Barcelona hosted the World’s Fair in 1929. At that time, the World Fair was on par with or perhaps even greater than hosting the Olympics. It was a major international event requiring a significant investment of resources. It was also an opportunity to showcase the host city and nation’s cultural achievements. As a point of reference, the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889 to serve as the entrance for the World Fair in Paris, France.
When Barcelona was selected to host the 1929 World Fair, several significant projects were initiated to showcase the best of Barcelona. One project was the Palau Nacional(National Palace) which served as the main site for the 1929 World Fair. Another was to revitalize the Gothic Quarter. I will write about and share photos from both these areas in the future.
Poble Espanyol was another significant World Fair project. Planners for Poble Espanyol wanted to create a village that would serve as a synthesis of Spanish architecture, arts, and cultural achievement throughout the various regions of Spain. Project architects visited over 1500 towns and villages taking hundreds of photographs and making notes and drawings in order to plan an authentic town with streets, squares, church, and other sites that captured the spirit of Spain.
During the International Exhibition, between May 1929 and January 1930, Poble Espanyol hosted a long list of cultural and recreational events.
Poble Espanyol was a huge success during the World Fair so the city decided to keep it intact versus destroying it as originally planned. It is also noted that Poble Espanyol, according to Michael Eisner, former president of Disney, served as the initial inspiration for Disney theme parks. Unfortunately, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) would nearly destroy the site and certainly destroyed the spirit and momentum from the World Fair.
Poble Espanyol underwent several attempts at revitalization during the remainder of the century with mixed results. It wasn’t until 1996 that the village was once again a flourishing cultural site with year-round events for locals and tourists alike. Here are a few sights from my stroll through Poble Espanyol.
If you have enough time, Poble Espanyol is definitely worth visiting. However, if you are a first-time visitor to Barcelona, I would suggest your first area to visit should be La Rambla, El Gotic (the Gothic Quarter), and waterfront areas. They are all close to one another and this is the area that will make you fall in love with Barcelona. A trip to Sagrada Familia is also a must.
I’ve been fortunate to visit Barcelona several times and was looking to explore more of the city which lead me to the Montjuic. Beyond Poble Espanyol, Montjuic features a 17th century castle, the National Palace/National Art Museum of Catalonia, and sporting facilities built for 1992 Olympic games.
After a long flight, I’m finally settled into my hotel in the historic city center of Madrid and ready to explore. But, I need to workout. One of the perks of being a runner is that I can get out to sightsee and workout at the same time. There is a large park – Parque del Buen Retiro – not far from the hotel that looks like a great place to run. Let’s put on our running shoes, grab the camera, and hit the streets. I’ll grab a map from the hotel to help out with the sights of note.
First up on the run is Museo del Prado. It is considered among the premier art museums in the world. Housed within its walls is one of the world’s greatest collections of European art and, in particular, Spanish art.
A statue of Diego Velázquez is featured at the front of the museum. Velázquez was one of the preeminent painters in Spain’s golden age and served as the leading artist in the court King Philip IV. Cool. What next?
We are working our way up Del Prado avenue towards Parque del Retiro – a 350 acre park on the edge of historic Madrid. Oh, what is this?
I wasn’t exactly expecting to see sculptures of ancient Roman gods in Madrid but I like it. The white marble sculpture featuring Neptune – Roman god of the sea – was completed in 1786. Seems this is also the location where fans of Atletico de Madrid come together to celebrate soccer victories. Nice.
Alright, time to get to the park and get a sweat going. Hard to get the heart rate up with so many architectural distractions around. What is that building? It’s a hotel but not like any hotel I’m used to seeing.
The Palace Hotel was commissioned King Alfonso XIII and opened in 1912. The Palace was only the second hotel to have a bathroom in each of its guest rooms which was no small feat considering there were 800 rooms. When opened, it became the largest hotel in Europe. Many distinguished guests have stayed here and the hotel has served as host to meetings of international importance. Well, that’s interesting. Time to run a little.
We are making good progress and almost at the park entrance. This building looks important. El Prado Cason Buen Retiro. Let’s see, this building is currently an annex to Museum del Prado. Actually, it has a much more significant history that adds some historical context to where we are standing and the park we are about to run through.
This is one of two buildings that remain from what was once the secondary residence and place of recreation for King Philip IV. The palace was completed in 1640 (wow, it is old) and was a complex of twenty buildings. Today only two of the twenty buildings remain. Much of the palace was destroyed in 1808 when occupied by French troops during the Peninsular War between Spain and France (1807-1814). Ah, Napoleon was here…bummer. Seems the alliance Spain made with France to attack Portugal backfired. Oh well, bygones.
Hmmm, that reminds me. We just passed a monument a few minutes ago but didn’t stop. Let’s go back and check it. Maybe there is a connection to be made. There it is – Monumento Dos de Mayo. I know Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day from Spain, but never heard of Dos de Mayo.
On May 2, 1808, the citizens of Madrid rose up against the occupying French troops. The rebellion was crushed but sparked other revolts across Spain and demonstrated the will of the Spaniards to be free from French occupation and oppression. Makes sense that this monument would be so close to what remains of the palace. Alright, to the park!
Yes, what an Impressive park entrance. These statues were formerly on the grounds of the Royal Palace and were relocated here for the people to enjoy. I am definitely enjoying them. Thank you.
Now this pond and monument is impressive. Love how you can get a boat and paddle on the lake or sit on those stairs and enjoy the view. We need to get over and check it out.
