A Little Tourism in Madrid


Since I decided to stay in Madrid and keep training, I thought I would celebrate by being a tourist in my own city.

I started off my five days of celebrations with a trip to the Biblioteca Nacional España, not in order to study like I do most days, but rather to see the two temporary exhibits that they have currently on display. Most days when I walk into the library and am in a rush to consult a specific book, and althougth colored posters are enticing, I have always put off the visit to the temporary exhibits, saying Tomorrow I will have more time…  Now that I have the “Time” I decided, that the first order of buisness was to visit the Library of Garcilasco de la Vega.

Garcilaso was a mestizo author wrote the both the History of Florida and the Royal Commentaries of the Inca in the early 17th century. He was an avid reader, as the references in both of his works attest, and collected one of the most extensive libraries (188 entries) of his time. Therefore, the exhibition sought to shed light on his diverse interests by displaying the many different sources of his studies, from dictionaries and maps to sculptures and other precious objects. Through the various pieces, the museum was able to capture an image of the mestizo humanist, giving context to one of the most important seventeenth century chroniclers of the Spanish occupation of Peru.


Marco Vitruvio Polión, De arquitectura, dividido en diez libros, traducido de Latín en Castellano por Miguel de Urrea, 1582.


Antonio Ricardo, Arte y vocabulario en la lengua general del Perú llamada Quichua, y en la lengua Española. El más copioso y elegante que hasta ahora se ha impreso, 1586.


Double Vase depicting two people dancing, Chimú-Inca Peru, 1000-1470.

The other exhibition, dedicated to Miguel de Cervantes, objectively speaking had more success than the mestizo writer, given that there were at least twofold more people in this exhibition hall than the other. Part of this might have been my timing, but I do believe that this is more interest in general, for the Spanish author. Cervantes is best known for his The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, which was written while he was imprisoned in Algiers. He, personally, believed that his last novel, and The works of Persiles and Sigismunda was his best and would propel him to eternal fame, not his story of the errant knight from La Mancha. However, one cannot always pick one’s fame. So ubiquitous in national culture are the characters of Don Quixote, that it is understandable why so many people preferred to visit this display.

The aim of the exhibit was to demystify the figure of Cervantes, by exploring three different directions: first, by understanding Cervantes as a man of his time, who worked as a soldier which allowed him to travel across most of the known world, constantly in search of the “merced” from the Spanish Monarchy, whether for his feats on the battlefield or his writings; secondly, by focusing on the representation, both pictorially and literarily; and finally, by examining the construction of civic monuments to Cervantes in various parts of Spain, particularly the fountain of Philip II in the Plaza de España in Madrid.


Letter written by Cervantes


Anonymous 17th century portrait of Miguel de Cervantes


Antonio Muñoz Degraín, Cervantes writing the dedication of his work to the Count of Lemos, 1916


Salvador Dalí, Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes, 1965.

With so many people present in the dim lit rooms, it was rather hard to get close and read the various books and pamphlets that were on display. However, through the three portions a clearer picture of the “prince of wits” emerged.

The following morning I headed off to see a different type of collection at the Fundación Banco Santander. Although it was located far outside the city, a friend highly recommended the exhibit of “Looking at the World around You. Contemporary Works from Qatar Museums”. I set off with high hopes after seeing the online preview of the display (seen here). Unfortunately for me, this online preview was all that I was able to see, given that the exhibition was closed on Thursday for Holidays (which is not mentioned anywhere online…). The kicker was that I was dying to use to restroom after almost two hours on the metro. When I asked the clerk if I could use his restroom, he replied that for security reasons I could not. The problem was that we were in the middle of nowhere and there was not a restaurant or public building in sight. When I arrived at the train stop, I saw that I had another thiry minutes before the train arrived. I honestly thought about popping a squat somewhere in one of the bushes, but there were security cameras everywhere and I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down, literally. And so I waited. As I boarded the train, I asked the young couple next to me if there was a restaurant at final stop where I could use a restroom and they both told me no, but maybe I could try the McDonald’s, which was found three stops before the end. Looking back I do not think that I would have made it to the final stop, seeing as I ran out of the train at the McDonald’s stop. After relieving myself, I realized that if I were to take another train, I would have to wait at least 30 minutes, and so I decided it would be faster to walk the rest of the route. The good news, is that I learned how to use the light metro; however, I do not think that I will be making another trip out to the center anytime soon.

As I headed back into the city, Hernán invited me to have lunch with him and we spent the sunny afternoon eating out on the patio of one Madrid’s few boulevards. It was a delightful meal, followed by a visit to the Mapfre photography collection of Julia Margaret Cameron, which was displayed nearby. It was incredible to see her transformation as an artist and her use of family members as historical biblical models. As Hernán astutely mentioned, her calligraphy clearly demonstrated her confidence and exuberant personality, which also translated into the photographs, especially those which portrayed the Virgin.


After lunch, I headed to the district of La Latina to witness my first procession in Madrid. For the sake of this post, I will dedicate the following post specifically to the many processions I attended.

Interspersed with my attendance at processions, I gave a walking tour of Madrid that helped me trace the entire city and talk about my favorite historical figures. I was also able to spend Sunday morning with a few friends perusing the antiques of the Rastro and eating tapas in one of my favorite traditional bars. All in all, I would say that I successfully enjoyed my week in Madrid as a tourist! Although I am back to regular life, it’s hard to forget how fortunate I am to live in such a lively, vibrant city.


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