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Madrid - Around Town : Around Paseo del Prado (part 1)

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This imposing tree-lined avenue,adorned with fountains and sculptures, is home to no fewer than three worldclass art galleries: the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. In the 18th century the prado was a meadow, crossed by a stream, but the bucolic surroundings were deceptive, as the area was acquiring an unsavoury reputation for muggings and amorous encounters. The solution, devised by Charles IV, was a new boulevard between Plaza de Cibeles and Plaza de Atocha, lined with handsome buildings devoted to the pursuit of scientific inquiry. Work began in 1775 on a museum of natural history (now the Prado), the botanical gardens and observatory and medical school (now the Reina Sofía).

Cibeles versus Neptune

These two monuments have earned a place in city folklore and have come to symbolize the rivalry between the city’s two main football clubs, Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid. When Real secures a trophy, the team and fans head for the Cibeles statue; when it is the turn of Atlético, Neptune is the focus for celebrations. Both fountains have suffered damage over the years so police now impose a cordon, limiting access to the players.



Sights
  1. Museo del Prado

    One of the world’s finest art galleries, the Prado includes a spectacular section of Spanish paintings within its vast collection .

  2. Museo Thyssen Bornemisza

    What began as a private collection is now a superb public museum of some of the best European art from the past 700 years .

  3. Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

    In contrast to the Prado, this wonderful art gallery is devoted to the very best of 20th- and 21st-century art .

  4. Parque del Retiro

    This much-loved city park is a constant source of pleasure to madrileños, especially at weekends and during the hot summer months. There are open spaces to enjoy, as well as wooded areas and formal gardens .

    Parque del Retiro
  5. Plaza de Cibeles

    One of Madrid’s busiest traffic intersections also boasts the city’s most famous landmark. The Fountain of Cybele, designed by Ventura Rodríguez, depicts the goddess of nature and abundance riding her chariot, hauled by a pair of prancing lions. (The water-spouting cherubs were added at the end of the 19th century.) The most striking architectural monument on the square is the over-the-top Palacio de Comunicaciones, now the Madrid Town Hall. Opposite is the Neo-Baroque Palacio de Linares, one of the city’s finest 19th-century buildings, and now the Casa de América. On the corner of Calle Recoletos, partly hidden from view by its steeply sloping gardens, is the former Palacio de Buenavista, commissioned in 1777 for the Duchess of Alba, a legendary beauty and one-time lover of artist Francisco de Goya. Today it is home to the General Army Barracks.

    Fountain of Cybele, Plaza de Cibeles
  6. Plaza de la Lealtad

    This leafy square honours the fallen heroes of the 1808 uprising against the French. The ashes of the rebel leaders, immortalized in Goya’s famous painting, were interred in the funerary urns beneath the obelisk when the project was finally completed in 1840. The beautifully proportioned Neo-Classical building occupying the north side of the square is the Madrid Stock Exchange, designed by Enrique María Repullés in 1884. Visitors may admire the Corinthian-columned façade at any time, but anyone wishing to see the trading floor from the gallery (parquet flooring, painted vaults, stained glass ceiling and gilded clock) will have to join the guided tour at midday.

    Madrid Stock Exchange

    • Plaza de la Lealtad 1

    • Tours noon Mon–Fri by appointment (call 91 589 2264 to book)

    • Free

    Plaza de la Lealtad
  7. Hotel Ritz

    The Ritz first opened its doors in 1910 and the inauguration was attended by King Alfonso XIII, who had backed the project after complaining of the lack of quality accommodation in his capital. French architect Charles Mewes’ Neo-Classical building is surprisingly understated from the outside, but the interior is predictably opulent. Outstanding features include handwoven carpets from the Royal Tapestry factory and the belle époque dining room. Stop for a drink on the terrace.

    • Plaza de la Lealtad 5

  8. Real Jardín Botánico

    Anyone seeking a bit of peace and quiet will relish these delightful gardens, inaugurated in 1781 as a centre for botanical research. The three ascending terraces conform to Juan de Villanueva’s original design. Beyond the main entrance is the herbarium, the aromatic, culinary and medicinal plants neatly arranged in separate beds and individually labelled. The rose garden adds a dash of colour. The central terrace arranges plants by family, species and genealogical history. Look out for the 100-year-old tree known as “El Pantalones” because of its resemblance to a pair of inverted trousers – disease has split the trunk in half. More than 1,200 tropical and sub-tropical species are cultivated in the Exhibition Greenhouse, opened in 1993. The Villanueva Pavilion and the arbors, by contrast, date back to the 18th century. The statue by the pond honours the great Swedish botanist, Carl von Linné (Linnaeus), who devised the system of plant classification.

    • Plaza de Murillo 2

    • Open 10am–dusk daily

    • Closed 1 Jan, 25 Dec

    • Adm

    Real Jardín Botánico
  9. Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas

    Housed in a 19th-century mansion overlooking the Retiro is this compelling collection of furniture, silverware, ceramics and glassware from the royal factory of La Granja, as well as jewellery, tapestries, clocks, toys and musical instruments. But the museum is more than a showcase of handicrafts. Arranged chronologically over four floors are reconstructed rooms illustrating Spanish domestic life from the 16th to the early 20th centuries. Unmissable on the fourth floor is the recreated Valencian kitchen, decorated with over 1,600 hand-painted azulejo tiles. The below-stairs life of an 18th-century palace is vividly brought to life as servants struggle with trays of pies and desserts while the domestic cats filch fish and eels.

    • Calle de Montalbán 12

    • Open 9:30am–3pm Tue–Sat (5–8pm Thu), 10am–3pm Sun

    • Dis. access

    • Adm (except Sun)

    Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas
  10. Estación de Atocha

    Madrid’s southern railway station is also a palm garden and an arresting architectural monument. The old terminal, a magnificent castiron structure, 152 m (500 ft) long and more than 40 m (130 ft) high, overlooks Plaza de Atocha. It was designed by Alberto del Palacio in 1888 – the French engineer Gustave Eiffel, designer of Paris’s famous tower, was a consultant – and completed four years later. When, more than a century later, the decision was taken to run a new high-speed train service to Seville (AVE), prize winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo was commissioned to remodel the terminal. His makeover incorporated the square and the old station canopy, and added a cylindrical lantern over the commuter station, and a streamlined glass concourse from where the AVE now departs.

    • Glorieta de Carlos V

    • Dis. access

    Estación de Atocha
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