Sustenance for the soul
The Spanish capital has long been a haunt of artists, cultural renegades, writers and great collectors
THE adopted home of film director Pedro Almodovar, famous for its round-the-clock nightlife and outrageous fashions, is also saturated with old-world theatres, art galleries and museums, scattered along grand boulevards built when Spain ruled a vast empire. The Hemingway trail: Ever since his first visit to Madrid as a young, unknown writer in 1923, the city had the power to draw Ernest Hemingway back. So it’s unsurprising that just about every other bar seems to boast a connection with the so-called Don Ernesto.
During the Spanish Civil War, the art deco cocktail bar Museo Chicote, at 12 Gran Via, was a popular hangout for foreign correspondents (Hemingway favoured its sharp-tasting negroni). A more rustic choice was the beer hall Cerveceria Alemana, in Plaza de Santa Ana, where Hemingway was given his own marble-topped table for writing; it is still proudly displayed to the right of the entrance by the window.
But the watering hole that feels as if Hemingway might walk in at any moment is La Venencia, in the cobblestoned Calle de Echegaray. Here, elderly gents in flat caps still sip their manzanilla sherry as they did during the civil war, when the atmospheric bar was the turf of Republican sympathisers and Hemingway would drop by to get news from the front.
Even today, drinkers who fail to hold their sherry glasses by the stem are regarded with a degree of disdain by bar staff, since that was once considered a telltale sign that the strangers in question were Nationalist spies. Sorolla Museum: At 37 General Martinez Campos, this is one of the most exquisite housemuseums in Europe. It’s the former home of painter Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida and was built in 1910, at the peak of his fame.
Although little known outside Spain these days, Sorolla once enjoyed international celebrity for his lush, sun-dappled luminist paintings, many set on the beaches of his native Valencia.
He designed his own mansion using Moorish architectural flourishes from the Alhambra in Granada, and planted a gorgeous garden where he spent his days painting family and friends.
A visit to this idyllic enclave is the perfect introduction to Sorolla and his works, which are coming back into vogue after generations of being overshadowed by the French impressionists. His airy studio contains many of his key pieces, as well as his easel and even half-squeezed tubes of paint, as if he had just put them aside.
But it is in the garden, with its trickling fountains, ceramic tiles and shady nooks, that the artist’s spirit is most palpable. This is a tranquil enclave in a busy city. More: museosorolla.mcu.es. The Goya crawl: Madrilenos are still devoted to Francisco de Goya, the brilliant, troubled painter who is considered the bridge between the old masters and modern art. While many of his images from the Napoleonic wars are in the Prado, his operatic life can be traced through landmarks in Madrid’s historic centre.
The spectacular, newly restored Real Basilica de San Francisco el Grande houses one of Goya’s earliest works, an altar piece in which he included himself, young and curly- haired, gazing out at the viewer.
The small cathedral of Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida offers spectacular, light- filled Goya frescoes, an uplifting change from his many darker MANYvisitors flock to Museo Reina Sofia just to see Pablo Picasso’s monumental Guernica, one of history’s most renowned anti-war artworks.
Some viewers gasp in recognition, others are stunned, a few older Spaniards might burst into tears. The enormous canvas, in which twisted abstract figures cascade across an exploding landscape in agony and confusion, also captures the tragic history of Spain’s bloody civil war, which raged in the late 1930s and still resonates today.
Spanish-born Picasso was living in Paris when Spain’s Republican government asked him to create a painting for the works. Two of his most intimate and unsparing self-portraits are in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where Goya was director for several years from 1797.
And a former royal hunting lodge, Palacio Real de El Pardo, displays intricate tapestries based on Goya’s designs. The palace also contains a modern extension with private rooms designed in the 1950s by the dictator General Francisco Franco, who resided there after winning the civil war —a tragic conflict filled with brutal massacres that seem to have been plucked from Goya’s bleakest visions of humanity. More: realfabricadetapices.com. Convent of the Royal Barefoot Nuns: For centuries, what lay behind this convent’s heavy wooden doors on Plaza de las Descalzas Reales, in the medieval heart of Madrid, was a mystery.
Founded in 1559 by the Hapsburg royal family, the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales soon became enormously wealthy by attracting aristocratic women as nuns; they brought their extensive dowries, which often Paris Exposition of 1937. He had already begun work when he read a newspaper report about the bombing of Guernica in the Basque country.
The town was considered a socialist stronghold by Spain’s right-wing Nationalists, who were supported by the Nazis. included artistic treasures. Four centuries later, the fortress-like convent was in financial difficulty and yet legally unable to auction off any of its collection. So, in 1960, the then pope granted permission for it to open to the public as a museum.
Its 45-minute tours must be one of Spain’s most unusual artistic excursions. The admission process itself is mysterious, as visitors have to line up in the ancient alleyway outside at erratic hours, and almost all tours are in Spanish. But the effort is worthwhile.
Entering the hushed interior of the convent is like stepping back into the 16th century. The austere stone walls are adorned with magnificent paintings by the likes of Titian, Raphael and Bruegel, and lovingly tended chapels house ancient Catholic reliquaries (one containing pieces of the True Cross) and tapestries based on drawings by Rubens.
