Despite being a modern metropolis and home to over 3 million people, Madrid retains a sense of the Castillian town that grew into a bustling capital city. Here are Gusto Guides’ picks of places in Madrid with a story behind them:
1. The Mozarab City Walls (Barrio de los Austrias) – The first known settlement in Madrid was founded by the Mozarabs, and the best-preserved remains are to be found around the Almudena Cathedral. From contemporary records, it is believed that the city wall was near the Manzanares River, and within lay a number of large-scale buildings including a mosque, and hammams. The remains of the wall are today scattered among many streets in the vicinity as demonstrated by the most recent excavations on the Calle Escalinata.
2. Escuelas Pias (Lavapiés, Calle del Tribulete 14) – This former church, home to the Spanish National University for Distance Learning (UNED), has its origins in the 18th Century. As told by Arturo Barea in The Forge of a Rebel, it was used by the falangists as a vantage point from which to shoot at civilians during the first days of the Francoist revolt in 1936, the year that marked the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. In revenge, the anarchists set fire to the building and it remained in its ruined state until it was refurbished in 2002.
3. The Telefónica Building (Gran Vía, 28) – Probably the most elegant building on Madrid’s Gran Vía (vying for first place with the Circulo de Bellas Artes). During the Civil War, this was one of the key targets of the Francoist air raids in a bid to disrupt one of Spain’s most crucial communication hubs. Some of the greatest war correspondents to ever have worked passed through its doors – including Hemingway and Dos Passos.
4. Villa Rosa (Plaza de Santa Ana, Barrio de las Letras) –There are lots of authentic bars in Madrid with an interesting story to tell, but we couldn’t help but mention Villa Rosa. This is a famous tablao (flamenco club) that was once frequented by Miguel Primo de Rivera, the aristocratic dictator who governed Spain through much of the 1920s. Decades later, the Villa Rosa became a favourite of actress Ava Gardner.
5. Casa Ciriaco (Calle Mayor, 88 Barrio de los Austrias) – This bar-restaurant in central Madrid was not only home to the meetings of journalist Julia Camba, artist Mingote or the painter Zuloaga (as well as serving a mean cocido every Tuesday). Just outside the restaurant’s door was the site of an attack by the anarchist Mateo Morral, a terrorist who threw an explosive device from what was then a small hotel above Casa Ciriaco. His target? The carriage of King Alfonso XII and Victoria Eugenia on the day of their wedding in May 1906. The royals were unharmed but 25 civilians and soldiers were killed.
Foto: Flickr / Miguel A. Sancho