This may take a while so I may have to break it up into more than one blog. Let’s start with walking tours.
Okay, I like to walk and as I have said this is a wonderful walking city. In fact I have averaged over a thousand miles a year for the past five years. But don’t let that scare you. Madrid metro has celebrated its 100th anniversary and it is clean efficient and inexpensive. In fact, this disciplined population will give their seat to you if there are grey hair showing or any sign of difficulty walking. One reason to walk Madrid is that Madrileños are out walking and it is fun to see the pulse of the city all around you.
I like to start people off at the national palace. Madrid was founded by Felipe II in the early 1500s. He moved the capital to the center of Spain to give it room to grow and because it was the center. There was almost nothing here before he made that decision.
When his wife first entered the palace she looked at the view across the Manzanares river and said “Do not build anything on that side of the river “. She liked the views. This explains why Madrid, unlike most all capitals, grew in all directions but West and to this day we have the forests to look at.
While at the palace, note the gardens of Sabatini, the Parque del Oeste, the National Opera House, and the plaque dedicated to the heroes that rise up against the French in 2 May 1802. It was the start of the first guerilla warfare where the people resisted the presence of Napoleon and his troops. More later on that topic during our walk.
From the palace continue walking down Bailen past the National Cathedral and Calle Mayor ( we will return to Calle Mayor later) to visit the Basilica of San Francisco. If you only visit one church in Madrid, visit this one. Basílicas are important to the history of Christianity as it was the first architectural structure used in the 4th century by Christians in the Roman Empire. Originally used as a building to house legal proceedings, it is two intersecting naves roughly in the form of the cross. From that architecture developed today’s modern churches by elongating one of the naves to better form a cross. The statues and paintings in the chapels of SanFrancisco are absolutely amazing. One chapel, that of San Sebastián is painted by Goya.
From the Basilica, retrace your steps on Bailen back to Calle Mayor. Turn right on Calle Mayor and walk up towards the Plaza Mayor. Just before you get there you will see a small plaza with the statue of Cardinal Cisneros. A key figure in Spanish history as he served as regent in Spain until the arrival of Charles I in the late 1400s. Charles was also king of the Holy Roman Empire and was seated in Flandes (Denmark). He was 17 when he came to visit Spain and never left.
In that small plaza without fanfare are three buildings from three different centuries. The 17th, 16th, and 15th from right to left. To your left in the plaza you will find and old mudejar (brick) building with a Moorish horseshoe arch. This is the Calle del Codo. Pay attention to the road signs in this area. This is elbow street. The signs are as they were hundreds of years ago when few could read so they are pictured.
Follow the street through the elbow until you come to a small square. Turn left at the square and cross through to the street on the right. About 50 yards down that street you will see street signs above you on the right, one is an alleyway called Pacedizo del Panecillo. This is where the monks would hand out bread to to poor. 90 degrees from that sign you will see a street sign for Calle de la Pasa. Note the picture. It has grapes but also it shows couples lining up at a doorway.
It is on this street and at that door where the people of Madrid lined up to get their marriage licenses. There is an old saying that “El que no pasa por la Calle de la Pasa no se casa.” He who does not pass by Raisin Street does not get married.
Now turn about and walk up hill on Calle de Cuchilleros. The street of the knife makers. There is almost too much to see here. Pass the restaurant Botín where Hemingway ate and wrote. It boasts the oldest oven, note the Arco de Cuchilleros that would take you up the staircase to the Plaza Mayor and continue past the Cuevas, there are restaurants built into the base of the plaza mayor. Many are called Mesón (I particularly like the Mesón del Champiñón for roasted mushrooms). Passing the Arco de Cuchilleros you come to the Mercado de San Miguel in the Plaza de San Miguel. It was an ild open air market for those who lived in that neighborhood that has been beautifully renovated and now one of the premier places to go to eat tapas. You must walk through and sample the tapas and beverages. If you are tired of walk, there will not likely be seating in San Miguel so continue into the Plaza Mayor and sit at any of the restaurants there.
More tour in another blog.