Hello again, welcome back to my faithful regulars and thanks for all the feedback. I do hope you approve of my new destination for a short series. For anyone finding this blog for the first time a very warm welcome to you, I do hope you enjoy it. For this to make a little more sense to you it might be helpful if you XXXX started here at the beginning of this trip or else just clicked back two previous entries and you’ll get here. A quick click on the read button and we’ll get going.
I know that my entries can get a bit verbose, no that is not true, some of them go on forever and a quick look at the images for this one one day plus the notes I wrote at the time show me that this is going to be a long one. You might want to get your slippers on, a beverage and some music of your choosing and get yourself comfy. Alternatively, you may just want to look at another blog, I can recommend some great ones from people that know when to stop talking!
For once I had the vaguest of plans, only a slight notion of one obviously, and I had decided that as the weather was fine that I might take a look at the Retiro Park, probably at my friend’s suggestion so I thought I would give that a go. Armed with my rover ticket it was easy work to get to Retiro Metro station and I was not 200 yards from it with the huge park right opposite before I got side-tracked, first by the superb architecture you see above and then by that of an utterly stunning building I could see just down the road. Armed with a new SD card and beautiful sunshine I could feel a bit of a shutter frenzy coming on and so it was to prove.
I think you’ll agree this is a magnificent structure and a look at the lettering on the façade allowed even my abysmal Spanish to translate as Aguillo School, but I was sort of thrown by the sign saying Casa Arabe. Time to investigate and the first thing I saw was a bust of D. Lucas Aguillo so that made sense. Don Agillo was indeed a philanthropist who had the school build to the design of Emilio Rodríguez Ayuso and it was opened in 1886. here is what I wrote about the Casa Arabe at the time.
An unexpected surprise.
Although there has been settlement of various sorts on the site since pre-history, it is generally agreed that modern day Madrid was founded in the late 9th century by the Emir Mohammed I of Cordoba and originally named al-Majrit which means source of water. This name has gradually metamorphosed into what it is today. It should not surprise the reader that the city was thus founded as the Moors (Arabs) controlled most of modern day Spain for centuries.
I knew that whatever it turned out to be that it was certainly going to be subjected to the lens of my new camera which was being premiered that day. Regular readers of my pages will be glad to hear that news after the number of spoiled images I had with my old one!
With the external photographs duly captured, I approached the place and saw, if my appallingly minimal Spanish did not desert me just yet, that it was a centre for various exhibitions, cinema screenings and other cultural activities as well as housing several permanent offices.
I went in not knowing quite what to expect and was met by a security set-up that would not have been out of place in a sensitive Government area. It came complete with scanning arch etc. although strangely I was not required to go through any of this. I spoke to the rather stern security guard who told me to go in but not, repeat NOT, to go upstairs. OK, I can take orders.
I was still not quite sure what this place is but the attached website explains fairly comprehensively. “Casa Arabe and its International Institute of Arab and Muslim World Studies is a consortium formed on July 2006 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and the Spanish Agency for International Development, the autonomous communities of Madrid and Andalusia and the town councils of Madrid and Cordoba.
It is presided by the Foreign Affairs and Cooperation minister, and the presidents of the Andalusian and Madrid regional Governments and the mayors of Madrid and Cordoba are deputy presidents. Its High Board of Trustees is presided over by Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain.
The main goals of Casa Arabe, with headquarters in Madrid and Cordoba, are to strengthen bilateral and multilateral policies, to promote economical, cultural and educational relations, as well as supporting the development of training and knowledge on the Arab and Muslim world”. So now you know.
I wandered past the gift / bookshop into the first exhibition space which I had completely to myself. This room was a small exhibition of photographs of the Arab world which i found very good as I attempt (normally without much success) to do a bit of amateur photography myself.
Moving on, I came to the main exhibition which featured the work of Faraj Daham, a Qatari artist. In truth, it was not much to my taste, being very repetitive but I am certainly no art expert and I am sure the man is well-respected amongst the art community or he would not be exhibited here.