About two dozen barefoot nuns remain in the convent, and they can be glimpsed working in a vegetable garden in the courtyard or flitting in the shadows behind smoked-glass windows. More: patrimonionacional.es.
On April 26, the German air force swept down on the town, raining bombs on its civilians. Guernica’s men were fighting on the front lines and the attack targeted mostly women, children and the elderly, all of whom were strafed mercilessly. Temple of gastronomy: How can you resist a restaurant were Goya once worked as a dishwasher? The most storied dining experience in Madrid is El Sobrino de Botin, at 17 Calle de los Cuchilleros, which claims to be the oldest eatery in Europe.
The former carriage inn first opened in 1725, when Madrid was overflowing with gold from Mexico and Peru.
Although it has become a little touristy in recent years, rich history still oozes from its woodpanelled walls and ancient wine cellar. And, of course, it has its Hemingway link — when in Madrid, Don Ernesto spent many mornings writing at an upstairs table, stopping at noon when his friends would arrive for lunch.
Like Jake and Brett at the end of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway favoured the roast suckling pig, washed down with several bottles of rioja alta. (A nearby restaurant has a sign: Hemingway Never Drank Here.) More: botin.es. Museo Cerralbo: Few nonSpaniards have heard of Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, the 17th marquis of Cerralbo (1845-1922),
Picasso was deeply affected and abandoned his earlier project, throwing himself into painting Guernica and capturing the barbarity of the attack.
After the Paris Exposition, the painting toured the US. By 1939, Europe was engulfed in war, so Picasso requested the work be kept at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and not be returned to Spain until the Nationalist leader Francisco Franco had been removed from power.
The dictator not only won the civil war but controlled the country until his death in 1975. MOMAeventually returned Guernica to its permanent home in Madrid in 1981.
museoreinasofia.es but his mansion, at 17 Calle Ventura Rodriguez, has been turned into one of the most enchanting refuges in Madrid.
The marquis was a latter-day renaissance man, a leading politician, insatiable art collector, archeologist and paleontologist, and he designed his house to serve as both a home and a museum for his incredible collection.
It was donated to the state on his death in 1922, on condition that no object be moved from its original place and no information be added other than that already provided by the marquis.
Recently reopened after a fouryear renovation, the mansion is a fascinating repository of more than 50,000 relics, including about 700 pieces of armour and weaponry, splendid Murano glass chandeliers and masterpieces by El Greco, Titian and Van Dyck.
The experience is less like visiting a museum than an immersion into the rarefied lives of Europe’s ultra- rich of the 19th century. More: en.museocerralbo.mcu.es. Tablaos de flamenco: Late at night, dozens of tablaos de flamenco (restaurants with stages for flamenco dancing) come alive across Madrid, showcasing the famously passionate dance of the Andalusian Gypsies.
Avoid the touristy espectaculos and head for the more intimate and authentic Casa Patas Flamenco en Vivo, at 10 Calle Canizares, where excellent tapas plates are served and flamenco performers from other venues gather after their shows. Try to choose the later of the two evening performances, when the dancers are loosened up and the spectacle is at its most thrilling and blood-pumping.
For 90 minutes the dancers, singers and musicians all combine to build the tension towards a hypnotic crescendo, or duende, when even the waiters stop work, mesmerised by the drama and skill. More: casapatas.com. Matadero Madrid: For a former slaughterhouse and livestock market, Matadero Madrid has a surprisingly elegant design. When it opened in 1911, the vast system of interlocking pavilions in the Arganzuela district was considered a marvel of rational architecture. Tourists — the young Hemingway included — would arrive very early in the morning to watch the novilleros (bullfighters in training) practise killing bulls, while old women waited in line to drink the animals’ nutritious fresh blood.
Since its closure as an abattoir in 1995, the industrial complex has been converted into a sprawling laboratory of Spanish contemporary art, with cinemas, galleries and music and theatre venues. There is also a great bar area where one can watch the less bloodthirsty sparring of Madrid’s modern intelligentsia. More: mataderomadrid.org. Palaces and patrons: Museo del Prado is only one corner of Madrid’s aptly- named Golden Triangle of Art. Museo ThyssenBornemisza, at 8 Paseo del Prado, contains the private collections of the Thyssen-Bornemisza family, leading art patrons of the 20th century. The building is palatial, with a classical facade, a state-ofthe-art modern addition, a wonderful garden cafe, and a terrace restaurant overlooking Madrid, which is open until late in summer. More: museothyssen.org. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia: On the third corner of the triangle, at 52 Santa Isabel, is an equally spectacular building, with three glass towers grafted on to its traditional exterior. The collection concentrates on the 20th century, with a strong contingent of Spanish artists, including Joan Miro, Juan Gris, Salvador Dali and, of course, Pablo Picasso (who, incidentally, dropped out of art school in Madrid at the age of 16). More: museoreinasofia.es.
A poster exhibition at Matadero Madrid, which served as an abattoir until the mid-1990s but has since turned into an arts precinct
Cerveceria Alemana was once a favourite Hemingway haunt
Sorolla Museum houses the works of Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida