Thursday 9 July 2009

Madrid: Answers to Questions

By Richard Morley.
The Internet is a wonderful thing. It is full of information both useful and, let’s be honest, not so useful. I dare say that what you have read here has been a little of both.
But I am fully aware of what you really want to know about Madrid. Yes I am. I have a spy watching you. I have a little program that monitors all the questions that Mr Google, Yahoo, Ask, and all the other search engines direct my way. Some of you will have been disappointed. I see your question and I am really sorry that in the short time this blog has been floating around in the cyber-ether I have not yet written about what you want to know.
I started this endeavour because I had written a few things about Spain for other websites and I kept being asked when I was going to start my own blog, which is very flattering. But there are many blogs out there that are just what the first time visitor to Spain requires. They are full of useful information and, in some cases, better than the Madrid Tourist office’s own site. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel.
So, “A View Of Madrid” really means “MY View of Madrid” and I can be cynical, opinionated, and sometimes a liar and therefore not to be trusted – probably.
But the world keeps asking these questions and Big G, Yahoo, et al keep sending them here. So I thought, for once, I would try to be helpful. I have seen some of the questions the cyberworld asks, from the simple to the strange, and to save you prolonging your search, and because some of them interest me too, I will try to provide answers.

To begin, here is the most often asked question:

What Metro Station do I need to get to the Prado? Madrid’s second most visited attraction, (the first is the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home of Real Madrid,) does not have a metro station close by. It is equidistant from Banco De España and Atocha. There is a station called Atocha RENFE. Don’t use this one, it’s for the railway station. Between these two stations runs the Paseo del Prado, so you know you are in the right place. If you want to go to the Reina Sofia to see Picasso’s Guernica, or the Caixa Forum, Madrid’s best free gallery, you will need Atocha. Don’t forget that opposite the Prado is Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which has, in my totally ignorant opinion, a better collection of enjoyable art than the Prado.

Where is the statue of the man sweeping the street?
He is in the Plaza de Jacinto Benavente, which is at the top of Calle de Carretas if you are standing in Sol. This is also the home of Cines Ideal, if you want to see movies in English during your stay.

From the airport I saw a big white cross on a hill. What is it?The cross lies on a slope above the cemetery of the “Martyrs of Paracuellos”. It commemorates one of the more shocking episodes of Spain’s civil war. In 1936 those not supporting the Republican side were imprisoned. There were many of them and due to the encroaching Nationalist army the prisoners had to be moved. That was what was meant to have happened. In fact Nationalist supporters, Falangistas, churchmen and intellectuals were rounded up on the banks of the Jarama River and shot in the so-called Fusiladas Paracuellos. Fifteen Thousand of them are buried here.

A similar question is: Which Madrid monument has a cross on a hill? Not so specific as the last question and there could be an alternative answer here. Sixty kilometres to the northwest of Madrid, just as you approach the Guadarrama Mountains the traveller will notice a tall cross dominating the landscape. This is the cross of La Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caidos, The holy cross of the Valley of the Fallen. It is meant to commemorate those who died during the civil war, but there are only two names commemorated: José Antonio Primo de Rivera and Francisco Franco, who are entombed here in a basilica below the cross. Franco declared it a national act of atonement, but few see it that way. Some die hard right wingers see it as a place of pilgrimage. Some refuse to set foot in the place. It was built by slave labour and for some, is a memory of a time they would prefer to forget.

What is Madrid’s height above sea-level? Madrid officially is 667 metres or 2,188 feet above sea-level. It is the highest capital city in Europe. In fact, Spain as a whole has a higher average elevation than any other country in Europe. Switzerland might have higher mountains, but Spain just has more of them! The greatest surprise to the first time visitor is that Madrid is a hilly city. They say Rome is built on seven hills, in Madrid you lose count. It’s a pain if you have luggage to carry.

Are there any foreigners in Madrid?
Yes, really. I have not made that one up. Honest. The answer is there are no foreigners in Madrid; they are all Guiris like me.

Do Spanish people take milk in their tea?
I didn’t really address this in the post, Tea for Tú, which did actually receive a correction when I was told I should have entitled the article “Tea para Ti”. So I had to explain my bad pun on an old song. To answer the question – not usually. If you are a visiting Brit who likes a “dash” of milk in your tea, snatch the milk away from your waiter. The Spanish are a generous people and never more so when pouring milk into a cup. And once started, impossible to stop. Be careful too that the milk is cold or you will get hot milk with a skin oozing into your cup. Getting a good cup of tea as the British like it in a Spanish establishment is (almost) impossible. Stick with coffee – in Spain it’s delicious.