That really was the whole of the place and it only took me a short time to go round. I did see signs for a cafebut I did not bother with that as I had already had my morning coffee. I would not suggest that the traveller makes a journey just to see this unless they have a specific interest in an exhibition there but if they are heading for the Retiro Park, it is certainly worth popping in for a while. Best of all and unlike most attractions in Madrid, it is free.
Having got that out of the way I thought I really should go and see the Park, which I could already tell was huge as it was just across the road. Well, it would have been rude not to. Here’s what I I wrote and I am so glad I found all my old notes again.
Just a walk in the Park.
I approached the Puerta de Madrid (Madrid Gate)which is to the North side of the park, and entered to be greeted with the quite wonderful view you can see in the image above. Even the gatepost was pretty imprssive. Not a cloud in the sky, sun shining and life was indeed very good. The question therefore was which way to go. I had looked at the map at the gate and decided to go left to see the Fisherman’s House which I did with a considerable spring in my step.
This is the Casita de Pescadores (Little House of the Fishermen). In truth, it was never occupied by fishermen and even to this day the only pescatorial activity you could indulge in, if permitted, is a bit of carp fishing in an artificial lake adjacent to the building which is not really my idea of fun.
What this actually is is what in the UK is called a folly or carpicho in the Spanish and was built purely for the amusement of visitors. It was constructed in the early 20th century during the restoration of the entire area after it had been laid waste by the French during their occupation.
It appears Napoleon’s men had absolutely trashed the entire city which seems like a completely wanton act of destruction to me. However, it is said that good can come out of evil and the entire park is now beautifully laid out and adorned with such little foibles as this.
There is an artificial small hill behind the casita which apparently provides a cascade normally but when I visited this entire section was closed to the public for maintainance work so the reader will have to content themselves with my ground level images here.
Even if it is not possible to go into it, the Fisherman’s House still provides a wonderful introduction to this excellent leisure facility if you enter from the Northern end and the Puerto de Madrid as I did.
Just beside the Fisherman’s House I saw something else that was not exactly what it appeared to be, the ruins of San Isidoro Church and this is what I would call another folly or at least an act of extreme folly. This ruined 11th century church was originally in Avila which is over 100 km to the Northwest of Madrid but in 1896 some bright spark decided to move it here. Apparently it is not just the British who indulged in acts of idiocy in the late 19th century.
One of the joys of Retiro as that you never have to walk far, even though you could as it is huge, without seeing something of interest and here are a couple of exaples almost side by side. I did notice that the Spanish do seem to love monuments and statuary and the Park is simply full of it.
The two you see above are just a couple of examples, and there will be many more far grander ones later on. The gent on the left is Francisco de Paula Martin Mora, the man credited with introducing shorthand to Spain of all things and the gent on the right,is Justo Arosemena, a Columbian polymath who is regarded to be the “father of Panamanian nationality” amongst many other achievements. Just thought you’d like to know and I did try to be brief, there is still lots to see.
My next discovery was a gardens within a Park and contained some items which are so typically Spanish and something which is just a little crazy. This part of the park was once the private zoo of King Ferdinand VII with a building known as the Casa de Fieres (Beast House) and the beautiful tiled seats are so typical of Spain. I absolutely love Spanish tile work and you see it everywhere.
As for the other building you see, I can only guess from the history of this part of the park that it was built to house some animal or another but what the little goblin or pixie or whatever he is perched on the roof I have not the faintest idea. If you look closely at the lovely walkway you will see two bears guarding the entrance in what is obviously another nod to former times.
People in glass houses should take pictures.
My next discovery was easily my favourite although to call it a discovery is a bit misleading as it is massive and you can see it from a good proportion of the park. It is the Palacio de Cristal which you can see here and there are plenty of angles to examine!
I would never count myself as a good photographer and the images here were all taken with a fairly inexpensive compact camera on automatic setting but to be honest it would be difficult to take an image of this place that was not pleasing. There were certainly plenty of others there indulging in shutter frenzy, many of them with huge amounts of kit, tripods and all the gear.
