Círculo De Bellas Artes, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Hi! You found our starting point! Have you noticed that gorgeous building at the corner of Calle de Alcala and Gran Via? It’s hard to miss with it’s bright white facade, lavishly decorated sculptures, magnificent black dome and beautiful statue of Winged Victory up on top. This is one of the most famous… if not THE most famous buildings in Madrid. While you admire in awe, let me tell you a few things about it. An insurance company by the name of La Union y el Fenix bought the ground it sits on in 1905 and then created an international competition to give people the opportunity to design their building. That seems to be a common theme with these old buildings. Buy the land and then let other people design the building. I guess if you have a lot of money but not a lot of creativity that is a fantastic idea! French brothers Jules and Raymond Fevrier won the competition and construction began in 1907. Well, maybe I should say the demolition began in 1907. Five homes had to be, well, “removed” before the actual construction could begin. Four years later it was completed. Did you know that for 10 years it was the tallest building in Madrid? True story. The Press Palace took over that title in 1921. That building is located down Gran Via. But back to the Metropolis Building - This is a remarkable example of Beaux-Arts architecture, which at the time it was constructed, was a pretty unusual style. If you look at the second level you will see stunning Corinthian twin columns. Those columns hold up statues representing Mining, Agriculture, Trade and Industry. How about that dome though? Pretty spectacular, eh? But check out the rounded cupola on top of the dome - It is covered with 30,000 leaves of 24 karat gold. And speaking of being covered, in 1996 the entire facade and all of the sculptures had to be restored due to damage caused by environmental pollution and… pigeons. Let’s move on, shall we? Please walk away from the Metropolis Building, along the right hand side of Calle de Alcala. We are heading to Cybele Plaza. Just meet me on the next corner.
Paseo del Prado, 1B, 28014 Madrid, Spain
The beautiful building that you have been walking alongside houses the central Bank of Spain. The bank has been around since 1782, in case you were wondering how old the money in there is. Ha ha. Now I don’t know if you can see it just yet, but up ahead there is a fountain in a plaza. That is Cibeles Plaza and Cibeles Fountain. This unforgettable fountain is a Madrid icon. And how couldn’t it be? You’ve got Cybele, who by the way is the Greek goddess of fertility and nature, holding a scepter, AND a key while relaxing in a chariot that is being pulled by two wild lions. Does it get any better than that? Why yes it does. The Spanish football team Real Madrid has decided that this fountain is the perfect place to gather whenever they win the Spanish League or Spanish Cup. Alrighty. Time to move on. We need to head to the Cibele Palace. Follow the sidewalk around the corner as it heads south and then take the crosswalks toward that breathtaking white palace with all the Spanish flags.. You will be walking east and you will need to cross over three streets to get there. Sorry about that. I’ll meet up with you.
Paseo del Prado, 1B, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Hey, walk around the corner and check out the wondrous post office! Ha ha. This spectacular building actually used to be Madrid’s main post office, telegraph and telephone headquarters. It now houses the Madrid City Council and serves as both the city hall and the public cultural center. Remember the Metropolis Building and how it’s design came about from a competition? Well it was the same case with this fine building. Construction began in 1907 and was finished in 1919. Yes, that is 12 years. The construction took so long due to delays, superstitions, and disputes. Let’s talk about what’s inside. The cultural center here is an intercultural meeting place, a public square and a venue for participation, leisure and learning. Here you can find concerts, workshops, exhibitions, performances and much more. If you have a chance to go into the building, you really need to visit the Madrid Viewpoint. It runs along the highest tower in the palace and provides a breathtaking 360 - degree view of the city of Madrid. Also if you are looking to have a drink there is a fantastic rooftop bar on the 6th floor. You can also find a cafeteria and two restaurants there if you get hungry. Let’s move on, shall we? Keep heading east, along Calle de Alcala. I will meet you at the roundabout.
