The other day, Kels really wanted to go on a tour of Madrid that we had seen a poster for in our hostel that first week we were here, so I decided to go along with her. And, even though I had a tour from my history teacher while I was studying here last year, there were a lot of fun little bits of information that I didn’t learn for the first time or only vaguely remembered hearing come from my professor’s mouth. So I thought I’d share a few of those little pearls with you…
1. 1) In the 1600s, the king of Spain decided to construct the Plaza Mayor that we have today, and in his honor, the people of the time erected a giant statue of him seated on a horse in the middle of the square. Soon after construction was finished, a horrible smell started to permeate the entire Plaza. No one could figure out what it was or where it came from. They cleaned the entire plaza numerous times, hoping that the 11th round would take care of what the 10 before hadn’t (numbers taken completely out of thin air, by the way). For centuries, the smell persisted. Finally, in the early 1900s, an anarchist threw a bomb at the statue (or it just happened to hit it in a larger brawl, I’m not sure) that blew open the bellow of the horse. And out poured innumerable bird corpses. Crazy! Apparently, the sculptor had originally left the mouth of the horse open with just enough space that birds could crawl in, but not enough space that they could fly out. So the silly things kept crawling in on top of their dead and dying brethren, only to find that they themselves were simply adding to the pile of decaying bodies. Silly things!
2. 2) One of the last kings before the Spanish Civil War started was really into fútbol – really into it. So much so that he founded the team Real Madrid as his personal team. Which is why the team has the name it has, Real meaning Royal.
3. 3) The Catedral de la Almudena, which stands right in front of the Palacio Real was completely finished in the early 1990s, even though plans to build it were originally put into motion in the 1700s. And talks about building it started in the 1600s! Talk about procrastination…
4. 4) A few years ago, there was a poll all across Spain asking the average citizen who they thought was the most important person in all of Spanish history. In first place came the current king, Juan Carlos I, who played an incredibly vital roll in bringing the country out of the fascist regime once Franco died in 1975. In second came Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote de la Mancha. I guess authors can be national heroes too J
5. 5) There is a restaurant right outside the Plaza Mayor called El Botín that claims to be the oldest still-functioning restaurant in the world. It was opened sometime in the 1700s and has maintained a thriving business through the centuries, so I guess that gives it a legitimate claim to the title.
6. 6) The Palacio Real is the largest palace in Western Europe (I believe), with five stories and a whopping 2,000 rooms, of which the public can only see a tiny portion – 50 rooms.
7. 7) The Puerta del Sol, which is an extremely important plaza in the life of the city, is the geographical center of the country.