With the cloudless sky and the sun shining brightly, the leaves on the turn and the natural beauty of the place it really was photo Heaven. I hope my images reflect this as it was quite magical.
So what exactly is the Palacio then? Well, it is not really very much of anything other than a lovely structure. It was completely empty when I visited although I believe that it is occasionally used for art exhibitions and the like. It is modelled on the Crystal Palace that once stood in South London and still lends it’s name to the local area and Premiership football team.
It was built in 1887 to the design of Ricardo Velázquez Bosco and was originally used to exhibit the flora and fauna of the Philippines which, of course, Spain occupied at the time. It is interesting that it started life as such a space as the original Crystal Palace was built to the design of Joseph Paxton who also designed the famous hothouses in Kew Gardens in Southwest London, also to exhibit exotoc flora.
Even if there is nothing in it to see as such, the building itself is the star here and it really is worth a visit. Ghe lake to the front is beautiful and one of our featherd friends was even good enough to stand still long enough for an image.
Beautiful building, dubious exhibition.
After the stunning Palacio de Cristal I was wandering somewhat aimlessly in the direction of the main road again when I more or less stumbled upon this place by accident or happy circumstance and I am glad I did as it is one of the jewels in the rather impressive crown that is the Retiro Park.
This is the Palacio de Velasquez which, like the Palacio de Cristal is the work of Ricardo Bosco and was built in the late 19th century.
It was originally built to house an exhibition of Mines and Metallurgy which does not seem like a hugely exciting prospect although the setting, as you can see, was gorgeous. It really is a thing of beauty and the visitor should pause before entering to look at some of the tilework adjacent to the main entrance which is superb. On entering the Palacio, there are no longer picks, shovels and lumps of rock on display but rather an art exhibition. I know they change regularly but when I visited it featured the work of Manolo Quejido, Ferran Garcia Sevilla and Miguel Angel Campano (and possibly others), none of whom I had ever heard of. That is actually no surprise as I know nothing about art except that I dislike the modern version of it!
I spent some time wandering about the place trying to find something that I really liked and left without having achieved that. This undoubtedly reflects my Philistine attitude to modern art but regular readers of my pages here will know my feelings on the matter. How can a child’s swing suspended from the ceiling and with a semi-dismantled old record player boasting a cymbal in place of the turntable (as pictured) constitute art? For example, how can a single painting be called Because I Always Think of You or Ski or Tongue to Tongue? What is all that about?
I just don’t get modern so-called “art” but I realise that others do which is why I am writing this to point you in the right direction if that is your gig. THe Palacio is free to enter so I didn’t feel like I was losing anything and in a city where most museums and galleries attract an entrance fee, this is a bonus.
This might be a reasonable time to tell you a bit about the history of the Retiro before we go and see some more, yes there really is plenty more to see!
So how did such an aesthetically pleasing and extensive open space come to exist in the middle of a busy modern capital city? Well, as you might imagine, it is all to do with Royalty.
After the Moors had been expelled from Spain, there was a monastery on this site which also provided a place for religious retreat and hence the modern name. The Royal religious retreat quarters were gradually converted to a proper palace and when the Alcazar, the original palace in Madrid, burned down the Court moved here temporarily whilst the new and still extant Palace Real (Royal Palace) was constructed.
In 1767 King Carlos III allowed the public to use the park on condition they were “washed and suitably dressed”. Well, we don’t want to annoy the nobility, do we? The hoi polloi were segregated from the aristocracy in a situation which obtained until the 1860’s when the separation fencing was torn down.
In the intervening period all had not been rosy in the garden, if you will forgive the pun. In 1808 the French invaded and occupied Spain, including Madrid, and effectively destroyed both palace and gardens. Once Napoleon and his men had been expelled by the Spanish, British and others the work of restoring the place had begun and it seems somewhat perverse to me that much of the restoration was done in a French style! There is no accounting for taste I suppose.
