Madrid Spain

On this trip, we only had a brief, two-evening, one day stop in Madrid. And since it was so brief, it was incumbent on us to stuff as much as possible into that time. And we did. We had two brief, but satisfying dinners, one lunch at the hottest and surely the busiest tapas venue in the city, a few hours at Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid’s modern art museum) and two walking tours though the city’s old town: one on the city’s history and one that focused specifically on the Spanish Inquisition. Whew! Come join us on our whirlwind of Madrid.

Museo Reina Sofia

Our previous trip to Madrid (many, many decades ago) included a visit to the Prado, which is not only Madrid’s premier museum, but one of the best museums in the world. Although we certainly appreciated the Prado, we tend to enjoy modern art more than the Medieval and Renaissance art that is the primary province of the Prado. Besides, we had a burning desire to see one of the most powerful and famous paintings in the world (Guernica) from one of Tom’s favorite and one of the most innovative artist in artist in history (Picasso). So we decided to shower some love on the Prado’s oft-overshadowed poor cousin—Museo Reina Sofia. It repaid our time and our love with a rewarding experience.

Since the museum’s temporary collections were not available the day we visited, we spent our entire time with an audio guide tour of the permanent collection. This collections is divided into two sections: 1900 to 1964, and 1965 through 1980s. Each section of the permanent collection is housed on a separate floor of the museum (the early period on the second and the latter on the fourth).

The 1900 to 1964 section is the most rewarding and the overwhelming focus of the museum which provides an extensive audio guide coverage of many of these early works, compared with not a single entry for the later work.

The museum opened with an assertion that two big social changes shaped the art of the art of the 20th century: the growth of the working class and the emergence of cinema. It was, therefore, fitting that the first gallery opened with the 50-second clip that was the Lumiere Brothers’ first movie—a film showing people (especially women) walking out of a factory. While the gallery did have a few oil paintings dealing with industrialization, much of the remainder of the gallery’s pieces dealt with government repression and war—forces that interestingly, were not mentioned in a country that was racked by repression and war through most of the entire first half of the century.

Diaz, the sleeping factory 1925Dali, the invisible man 1932Picasso, the swimmer 1934 (2)Picasso, weeping woman head with handkerchief 1973


The themes of war and industrialization continued into the next gallery with works of the so-called “Black Spain” movement (pictures highlighting societal ills) and the opposing “White Spain” movement (all that was good and pure about Spain, including an idyllic country and village life).

Black Spain and White Spain

The repression and horrors of the Spanish Revolution, and the push for democratization were among the most pervasive substantive themes of the 2nd-floor exhibition, with particularly dramatic representations by artists including Andre Masson and Luis Quintanilla.

Mason. For numancia 1937Mason. The regulars 1937


Then, of course, there was the most dramatic and renowned representation of all—and the number one reason we chose to spend so much of our limited time in Madrid at this museum—Picasso’s Guernica. The incredibly powerful indictment (commissioned, it should be noted, by Spain’s Republican Government) of the horrors of the revolution in particular, and war in general is made all the more powerful by being in black and white.

The Guernica exhibit discusses the removal of the painting from Spain (where, under Picasso’s instructions, it should not be kept of exhibited until the country had a democratic government), the efforts at conserving and repairing it and its eventual return to its rightful home. There is also an unfortunately small, but very interesting display of photos by Dora Mar (Picasso’s photojournalist mistress) that detail the creation of the work, showing images (such as the screaming woman clutching her dead baby and the dismembered body parts) that had been conceived from the very beginning of the creative process, to images (such as the lightbulb and the animals and the) that were continually revised to provide clarity. Pictures were not allowed, but here is a picture from the internet.


The other primary themes of the floor, and indeed, of the entire museum, was the overarching trend from figurativism toward abstraction, symbolism and surrealism in 20th-century art. This was evidenced with works by artists including Picabia, Magritte, Ernst, Tanguy, Arp and especially by the large numbers of pieces by Miro, Dali and especially Picasso.

miro man with a pipeDali, face of the great masturbater 1929Dali, girl at the window 1925Dali, the enigma of hilter 1939Picasso, weeping woman head with handkerchief 1973Picasso, woman in garden


Nor is sculpture ignored, with many examples of works by artists including Picasso, Matisse, Calder and many others.