Plaza de la Independencia, 10, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Oh great, you found the roundabout. That circle with all of the traffic driving around it is called Independence Square, even though it is a circle. It dates back to the reign of King Carlos III waaay back in 1778. Are you ready to move on? No? Oh, you want me to tell you about that enormous, beautiful, triumphal arch in the MIDDLE of Independence Square? I thought so. That is the Gate of Alcala. Between 1625 and 1868, Madrid was surrounded by the Walls of Philip IV and this door was the main entrance. King Charles III didn’t really like the previous gate that was there when he arrived in Madrid in 1759, so he commissioned Italian Architect Francesco Sabatini to build this one. I guess when you are a king you get whatever you want. The Gate of Alcala is 19.5 meters long and has a different design on each side. The side facing the city center has flags, weapons and lions. The opposite side has a coat of arms and a child. At the top of the gate are four children that stand for fortitude, justice, temperance and prudence. In the early days of the gate, cars didn’t exist and Alcala was used for livestock. Yup, sheep wandering through those gates was just a regular old thing. You won’t see any sheep walking through the gate these days though, EXCEPT during the Trashumancia Festival. For one day only, sheep are paraded through the gate of Alcala and down the streets of Madrid as a celebration of Spanish Heritage. I think I’d prefer watching the sheep over watching the cars… but that’s just me. NOW are you ready to move on? Great. We are going to keep walking east. Follow Calle de Alcala for about half a block. See you soon!
Calle Méjico, 1, 28009 Madrid, Spain
You have been walking alongside Retiro Park. This is one of the largest parks in Madrid. It actually belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century when they finally decided to share it with the public. Thanks, Spanish Monarchy! We won’t be going inside during this tour, but I highly encourage you to take the UCPlaces Retiro Park tour very soon! Inside this 350 acre park you will find a lot of great history! Plus you will see some beautiful sculptures, incredible monuments, fountains, lakes, ponds, some of the most amazing gardens you will ever see, and much much more. Speaking of fountains, if you stand at the entrance gate and look inside the park you might be able to see the Fountain of the Little Triton. At least that is what it is currently named. Throughout its two centuries of history it has been known as the Fountain of the Child, the Fountain of the Prince, and the Fountain of the Nightingale. The current name refers to the main concept of the fountain. We have a triton boy crowned with a laurel branch, riding on the back of a fish that is spitting water out of its mouth. Of course this entire scene is supported by a cup made out of two dolphins. Isn’t that fantastic? Let’s move on. Please continue walking down Calle de Alcala.
Calle de Alcalá, 60, 28009 Madrid, Spain
I love a good horse statue, don’t you? Well up ahead on your left we’ve got a great one. That 10 meter tall, 11.5 ton statue is of General Baldomero Espartero and of course, his horse. Espartero was born in 1793 to a poor family in a small village. He was the 9th child born in his family. Ninth! Whew! Anyway, his father wanted little Baldomero Espartero to become a priest but he rebelled and joined the military at around age 16 where he went to war just 9 days later. He had a successful military career but is probably best known for opening up negotiations that led to the Convention of Vergara in 1839 which ended that civil war. That accomplishment earned him the nickname “the Peacemaker of Spain” and the title “Duke of la Victoria.” He began dabbling in politics in 1836 and was a well known leader of the Progressive Party. He was the Regent of Spain from 1840-1843 and was named the “Prince of Vergara” by Amadeo the First who was the King of Spain. We have one more stop along our way. Are you ready? Keep heading east toward “Puerta de Madrid”
Paseo de Fernán Núñez, 28, 28009 Madrid, Spain
See the gate? This is the Madrid Gate of Retiro Park. And since this is the last stop on our tour, you COULD venture in, if it’s open. Or, you could go grab a bite to eat. A right turn at the end of this block will take you to a plethora of restaurants serving everything from traditional Spanish dishes to Mediterranean, Mexican, Peruvian and even Thai cuisines. There’s also a cake shop. I know where I would head first. But back to the Madrid Gate and Retiro Park. I know I mentioned this before, but UCPlaces has an amazing tour that will take you through the park and highlight a few of the favorite spots. One of those spots is near the end of the road through the park that begins right here at the Madrid Gate. Are you curious as to what that is? Good. Because I’m gonna tell you. Those would be the Gardens of Cecilio Rodriguez. Back in 1924, Cecilio was appointed the senior gardener of the town of Madrid. In 1972 these gardens were opened and dedicated to him. In those gardens are beautifully decorated archways, plant covered pergolas and ponds. There are also water jets, sculptures, shaded benches, neatly trimmed hedges and hidden corners. If you are REALLY lucky, you could see one of the beautiful peacocks that roam there. And with that, I’m going to turn you loose to explore, eat, go back home… whatever you want! Thank you so much for letting me show you around just a little bit of Madrid, Spain. It’s been a lot of fun for me and I hope you will join me for another UCPlaces tour in the near future. Until then, so long and happy touring!