My European writing holiday and research gathering adventure began in Madrid in mid-August 2019. Madrid is the capital city of modern Spain but has also been the historical capital of Spanish kingdom and it is where the Royal Palace is still located today. You can read more about my visit to the Real Palacio de la Madrid here. Madrid is a fabulous sprawling city of twisting alleys, open plazas and lively markets. I visited Madrid to better understand the history of Spain, at least as it is reflected in the historical architecture, classical museums, cityscape and local populous today.
I stayed in one of the older regions of Madrid, near the El Retiro Park (regretfully did not have time to visit) and bordering the literary quarter where the famous Spanish Golden Age authors Cervantes and Lope de Vega once lived. The house of Lope de Vega is now preserved as a historical museum. Staying in this central area of Madrid with its labyrinth-like streets was a great experience.
I visited the Peutra de la Sol, The “Gate of the Sun” which is now a plaza marking the limits of the former 12th century city walls. A prominent statue of Spanish King Charles (Carlos) III (1759–1788) occupies the centre of the plaza at the Peutra de la Sol.
In 1735, Charles III was recognized for re-taking of the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples but he did not succeed to the Spanish throne until 1759. Despite his reforms to the Church, promotion of science during the time of Enlightenment and reforms to university education, Charles III seemed hindered by having spent his first 20 years in the Italian peninsula and the developments and success he met with there were not replicated with ease in Spain. He was remembered for trying to reduce the influence of the Church, advanced agricultural reforms and reduce warfare. He died at age 72 at the Royal Palace of Madrid in 1788.
There is also a famous and fairly confusing statue of a bear eating fruit from a small tree. This ancient symbol is also on the Coat of Arms for principality of Madrid. The statue is called El Oso y el Madroño or “The bear and the strawberry tree’. There is an interesting history behind the origin of this curious symbol for Madrid. Apparently, during the Roman Empire, the region surrounding what later became Madrid, was inhabited by many wild bears living in the forests. The city that became Madrid was named Ursaria, from the Roman “Bear”.
The Plaza Mayor is the largest and most important central square in Madrid. Historically, it was a scene of executions for those convicted criminals and also the heretics trialed under the Spanish Inquisition. The opposing ends of the Plaza Mayor catered to the secular executions and punishments and those executed and punished under religious crimes.
A statue of Spanish King Philip III (1529-1621) holds prominent place in the centre of the Plaza Mayor.
The impressive equestrian statue shows Philip III who is also known as “Philip the Pious” for his strong religious views. Philip III is not remembered kindly in history with most commentaries linking the decline of the Spanish kingdom and empire to his reign. It was during Philip II’s reign that Spain entered the The Thirty Years War (1618–1648). Philip III was also responsible for continuing the decree of his father Philip II on the expulsion of Muslim descendants from Spain. Further issues inherited from Philip II continued to drastically affect Philip III’s reign and his reliance on the Duke of Lerma was particularly negative and damning to his reputation and the fortunes of Spanish kingdom and the empire.