How high is the column of Christopher Columbus, Cristóbal Colon, in the Colon Plaza in Madrid?
Erected in 1885, El Monumento de Colón has a column of seventeen metres, while the statue of the man himself stands a further three metres. The monument was the work of Arturo Melida y Alinari, although the statue at the top was sculpted by Jerónimo Suñol. Although the column is regarded as Madrid’s salute to Columbus, it was his descendants who financed its construction. The column used to stand in the middle of the Paseo de la Castellana, but was moved into the plaza during the construction of the Plaza and reconstruction of the busy intersection with the Calles de Goya and Génova. In the plaza it was placed over the entrance to the underground Teatro Fernán Gómez and supported on a concrete plinth, which could be seen to add around three more metres to the height. However, the intersection is being transformed once more and soon Columbus will find himself back in the centre of the Paseo. Whether this will alter the height of the column remains to be seen.

Where is the Egyptian Temple in Madrid? This is the El Templo de Debod, the Temple of Debod, and to find it go to the bottom of the Plaza de España, turn right and walk about three hundred metres up the calle de Ferraz. There are splendid views over the Casa Del Campo and is a quiet place to contemplate the world while watching the barely rippling reflections in the still pond. The temple was given to Spain in thanks for its assistance with the moving of the famous temple of Abu Simbal from the encroaching waters of Lake Nasser that was slowly filling behind the dam at Aswan. (I have been there – it’s a magnificent sight!) The main entrance to the temple’s park is rather strange, considering what you will have come to see. Between the two sets of steps is a wall constructed from concrete moulding of sandbags. Against the wall a stricken figure lies dying. It is yet another memorial to those who died fighting in the civil war. Stop and read the inscription. Where is the best view of Madrid?
Immodesty would make me say it is this blog. However I guess the questioner wants to take a photograph. The picture heading this blog was taken from the top of a high building in Gran Via and in its original size won the best photo of the month in a long defunct competition that was run by the Notes From Spain website. What is “best”? The best views of the city would surely be from the top of the Cuatro Torres, the new skyscrapers just being completed at the north of Castellana, but I don’t have the “enchufe” to gain admittance. For me, one of the most beautiful views of the city is from the middle of the Casa del Campo, the large park to the west of the city. The good news is you don’t have to walk there, but take a cable car, or “Teleferico”, from the Paseo del Pintor Rosales, five minutes walk from the Egyptian Temple. From the centre of the park you can see the whole city spread out beyond the valley of the Rio Manzares, and if you get the light just right, the view is fantastic. Other searches that my program throws up are things like, “Paris Metro, Madrid”, “Bridge Dress in Madrid”, and “Patron Saint of Apartment seekers”. If I understood the questions I could probably look for answers! You really are an odd lot.
I hope this has been helpful. If you want to know the answers to other matters that have been bugging you about Madrid, send me an e mail at, or comment in the places provided below.


  1. A very interesting post Richard, I have to say that I didn't know some of the answers... ups!

  2. Fascinating, as always. You are a wonderful writer.

  3. Very informative. As many times as I have been to Madrid, I learned quite a few things about this city and look forward to seeing them in person. Now how do I get to El Templo de Debot, again?

  4. Bill: To get to El Templo de Debot, face the Royal Palace (so that the Royal Opera House is behind you), then turn right and follow the street until you can make a half left onto Calle de Ferraz. It is about a 15-20 walk.

  5. Richard: For tourists staying in Madrid, what is the best way to get to Toledo and what should one do in Toledo?

  6. Hey guys, read the blog. It the temple of DeboD.
    @Tom: Take the AVE from Atocha. Takes about 30 minutes and last year cost €14. The Cathedral is a must see, as is the Jewish quarter. Cross the puente san Martin. Good cheap food in a pub on the other, out of town so not touristy, side. Visit the Alcazar and gaze down into the river gorge from the viewpoint. Get really lost in the back alleys, like I did. Talk about a maze!!

  7. Richard: I hate to sound so terribly British, but visiting mate Sid and I have found a bloody marvellous cup of tea in Madrid. Go to Cacao Sampaka in C/Orellana, 4, 28004 (Metro: Alonso Martinez) - it's a chocolate shop to die for and has a cafe. We brunched/lunched in there on Saturday. Admittedly the tarte de ganache and the brownie were the stars, but we did get proper tea, made from tea leaves, in a pot, with strainers, pot of cold milk and everything. 8 different types to choose from. Treat!!!

    Tom: Toledo's lovely, but don't miss out on Segovia too! AVE from Chamartin, c€9.50 and 25 minutes each way. Aqueduct, cathedral, castle, views, bars, winding back alleys etc.

  8. @Em: Sounds good. Now if only we can teach the Spanish how to make good chips!!!!!!!