|The "escudo," official seal, for Madrid|
Getting oriented: It is helpful to follow most guide books in dividing the central tourist area of Madrid into two zones: "El Madrid de los Austrias" and "El Madrid de los Borbones". "El Madrid de los Austrias" is the old center of the city (comprising the east side of most tourist maps) and is home to the Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace, and other landmarks associated with the Hapsburg ruling family in Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries. "El Madrid de los Borbones" is the "newer" Madrid, i.e. dating to the more recent House of Bourbon rule in the 18th and 19th centuries. It comprises the right half of your tourist map where most of the must-see museums can be found along the Paseo del Prado.
|The Templo de Debod at dusk, located in the Parque del Oeste|
on a hill not far from the Royal Palace.
Nearby the standard museum route, in "El Madrid de los Borbones," is the CaixaForum Madrid Museum. It has an impressive grass garden wall outside, the museum visit is free, and its gift shop is one of the better of those I've perused. On the other side of town, in "El Madrid de los Austrias," I recommend a stroll around the Plaza de Oriente and Plaza de Ópera, especially around early evening to people watch, or walk over to Plaza de España with its impressive monument to Cervantes and which is regularly the site of special expositions and markets. Not too far away you can find the "Templo de Debod," an Egyptian temple gifted to Spain and sitting right in the heart of the city, but in a quiet park with a splendid hillside view of the park areas and fields to the east of the city.
|Bronze statues of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza below the stone sculpture of Cervantes.|
Behind is the Edificio España, built in 1953 and at the time the tallest building in Madrid.
|Apparently, getting a picture with "Fat Spiderman" is fast becoming a tradition at|
the Plaza Mayor. An example of how touristy (and zany) the square has become.
|The "kilómetro cero" marker you can find|
on the ground at Puerta del Sol.
|The statute of the oso (bear) and the madroño (strawberry tree) at Puerta del Sol.|
|The fountain of Cybele, Roman goddess of nature, which gives Plaza de Cibeles its name.|
In the background is Madrid's Ayuntamiento or town hall.
|The Puerta de Alcalá lit up with Christmas lights.|
These are the common images of Madrid that circulate in Spain today. In the next entry I'll go into more discussion about the city's changing cultural significance…