Calder, constellation 1944

The museum also has displays on other Spanish artists, such as a significant representation of Spanish Cubists (including a gallery and a half devoted to Juan Gris), many examples of Spanish cinema and brief exhibits devoted to smaller, but still important schools and movements including constructivism and the multi-faceted Bauhaus school

The fourth floor, which focuses on art from 1945 through 1968, has a subtheme dealing with the Cold War and the question of whether was really over. Although this exhibit also shows a number of Spanish films, it is, not surprisingly, focused primarily on abstract and avant garde art, abstract expressionism (especially among European artists), and new media.

Don’t overlook this museum if you go to Madrid.


The History and the Myths of Madrid’s Old Town

In an attempt to learn something of the history of the city we were visiting, we took Sandeman’s free Majestic Madrid Walking Tour. We learned a fair amount about the city’s history, although, as we discovered, the tour was intended to be as much about entertainment as it was about providing information. This meant, we had to endure many stories and anecdotes in order to learn the history.

The city’s roots go back 1,200 years to the Romans (from about 100 BC to the 5th century AD) who provided the foundations for a common language, road and legal system. Then came the Visigoths and then the Moors who, by 900 AD, had moved up the Iberian Peninsula to Madrid. Then finally, after the end of the Crusades, the Christians regained control of the peninsula.

The shape of the current city, however, came a century later, when Felipe II of the Hapsburg dynasty, moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid in 1561 and established Plaza Mayor as its center. The plaza, which is surrounded by buildings, originally had two primary ones: one devoted to bakers, the other to butchers. The center of the square was used for all types of events, from celebrations, to bullfighting to very public executions during the Inquisition (see below for a full discussion of the (much better) Inquisition Walking Tour

Among the less germane diversions, we learned that Restaurante Jobrano de Botin, just off Plaza Mayor, was founded in 1735. This, according to Guinness, makes it the oldest continually operating restaurant in the world—a restaurant at which Goya was once employed as a dishwasher.


We also learned how the community of La Latina, an old brothel center, helped give rise to the idea of Tapas (a good idea in our opinion). Since the working poor devoted so much of their money to whoring and alcohol, they did not eat properly and their work suffered. After a visit to the area, Alphonse X mandated that all bars serve free food with every drink, as a means of moderating the effect of alcohol and improving productivity. (The name, “tapas” came later, when a restaurant serving the king a drink placed a slice of ham on “top” of it to prevent foreign matter from falling into the glass.)

And speaking of trivia, we learned that the city’s slogan, “Built over water with walls of fire”, refers to the creation of the city atop an underground river and the use of flint in buildings the walls—walls that when struck by metal weapons, sparked and spooked superstitious enemies. As for the city symbol, of a bear with its front paws on a tree, it designated the division of the use of land between the church and the monarchy; where the monarchy had rights to the timber and to hunting, while the church received grazing rights.

But so much for the trivia. The tour did provide some meaningful information. We learned of the pursuit of learning and the religious tolerance demonstrated by the Muslim rulers, and how this changed so dramatically under Ferdinand and Isabella who authorized and funded the 1492 voyage of Columbus that resulted in the discovery of the Americas. This ushered in Spain’s “Golden Years” when the country massacred, enslaved and then captured the gold, silver and other treasures of the Incas, the Aztecs and other Latin American peoples. As a result, the country’s coffers literally overflowed.

But while 1492 may have marked the beginning of a tough time for the Latin Americans, it marked the beginning of an even tougher and longer period for Spanish citizens. It was, after all, the year in which the same rulers instituted the Inquisition—an institution that lasted 368 years, resulted in the exile and killing of untold numbers of people—and imposed a rule of terror on virtually all other citizens.

We saw remnants of the city wall and the Moorish design of the original part of the Cathedral of the Virgin which, as with other Spanish churches and cathedrals, was repurposed from an existing mosque. It was later extended to add Gothic and Renaissance elements. Although the plans for building a totally new cathedral were originally approved in the 16th century, actual construction did not begin until 1883 and was not completed until 1993.



The evolution of the Royal Palace followed a similar pattern. Christian rulers initially expropriated the Muslim palace and, over successive generations, extended and adapted it by adding wings and embellishments of different, often discordant styles. The palace, to the relief of many, burned down in 1734 and in 1738, the then Bourbon dynasty built a huge (the largest in Europe with 3,400 rooms!) new Neo-Classical castle. Now, however, the royal family lives in a much more modest castle outside the city, while the city castle is now used as a museum. The accompanying garden is now a public park. We also heard the story of the equestrian statue that was built to honor the then current King Felipe 4 who, according to our guide, lost battle after battle and with them, most of the Spanish Empire. Although he wanted a statue of him on a horse raised on its hind legs (a form generally reserved for those killed in battle–which he was not) neither the sculpture, nor Spain yet had the knowledge of how to balance such as structure. It took a consultation with Galileo to solve the problem.