Whatever the history of the Retiro, as it is locally known, it really is an excellent place to visit on a fine day and I was certainly not alone. I was there in the early afternoon of a late November day and there were plenty of people cycling round, jogging, power-walking and a lot, like myself, busy taking photos. It really seems to be a haven for photographers and it does seem to offer endless opportunity to get the lens working. I even saw the local police exercising their horses there.
I really cannot praise this place highly enough, it is immaculately kept, well signed and obviously safe and I haven’t even shown you it all yet so come along, best foot forward as the next item I show you is much more to my artistic taste.
A very strange fountain.
In my travels round the world I have seen some unusual statues, fountains and the like but I must admit that the concept of a fountain based on an artichoke was a new one on me and yet that is exactly what I found in Retiro Park. The Fuente de la Alcachofa, to give it it’s proper Spanish name, stands in the Plaza de Honduras towards the North end of the park and is very impressive as you can see.
It is in this location now but it was not always thus. The fountain was made in 1781 and initially situated in Plazuela de Anton Martin. In 1881 it was moved to Plaza de Atocha in 1880. It is now here as you can see so let’s hope they leave the poor thing alone.
The fountain was designed by Ventura Rodriguez, sculpted by Antonio Primo and Alfonso Giraldo Bergaz and is full of symbolism as I found out researching this piece. It is constructed from granite and white stone but why an artichoke, you may well ask as I did?
It appears that the artichoke is a symbol of fertility as is the water which flows from it at the top of the fountain. The water continues into a cup of leaves supported by cherubs and thence to a larger plain receptacle.
Before anyone contacts me, I know the images are taken from the “rear” but with the bright sun it was the only angle I could manage without it blinding the lens. Every cloud has a sliver lining as they say and this angle does give a good view of the face with the rather odd hair which represents Autumn. From the other side, the two figures supporting the column are Triton, God of the seas and a Nereida. Nereidas are mythologically sea nymphs who inhabit the Aegean Sea and help sailors in peril. Like everything else in the Park it is very well-maintained and a credit to the city.
The next photo-op was another water feature as I believe landscape gardeners call it.
Row, row, row your boat……….
This is the the Estanque or boating lake. In my experience, boating lakes tend to be about the size of a decent jacuzzi and you basically end up going round in such small circles that one oar is really all that is required! Such is not at all the case with the Estanque here as it is huge. Indeed, I have fished in loughs (small lakes) in Northern Ireland that would easily have fitted into this body of water.
The lake is one of the earliest parts of the park, dating to 1631 when the entire area was a royal garden and is so large that in the reign of King Felip IV it was used to stage mock naval battles which must have been something to see. Nowadays there are no mock battles but if you fancy a touch of the nautical you can hire rowing boats from the jetty.
You may just be able to pick out in the images that there were a few hardy souls rowing about on what was a glorious if somewhat chilly November day (we had snow that night) but I thought I would give it a miss. I am sure it is delightful in warmer weather. If you are exploring the Retiro Park it is hard to miss the Estanque and I suggest that you take a moment or two, as I did, to sit and contemplate this rather tranquil and attractive place.
A magnificent monument to failure.
I have already given you a bit of a sneak preview of the next monument I am going to talk about as it is in one image above.
This is the monument to King Alfonso XII which towers majestically over the Estanque (boating lake) and is certainly worth a look. To be honest, it is difficult not to look at it as it completely dominates this portion of the Park.
It is somewhat obscure as to why this was erected as it was first mooted in 1898, when the Spanish had just lost control of Cuba to the Americans as codified under the Treaty of Paris of that year. It is true that the monument was not actually erected until 1922 to the design of Mariano Benllure and perhaps King Alfonso was much-loved but I still find it a little odd.
Whatever the reason for the erection of such a monument, it really is very impressive. I have since read that it is a haven for sun-worshippers but I can only presume they were talking about the summer months as it would have indeed been a brave person that would have risked sunbathing in the biting cold of a glorious autumnal day. The summer bikini brigade appeared to have been replaced in late November by many young lovers taking the air and I can understand the reason as it is a delightful setting.
