Last week, my pal Roger and I flew to Madrid for 5 days – to see the city and to go to the football match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. Madrid is a stunning centre of European Culture and also a lovely city to walk around. In terms of culture, pride of place goes to the world famous Prado Museum. The Prado is more than just an art gallery, as it is housed in a very impressive building, surrounded by tall trees and well kept gardens. Inside, it is a succession of halls which contain some of the most important works of art in the world. You can’t successfully get round the Prado in one day, or if you do, you are not likely to remember what you’ve seen. We did part of the Prado in 2 x 1 hour sessions, and there was much, much more which we did not see. In the first hour, we concentrated on Spanish painting and in particular, Velazquez (See photo of his statue below – taken on my mobile phone). The Velazquez paintings cover a range of topics, including some religious works, but it was the portraits and images of the king and queen of Spain on horseback that most impressed. One outstanding work, in terms its amazing detail is of Queen Isobel on horseback. If you click on this link, you will see the amount of work that Velazquez must have put into the painting e.g. the intricate detail of the queen’s dress. Another famous Velazquez work is The Drinkers, or The Triumph of Bacchus and if you click on the link to see the picture in detail, you will see how the artist has captured the slightly inebriated faces of the men brilliantly. On the return visit, we focussed on Rubens e.g. the intriguing and beautiful The Three Graces and El Greco e.g. Caballero anciano. Again, if you click on the link and see the detail in the ruff and the man’s beard, you cannot but be mightily impressed. A good tip here is to book online and doing this, we avoided what looked like up to an hour’s queuing.
Madrid is also a city of architecturally outstanding buildings. When you walk around the main part of the city, you come across grand plazas, surrounded by huge buildings, often with statues on the top. Walking up the wide street of the Gran Via towards the city centre, looking up to your left, you see the Banco de Bilbao V A building, with the two Quadriga on top. The Quadriga is a Spanish word meaning a chariot drawn by four horses. This is what it looks like from across the road (taken on my mobile).
A second example of grand architecture in Madrid is the Plaza Major, which is right in the heart of the city. This large square, which reminded me immediately of St Mark’s Square in Venice (click for 360 view on this site), is a large open space, surrounded by elegant looking apartments and lined with cafes. There is an imposing statue of King Philip II on horseback and this dominates the square – a clear message in 1616 to the locals about respecting the monarchy. The photos below show the square and the statue.
There are many, many more visually attractive buildings in Madrid, such as The Royal Palace and next to it, the Gothic Almudena Cathedral, which was built on the site of a former mosque. It is highly decorative inside, with one room containing intricate mosaics. The photos below show the Royal Palace and an example of superb metallurgy in the cathedral.
The sporting highlight of our visit to Madrid was to go the football (aka soccer) game on the Sunday night, between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. We got the metro to the magnificent Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The stadium holds 81,000 people and there were 78,000 on the night we went. The atmosphere inside the stadium is one of pulsing noise, enthusiastic songs yelled out by the Ultras – a large group of flag waving zealots, loud cheers (Real Madrid score) and whistles (a RM player is fouled). The football – featuring some of the best players in the world, indeed Christiano Ronaldo, who is arguably the best player in the world at the moment – was of a very high quality. The leader of the orchestra was Luka Modrich some of whose passes, struck with the outside of his right boot, were sublime. He split open the Bilbao defence on a number of occasions with consummate skill and apparent ease. The game finished 5-0 to RM, so wasn’t a great contest between 2 evenly matched teams, and our tickets were expensive, but this was an experience that will be reflected on for many years.