“On water I was built, my walls are made of fire”
You probably don’t know the fact that Madrid is one of the few capital cities in Europe that doesn’t have a river going through it. However underground there are many water wells, this is the explanation of the first half of the motto.
To understand the second half we need to look into history. In the later half of the 9th century Spain and Madrid, too, was under Muslim rule. The Arabs built a wall around the city as protection. Most of it was demolished to make space for urbanisation, some parts make up walls of basements but there’s one part that is still visible and this is the oldest wall in the whole city.
The wall was built of flint stone. In general when the city was attacked, they used archers as the first line of attack. When the stone tip of the arrows contacted with the flint walls they sparked and from afar it looked like the whole wall is on fire. This helped to repel the enemies of the city.
You can see this wall in a strange setting. In front of the Arabic wall there’s a Jewish fountain and behind it looms the Cathedral of Almudena.
The statue of Felipe IV on a horse
This statue has an interesting history. During the reign of Felipe IV Spain was in a very fortunate situation due to the riches from America. Therefore this king did not do anything special with his time but modelled for Velazquez who did about 40 paintings of him. Just for a change the king decided that after all those paintings it’s time to have a statue of himself, too. He ordered Pedro Tacca, an Italian master, to make a statue for him with a horse that rears up.
Tacca got a few sketches from Velazquez to know how the statue should look and realised that there’s a problem with keeping the horse upright. The king didn’t hesitate, he ordered the famous Galileo Galilei to come over from Italy and sort out the problem. Galileo did the long journey, looked at the statue, told them to fill the horse with bronze then left. This is the story of how Galileo came to Spain to sort out a horse’s ass.
Finally the statue was ready but to Felipe’s biggest surprise the face on his person on the statue was not his! Poor Tacca never met the king in person. So Velazquez ordered yet another master, Montanes, to sort out the face.
At the end four famous master artists were needed to make this statue of Felipe IV.
Isabell II was the only female ruler of Spain. She is called ‘Dirty Isabel’ for two reasons, firstly apparently she had a great appetite when it came to men. She was married to a gay cousin of hers, after all. The second reason is that it is believed that she only bathed once in every half a year and between the occasions she used perfumes to cover up her bad smell. To ‘honor’ this there is an actual shade of green in Spain that is called ‘Isabell green’. Also, as a twisted sense of humour, the water pipes of the city where also named after her.
The Royal Opera House
The Opera House is right behind the statue of Isabelle II. It is famous for having more floors underground than overground and is so well built that during a show the scene can be completely changed in under a minute!
The old Town Hall
Plaza de Villa is a famous little square in Madrid as everything you see here is over 300 years old! This includes the old Town Hall that was built in the 16th century. The building is full of lovely art work however its functions were taken over by the New Town Hall.
Another curiosity, if you look at the towers you will see that they are a certain shape. These towers can be found in every building that was built in the time of the kings that came form the Habsburg dynasty. They were designed so that the snow does not build up on them however there is no snow in Madrid, or very rarely!
I really hope you enjoyed this tour around Madrid with me. I realise that there are a lot of inconsistencies between the facts I mentioned above and others that are on the internet. I guess there are many varieties of the legends that circle these famous sites. These are all the things I was told on my tour so I hope they have some validity.
If you’d like to try one of these free tours just write ‘free tour’ and the city’s name you want to go to Google and you will get plenty of options. Alternatively you can try Tripadvisor, go to ‘Activities’ and it will bring up all the available city tours. Good luck!