Finally, we learned of the decision to create statutes of each of the country’s previous kings and place them on the roof of the palace. But, after the statues were built, it was determined that the structure may not support the added weight. So, after years of consternation, Isabel II, who, upon a legal maneuver by her father, inherited the crown at Age 3 since she was too young to rule, had a mother who took over as regent until Isabel reached the age of 13, at which time she was determined by some to be capable of running the country. Not all agreed. This led to a war to determine succession, a war that was ultimately resolved by the Bourbons assuming control of the country. But, although Isabel may not have been able to retain power, she did become a patron of the arts. She also solved the dilemma over what to with the statues of the kings by installing some on the roof, some in Santelli Park and others across the street from the Palace in a park facing the National Opera, where our tour ended.

But for all our consternation over free tour’s info-tainment model (or at least our guide’s interpretation of having to be entertaining and witty to retain people on the tour), it did whet our appetites for learning more about one of the darkest era’s in Spain’s history, that of the Spanish Inquisition. After reading the brochure for, and being assured that the company’s paid Inquisition tour was truly educational, we decided to take the plunge. We were glad we did. While we ended up paying not much more than the “free” tour, it was so much better.


Spanish Inquisition” Walking Tour

Jovan, who is from the U.S., explained the motivations and perpetuation of the Inquisition primarily in economic terms, and only secondarily in religious terms.

It was driven primarily by King Ferdinand (primarily for reasons of economics and power) and Queen Isabella (primarily for religious reasons) and supported by the Pope, It relied largely on Inquisition officials and anonymous accusers to identify potential heretics who, if they could not prove their innocence, were given three choices:

  • Convert, or overtly demonstrate their allegiance to the Catholic fate (converting meant changing your name, changing how you lived, changing what you ate, etc.);
  • Leave the country–leaving their wealth and possessions behind; or
  • Die a horrid death, either by being hanged, garroted or worse of all, being burned at the stake, a death than not only follows a prolonged period of extreme pain but, that according to the church, ensured that the victim would go straight to Hell.

It was the second option, in which the crown had the greatest interest and that explains the primary targets of the Inquisition—first Muslims and secondarily Jews. After all, it was the Muslims and the Jews who controlled the greatest wealth and from whom—if they could be forced to leave—the Crown would gain the greatest benefits (20% of the assets). Other categories of offenders included Protestants, witches and “immoral people” which included, but was not limited to adulterers and sodomists.

Those who were accused and could not prove themselves innocent faced the most difficult trials. Proving oneself innocent was difficult. First, not only did the defendant not have a right to face his accuser, he could not even learn the accuser’s identity. Nor did they have a right to counsel or third-party advice, could not introduce evidence or even call witnesses on their behalf. If they did not immediately confess, they were thrown in a dark, dank prison for between eight days and forever. If they were still not prepared to confess, they underwent three levels of torture:

  1. They were tied to the rack and gradually pulled until each of their limbs were dislocated;
  2. Their hands were tied behind their backs and then connected to a rope by which they were pulled to the ceiling. After having heavy weights connected to their feet, the rope would be slackened before coming to an abrupt stop. If the suspect would not confess, the process would be repeated with continually heavier weights.
  3. Their nostrils would be closed and a cloth would be forced down the throat while water was poured on to the cloth. The swallowing reflex pushed the cloth further down into the stomach producing a sensation of drowning until the victim lost consciousness. Or, if the torturers wanted to have more fun, they sometimes used boiling water or vinegar.

While these were the most common forms of torture, 368 years provided plenty of time to come up with other options. Victims could be bound to a wooden cross where each arm and each leg was broken in two places with an iron bar. Another favorite for women and children was to grease the bottoms of their feet and then put them over a fire. There were other options for adulterers (virtually always women) and sexual deviants, such as putting an expanding metal ball (called a pear) in the offending orifice and continually expanding it. The options, in other words, were endless.

But if you think these tortures were bad, worse ones were reserved for suspected witches.

Those who finally confessed their sins had to do various forms of penitence. For lesser offenses, this could include anything from a fine or being forced to wearing a cross or a public scourging, and vow to amend their ways, or face much worse punishment for future offenses. More serious offenses could result in substantial fines and long terms of imprisonment Those found guilty after refusing to confess could well lose their property and their lives.