This in itself led to a few problems for an amateur photographer like myself as I did not wish to be perceived as some sort of voyeuristic middle aged man and so I had to pick my camera angles fairly carefully. I do hope I have done the place justice in these images.
I had approached the place from the side and only found my favourite part of the monument as I was leaving and as you can see in one of the images. Flanking the central entrance are two statues representing sailors and soldiers on the left and right respectively. It did reinforce my already held belief that it is such men that make and keep Kings and gave me some cause for thought as I continued my wander round this excellent park. I didn’t have far to go until I found my next point of interest.
They do what in the cowshed?
Almost beside the Estanque I came upon the Teatro Casa de Vacas. As I have stated elsewhere my Spanish is just about non-existent but for some obscure reason I was fairly sure that vaca (vacas in the plural) meant cow. I think I had associated it with the same root word as vache which means the same in French and subsequent research indicates that I was correct, which pleased and surprised me in about equal measure.
Anyway, there I was outside the Home of the Cows or cowshed as I would say in English and I have to say that it looked nothing like any such structure I have ever seen. It was a rather grand affair and although it was evidently a cowshed fit for a King I was wondering why on Earth they would have one in the middle of an old Royal park?
Undoubtedly dairy products could have been easily carted in from the outlying areas. In fact, the place was actually an attraction for people to come and visit. I found this slightly odd, thinking that all those years ago cities were not as developed and people were more used to animals and then I remembered a talk I had attended in London some years before by an excellent speaker called Bob le Vaillant, an ex-soldier who had turned to charity work on his retirement.
One of the things he was involved in was taking underpriveleged youngsters from the area of London I live in to the country for summer breaks and he spoke of how many of them had never seen a cow “in the flesh”. Perhaps it was the same in 19th century Madrid and it was possibly quite a treat to come and watch the beasts being milked especially when you could sample the fresh product straight from the pail.
I wandered into the Casa found yet another art gallery which amazed me. The Madrilleños certainly do love their art and they seem to have concentrated a lot of it in the various buildings in the el Retiro. This one was much more to my liking than the exhibition in the Palacio de Velasquez as at least in this place there were things I could actually look at and make sense of.
Exhibitions change regularly but when I visited, the work was by Elena Perez Abel de la Cruz, Raul Gil Rodriguez and others. I spent a pleasant time there without another soul about the place and it really is worth a wander round if you are passing.
There is a theatre in the building which stages regular events and the place appears to be fully accessible, at least to my untrained eye.
OK, OK, I promise, one more fountain and we shall take a break. I know I could do with one.
I have written already on this page about the slightly unusual artichoke fountain in the Park in central Madrid which had intrigued me a little but for fountain afficionados there is another treat in store in the gardens.
It appears the Madrilleños do like a man-made waterspout that is a little out of the ordinary and I soon stumbled upon the delightful construction you can see in the images which is known as the Fuente de Galápagos or Galapagos Fountain in English.
The fountain is obviously eponymously named for the small group of islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador which had been discovered by the Spaniard Fray Tomás de Berlanga.
It does not actually commemorate this event, which had happened centuries before in 1535, rather what it represents is the birth of Queen Isabel II in 1832 and was constructed to the design of José de Mariategu. A close look at the fountain reveals many references to the wonderful fauna of the archipelago for which it is named, including tortoises and frogs. There are also four cherubs which feature largely in the design.
I am no expert but apparently the symbolism of the piece refers to such virtues as long life, fertility, wisdom and rectitude. I am not sure how experts work all this out and I shall content myself with noting that to my completely untutored eye it was a very beautiful edifice and it is well worth a look and a photograph if that is what you like to do.
I did promise and I am a man of my word so I’ll break there but just to give you an idea of how worth a visit el Retiro is, a look at a map shows that I probably saw about 50% of it and look what I did see. It is not even 1500 during this day yet and there is a whole lot more to see and do yet so stay tuned and spread the word.