrid, the Palace is still used today for state ceremonies and is open to the public. Completed around 1755 and boasting over 3,400 rooms, the Palace is the the most sumptuous in original interiors. As you embark on your tour, you are given a glimpse of how the Spanish kings and other royalty lived in total luxury. Beautiful architecture, art work, and décor fill every room of this massive structure. Give yourself plenty of time to experience both the interior and exterior of this magnificent palace as it is one of the largest in Europe.
Mercado de san Miguel
Making time for a late lunch we slipped into this awesome food court. From the finest ham, seafood, olives and sweets, we found all the highlights of Spanish cuisine. Spread out over more than 20 stands, the common denominator here was a commitment to high-quality tapas and pub fare. We sampled quite a few small plates and enjoyed the fun atmosphere!
The Prado contains more than 3,000 canvases and is thought to be one of the greatest collections anywhere if European masters. It is the place to admire the great Spanish painter Francisco de Goya. We made note of particular pieces and hit the highlights during our afternoon visit. I am including a few here.
Standing just outside the main entrance, this bronze of Goya is the work of Spanish sculptor Mariano Benlliure (1902) and depicts an aged Goya. He is standing upon a granite pedestal where you see a haunting image from Goya’s series of Black Paintings. At the base of the statue is a marble image of Goya’s La Maja desnuda.
Fra Angelico is known to be a great colorist and one of the best religious painters of the Renaissance. Over the course of roughly 15 years, Angelico completed several renditions of the Annunciation. This is his third rendition and unlike his other pieces this version includes a beam of light that pierces the composition. Intended to represent the Holy Spirit, this diagonal ray draws the eye from Adam and Eve to the seated Virgin Mary.
Read more about The Annunciation here.
Bosch, with vivid imagery, relates the message that the pleasurers in life are fleeting, and we had better be careful to avoid them. He is trying to teach morality. Scholars have proposed that Bosch used the outer panels (Paradise and Hell) to establish a Biblical setting for the inner elements of the work (Garden of Eden).
Velázquez’s painting is as complex as it is beautiful. It includes portraits of King Philip IV and Queen Mariana reflected in a mirror on the back wall, portraits of the Princess’ courtly coterie and a self-portrait of the artist standing in front a large canvas. The main characters are looking right at us. The composition of the work is theatrical and describes a moment of life at the Spanish court, which the viewer has the feeling to experience at first hand. In the center of the scene stands the daughter of the sovereigns, the Infanta Margaret, next to two ladies-in-waiting, who attend her. The dwarfs had to distract her while posing for the painting. Behind them, is nun Marcela de Ulloa, the chaperone of the Queen’s ladies, who is talking to the court official Diego Ruiz de Azcona. Diego Velázquez is on the left and depicts himself while painting the portrait. Velázquez has captured the light and the moment. Many critics have considered this to be the world’s finest painting, period.
Madrid’s citizens are rising up to protest the occupation in Puerta del Sol, and the French send in their dreaded Egyptian mercenaries. Goya was crushed when France’s hero of the French Revolution, Napoleon, turned into a tyrant and invaded Spain. This marked the beginning of the war for independence.
The French have rounded up the ringleaders and executed them. The colorless firing squad, the main victim with his arms spread Christ like, the bloody tangled heap. Goya was split politically. His art has no Spanish or French flags. Goya is considered one of the last classical and first modern painter.
Palacio de Cibeles
Officially known as Palacio de Comunicaciones, this beauty of a palace is one of the most beloved buildings in Madrid. Now used as the city’s townhall, and often acts as an iconic backdrop for local and national celebrations. The real attraction lies in the gorgeous rooftop views from the eighth-floor observation deck, or you could have a drink at the sixth-floor bar. My experience was in passing in the late afternoon on my arrival in Madrid. The pretty sun and clouds lit up the façade and my snapshot of one of my first and remarkably, one of my most memorable impressions of Madrid. The whole complex is one of the premier examples of Modernismo with its Neoplateresque façade. The building was designed by the young Spanish architects Antonio Palacios and Joaquín Otamendi through a municipal competition to be the headquarters for the Society of Post and Telegraph of Spain. The building process took place between 1907-1919.
Palacio de Cristal
The stunning glass Palacio de Cristal, or the Crystal Palace, is an emblematic structure in Madrid’s Parque del Buen Retiro. The building, erected in 1887, was designed by architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco and based on a similar structure built in London several years prior. Intricate ceramic furnishings weave around the palace’s ironwork, creating a magnificent bird-cage aesthetic. The building was originally created to showcase tropical plant life from the Philippines, which at that time was a Spanish colony. Currently it houses temporary art exhibits and is open to the public.