This all produced yet another category of victim: these people’s children, Children of convicted heretics over the age of 15 were also judge heretics. Those between 11 and 14 were handed over to orphanages or left to fend for themselves. Those under 11, were presumed innocent, but lost their parents, their homes and access to their parents’ property.

Nor did the parents have to be convicted for the children to suffer. If a parent fell under suspicion or was arrested, the children would be shunned and often be forced to beg for food on the street. In some cases, the children would be called in for questioning and, if they did not know what their parents had done, or would not testify against them, they may too be tortured.

Nor did one have to be accused, tortured or killed to be a victim of the Inquisition. People who were suspected of being Muslim, Jewish or Protestant were often so frequently harassed and attacked that they ended up leaving the country. Others tried to allay suspicion by carrying, publicly displaying and eating pork, even if it was contrary to their faiths. The primary weapon of the Inquisition, after all, wasn’t torture or killing—it was fear. Everyone, whether suspected or not, was so frightened that they would immediately and unquestionably comply with royal or religious mandates and volunteer to do whatever possible to get into the good graces of the authorities.

Those who did so were rewarded; not necessarily with money, but with recognition, prestige, VIP tickets to desired events, such as bullfights or the opera, and in some cases, lower tax rates.

In the end, an estimated half off all Muslins and Jews left the country (and lost their established lives and their assets). Although some Protestants also left, their appearances and their names made them less obviously “different” than Muslims or Jews so fewer were forced to leave. Although the number of people who were tortured was probably well into the tens of thousands, “only” about 6,000 (about two-third of whom were either Muslims or Jews) were actually executed in Spain.

The Inquisition, after all, wasn’t as interested in executing people as it was in intimidating them. Executions, therefore, were often made into public events. Take, for example, a night in 1680 when thousands of people congregated in Place Mayor to witness a show. Kings and other royalty and dignitaries entered the plaza, each bowing to the cross to demonstrate their subservience to the inquisition. Then, one by one, 116 people were brought into the square and either hung, garroted or burnt, depending on their sins.

While millions felt the intimidation, and some the wrath of the Inquisition, not all were afraid. Some felt welcomed by this extremism. While many Muslims and Jews left the country, more than 2 million Catholics from Protestant and Muslim countries actually moved to Spain.

All of this serve to turn Spain into a much more Catholic country. Yes, but at what price?

Eating In Madrid

After reading about the Inquisition, you may no longer want to know about eating in Madrid. But we did have time for three meals. Dinners were at:

  • Latitud, a very popular tapas restaurant that offers a wide selection. Some of the tapas were quite good. These included gorgonzola and apple croquette, melted brie with Iberian ham on toast, sirloin with foie gras, and the foie, apple and glazed Iberian ham croquette. Less successful dishes were the veal meatballs, sea bass ceviche, and mushroom and Iberian ham risotto with brie sauce. The wine, however, did work. This, 2009 Gran Solara Reserva was from the Douro Valley, the Portuguese side of which we will visit at the end of this trip.
  • Museo del Jamon, which, as the name suggests, is all about hams—in any way you want it. The walls and counters are filled with ham or every size, shape and cut. You can buy it at a butcher counter (at prices up to 85 Euros per kilogram), at a tapas bar (if you can squeeze your way in), or upstairs at one of two dining rooms (one relatively formal, one very casual). We ordered sausage, three types of Iberian ham and a plate of aged sheep cheese. All with a bottle of wine. Not an especially healthy meal, but very good and quite fast—which is what we needed before a night tour.
  • Our one lunch was at a marketplace turned tapas bar that includes dozens of food and beverage purveyors and precious few standup tables (with even fewer stools) in a building that was totally packed at Saturday lunch. This tapas spot is Mercato San Miquel, where, we fought our way to three different food counters to get four fresh seafood tapas dishes salmon with dill, herring with avocado cream, and Galcian octopus with paprika) and one fried dish that combined baby octopus, sardines and calamari rings. Drinks, which were as difficult to get as the food, consisted of Albarino and a glass of sherry. While we really liked the vibe and atmosphere, and the meal was fast, it might be nicer when less crowded


We stayed at Madrid Palacia de Tepa, another NH Hotel. You can’t fault these hotels. They are clean and comfortable. While you might find better staff in smaller hotels, NH hotels are fairly consistent in staff and rooms. A really good location for visiting the areas we wanted to see.

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