This is fantastic! Let’s keep moving.
What is this? Palacio de Cristal del Retiro was built in 1887 in honor of the Philippines which was then a Spanish colony. It initially served as a conservatory but is now used for art exhibits. I see some folks on the stairs enjoying the view. This park definitely has some cool places to hangout.
We have a nice sweat going now and could use a breather. These ruins must have significance. Let’s take a closer look and catch our breath.
Ruins of San Isidoro are the remains of a Romanesque church from the 11th century. There’s not a whole lot left but it really gives you pause to realize these stones were put together by people over 1000 years ago.
This park is a great place to run. It is incredible that Madrid has protected 350 acres for people to have such a natural oasis so close to city center.
Seems there are statues everywhere. These monuments (pictured below) have Africa and Cuba inscribed on them. Spain’s history of exploration and conquest may be unmatched in world history. From 1492 to early 1800’s, Spain claimed most of the New World minus Brazil and the English colonies in North America. Think about all of the Spanish speaking nations in the western hemisphere that still remain…it all flowed from Spain.
Deeper into the run we come across this lovely rose garden.
The statue above depicts the fall of Lucifer from Heaven. It was erected in 1922. Not sure why it is here in a rose garden. Maybe it reflects the duality of our existence – the beauty of the rose and pain of the thorn?
Even the park gate offer a well-adorned passage. Looks like our exit.
This was just a run in the park. I can’t wait to see what awaits in the actual city of Madrid and hope you will join me for more. Oh wow, look over there…definitely need to come back and see what that is about.
At the conclusion of Madrid – Let’s Run, I left off with an image of Puerta de Alcalá. This makes for a great place to start today’s visual stroll through Madrid which focuses on Calle Gran Via (an awesome street for shopping and architecture) and Plaza de Cibeles.
Puerta de Alcala was commissioned by King Charles III and completed in 1778. It was the first triumphal arch erected in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. Puerta de Alcala served as one of five gates providing access to what was once a walled city. This particular gate with five passages was built on the location of an original gate dating back to the 1500s that had three passages. Each throughway once contained iron gates that were lowered at night to prevent outsiders from entering the walled city.
The gate has two unique facades. One side (shown above) is the view visitors would have seen entering the walled city of Madrid. It is adorned with sculptures representing the four virtues – prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. The other side (below) has a more militaristic feel with sculptures of weapons, breastplates, helmets, and flags. The three rounded arches are topped off with the head of a lion.
Continuing from the park, we work our way up Calle (street) de Alcala towards the iconic Fuente de Cibeles (Fountain of Cybele) which was completed in the early 1700s.
In ancient mythology, Cybele was a goddess of nature, fertility, mountains, and wild animals. Her myth originated in what is now Turkey and was later adopted by the Greeks and then the Romans. Worth noting the Iberian peninsula, which includes what is now Spain, was once controlled by the Roman Empire.
Standing at Plaza de Cibeles, each corner offers buildings of historic and architectural interest. Perhaps none is more visually compelling than Madrid’s City Hall. Despite a design suggesting it might be 300+ years old, it was completed in the early 1900’s and served as Madrid’s postal headquarters and main telegraph station. It became the City Hall in 2007. The building is still known as “Casa de Comunicaciones”.
You can tell from the different sky features in the images above and below, I came by this area several times. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the building is open to the public and offers a sky view of the city. The area around this building is loaded with magnificent sights so the elevated view and photos should be well worth the time.
Looking to the left and across the street from City Hall, we see Linares Palace (below) which was built in 1876.
The palace was the residence of José de Murga, the Marquis of Linares, and his wife. Jose would later discover that his wife was actually his sister (same father, different mother). It seems Jose’s father had an affair. The father made the revelation just before he died. Jose’s wife had just given berth and, because of the situation, the child was sent to an orphanage where she died. It is said the little girl still haunts the house as a ghost crying, “I have no Mommy.” Linares Palace is now called Casa de America and host cultural events focused on improving relations between Spain and South America.
Anchoring the corner across the street from Madrid City Hall is Banco de Espana. I only captured the corner view of the building, but it is a massive structure and covers an entire block. The building was opened in 1891.
Leaving Plaza de Cibeles, we stay on Calle de Alcala for a short walk up to Calle Gran Via – Madrid’s most famous street. Along the way, we pass the Cervantes Institute. The organization is devoted to the study and promotion of Spanish language and culture. It is named after Miguel Cervantes (1547–1616), author of Don Quixote.
The approach to Calle Gran Via is offers one of Madrid’s most famous views.
Calle Gran Via is packed with retail stores, restaurants, nightclubs, cinemas, and theaters. The entire street is lined is one stunning and historic building after another and is a must-see location in Madrid.
I visited Calle Gran Via several times while in Madrid. The street was closed one day to cars for a professional cycling event call Madrid Challenge.
A few more closing photos give you a sense of the architecture lining Calle Gran Via.
If you are in Madrid, block off 4 hours or so to visit the areas covered in this visual stroll through Madrid. Visit the city gate, checkout Madrid City Hall (visit the top for a sky view), and then take a stroll up Calle Gran Via. You’ll find plenty of shopping and dining options to end this part of your excursion. If you begin your day this way and take in a lunch, you’ll be ready for more in the afternoon. And, believe me, there is plenty more to see and do in Madrid. I will be sharing more in the near future.