Madrid was in full Navidad (Christmas) mode when we arrived.
Most notable were the nativity scenes, everywhere. The Plaza Mayor (Major Square) was selling Christmas novelties and the greatest interest was around the little figures you could buy for your own home Nativity scene. Children ogled over them, as adults carefully assisted in the selection. As well as Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus, Angels, Shepherds and Wise Men, there were all imaginable characters, including farmers, inn keepers and hawkers – in fact people from every day life. Models came in all sizes, from tiny 2cm tall to grand 30cm or 50cm tall.
And most shops had some kind of Nativity scene on show, ranging from small and discreet to a complex panorama that would fill a whole window.
Of course, Christmas in Spain is a little different to the way we celebrate in the antipodes. It is a low key affair where families get together on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. For children the big event comes later on 5th and 6th January, when the Three Kings (Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar) visit over night and leave gifts. Of course, the camel expects water to refresh him and sweet wine may be left for the kings. Children put out a polished shoe for the kings to leave presents in.
So in the center of Madrid, tents were set up where children could visit the kings to ensure their particular request was on order.
The buildings in Madrid are stunning. Public buildings are richly decorated, as too are the apartment buildings in the center of the city. The city felt sophisticated and mature – more a part of Europe, compared to the sometimes outlandish architecture in Barcelona. In Madrid palaces and gates abound.
Our visit to Madrid was a tour of art. We spent a day in the Prado – an eight hour day in fact. Of course there was more to see, as we had concentrated on Spanish art, Diego Velázquez, Francisco De Goya, El Greco in particular. We also checked out temporary exhibitions of ‘Young Van Dyck’ and the landscape artist Martín Rico.
Our non-art-gallery-day took us for long walks through Madrid, particularly to visit the Parque del Buen Retiro ‘Park of the Pleasant Retreat’ with its lovely gardens, lake with its monument to Alfonso XII, the Palace Velázquez which was hosting an exhibition by Heino Zobernig and the Crystal Palace which was hosting an exhibition by Jiři Kovanda. Both exhibitions were modern art, sometimes a little hard to understand.
We also visited the Templo de Debod, which was rescued from the Lower Aswan Dam, Egypt and rebuilt in Madrid. We had visited Ramses II temple that was rescued from the Aswan Dam in Abu Simbel, so it was a surprise to find the temple here in Madrid.
Our last day was devoted to visiting Reina Sofia, the modern art gallery of Madrid. Hayden had mentioned that we ‘must go’ on more than one occasion.
The gallery provides a chronological insight to modern art in Spain, deriving its beginnings from the conflicts of the 19th century and the woes inflicted by the industrial revolution.
The avant-garde movement in the early 20th century contributed to traditional genres, which in turn led to confidence and experimentation. Of course the work of Picasso, Miro, Tàpies and Dali were displayed as the ultimate outcome to the modern era. Interestingly – they are all Catalan artist.
It is mind boggling stuff and where 8 hours at the Prado was exhausting, I was done and dusted after 6 hours at Reina Sofia.
And so, enlightened in Madrid, we set off next day for more family oriented times in Granada.