I spent an interesting weekend in Madrid a few years ago, a city of broad streets and expensive shops and beautiful museums. Physically as well as economically, it is the heart of Spain, most of its rail and air connections to the rest of the country coming via the city. Situated on a high plain, the city is surrounded by rural areas which many would say are the ‘real’ Spain. It has the feel of a major capital city, with broad open streets, some modern buildings but others that date back to medieval times. And it is a shoppers paradise! In winter it can be very cold and in summer, too hot for many of its citizens who escape to the southern coastal areas where though still hot, there may be the promise cooler breezes.
The city’s pride was tested but not broken by the appalling bombing attack by al-Qaeda associates in March 2004, just days before the General Election which brought the Socialist Party to power.
That appalling terrorist attack was concentrated on the railway terminal, at a time when many of the travellers were poorer people on the way to work, some of them immigrants. 191 people were killed and 2,050 wounded. The perpetrators were local Islamic extremists and the trial of suspects is being held as I write. Forty-one of the dead came from thirteen countries outside of Spain.
A visit to the city must include some time spent in the Prado Museum , which has one of the world’s finest collections of European art from the 14th through to the 19th centuries. There are some fine sculptures here and many drawings, but it’s the picture gallery that gives the museum such international distinction, with an emphasis of course on Spanish art. The Prado has the world’s finest collection of the works of Diego Velazquez and Francisco Goya, and many other major artists are represented too.
The building itself is a delight and walking through the galleries is like a cultural feast.
Madrid is a city of museums – there are over thirty of them spread around the city and you need to decide which to visit or you could quickly have gallery-fatigue. Like many major cities, if you can viewing the sights it is preferable to do so by foot; I always think that that’s the best way to get the real flavour of a place, and if it means you see less you may also engage more with the people and their life.