In the last week of July 2017, I was able to visit Madrid for the first time. While I was there, I had the opportunity to train a wonderful and passionate group of teachers that would be taking their own students abroad over the next year. It was my first time in Madrid, I did my best to soak in the culture to listen to what the city had to offer; it was quite extraordinary. I noticed an immediate difference between Barcelona and Madrid. While Barcelona is looking to split from Spain and become independent, Madrid is the well entrenched in Spanish custom serving as its cultural center. These cities have their historic futbol rivalry- between Real Madrid and Barcelona; but their differences go a lot further than just sport. Madrid has a Royal Palace, where the King still hosts heads of states in contrast to Barcelona which is famous for Gaudi architecture. In Madrid they have bull fighting which is outlawed in Barcelona. Madrid is also less visited by tourist than Barcelona, allowing Madrid to be more localized and to many, a more authentic Spanish destination. We did so much in a short time, I will do my best to outline some of the Madrid highlights below.
King Philip II moved his court from Toledo in the 1560's to Madrid, where it became the official capital of Spain in 1606. We had an opportunity to take a guided tour of the Royal Palace which was constructed in the 1730's and is still used for state dinners for visiting dignitaries. Spain still has a king, and, although Kings have been stripped of much of their historic power, they are still the official heads of state. The palace, influenced by Bernini's sketches of the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles created by King Louis XIV, is an absolutely stunning piece of art of architecture. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your view) there are no photographs inside, but luckily the internet has a photo from my favorite room, the Gasparini room.
Photo Credit: mbell1975
The Gasparini room is extremely ornate, especially for a dressing room. King Charles III designed it, and it took so long to build that it wasn't finished until 18 years after Charles III's death. It has Rococo art and mosaics designed by Mattia Gasparini, and the palace as a whole is designed in Baroque architecture. If you are wondering what is the most decadent thing you could own, it would probably be a Baroque styled palace with Rococo art inside. Now there are plenty of other highlights as the Palace has 3,000 rooms, but this is just one of my favorites.
Toledo was the former capital of Spain and the former residence of the Spanish royals. Today Toledo is a wonderful town that seems to be lost in time. It is absolutely charming to walk around the city with its narrow winding alleys. The Toledo Cathedral is a beautiful piece of architecture inside and out. Below is a picture of its Transparente (part of its Altarpiece), which had a window opening up with frescoes and sculptures. It was created by three brothers, one architect, one sculptor, and one painter. It is truly a special place.
Paella is a typical Spanish dish that mixes together rice with meat, seafood, or vegetables. It is delicious!
Video Credit: Keith Miller
The Bear and Strawberry Tree is the symbol of Madrid and is found in the main square, Plaza Sol. The bear was found on the Spanish crest all the way back in the 13th century, although the story of the bear and tree still remains somewhat of a mystery.
Chocolate and churros, need I say more? It is a famous treat in Madrid and a must try!
Video Credit: Keith Miller
Our group had the opportunity to see a Flamenco show, which is a traditional Spanish dance with complex rhythms, powerful singing and talented guitar rifts. Flamenco dates all the way back to 1774 as it was referenced in the book Las Cartas Marruecas by José Cadalso. Flamenco is rooted in gypsy culture, influenced by the Romantic era, and for a time was used by Francisco Franco as a form of government propaganda. Today Spanish culture embraces the emotional dance as a connection to its past, both the good and the bad. It is a must see!