More rain, this time pretty steady on Saturday for our visit to the Royal Palace and the Cathedral. Lynn had ordered single-admission Madrid cards, which placed us in the group line on the side street and in fact admitted us in front of some larger groups. Meanwhile, the line of people to buy tickets on the other side of the palace stretched all the way across the courtyard to the cathedral.
Lesson learned: buy the ticket in advance online, even though we had to go to the office on Calle Mayor to pick up the cards. The office is just a few blocks from the palace-cathedral complex.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is relatively new by European palace standards. It was completed in 1764 to replace its predecessor that burned down in 1734. Although it is the official residence of the current King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, the palace is only used for state occasions. The royal couple live in a different palace of presumably more human scale.
That is the one thing you can say about the Royal Palace of Madrid–it is huge.
Visitors follow a route through the main rooms, many of which are indeed splendid, with sumptuous wall coverings and portraits of the Spanish royalty, some of whom never lived here.
The Banqueting Hall is actually three rooms combined into one in the late 19th century to create a state dining room of immense proportions. The Crown Room displays the major symbols of the Spanish monarchy, including the crown itself, which is remarkably plain, just gold, no jewels. Compare that to the British crown in the Tower of London. And of course, the last room on the tour is the Throne Room, lavishly furnished with silk drapery, tapestries and the throne. All the rooms throughout the palace feature vaulted ceilings adorned with magnificent frescoes.
Perhaps the most interesting room is the Porcelain Room, whose ceilings and walls are just that–porcelain panels crafted by the royal porcelain factory during the reign of Charles III, the first monarch to occupy the palace.
Charles III is regarded as one of Spain’s most enlightened rulers, but his physical appearance was nothing short of goofy. All his portraits in the palace show him with a huge nose and a weak chin, while wearing a powdered wig that clearly does not cover all his hair. You would think that as king, he could instruct his portraitists (including Goya) to depict him a bit more regal and handsome. And render his queen more attractive while they were at it. Come on, man–Charles was king, and if the painters didn’t comply, then off with their heads, or something to that effect.
While on the subject, his son, Charles IV, looked remarkably like George Washington.
The entire palace tour only takes about an hour, upon which visitors are ushered out the door into the vast courtyard. There is a scenic overlook on the side that supposedly gives a view of the Casa de Campo for miles out, but in the rain, it gave a view only of low clouds.
Your ticket includes admission to the Royal Armory on the far corner of the palace grounds, closest to the cathedral. The armory is full of–guess what?–armor. Mostly from Charles III but some from Charles IV. Lots of horse armor is on display in the center of the room, with the personal armor and weaponry along the perimeter. Mildly interesting, but we have seen many other larger and more interesting armories, some in various maritime museums.
Facing the palace is the Cathedral of Madrid. They are quite ingenious about admission to this place. The signs direct the visitor to the cathedral museum, which charges an admission fee and takes the visitor through the liturgical history of the place and a long climb up the stairs to the dome outlook. What the tour does not include, however, is the cathedral itself.
That entrance is on the other side, and like all churches is free to enter. But we were happy to support the cause, and the charge is only six euros for adults and four for us oldsters 65+.
The Cathedral of Madrid is unusual in Europe. Most importantly, it is new, and so is the Archdiocese of Madrid.
Madrid was not named a diocese (and therefore could not have a cathedral) until 1885. Madrid remained part of the Archdiocese of Toledo and was not elevated to Archdiocese level until 1964. The cathedral itself was not consecrated until 1993, although construction had begun more than 100 years earlier.
As a result, the Cathedral of Madrid has no magnificent altar, since it is a post-Vatican II church. Much of the art is contemporary, even though the architecture of the building is late 19th century Gothic. I hate to be a cathedral snob, but after you have seen Toledo, Madrid pales by comparison.We toured through fairly quickly, since there are no tombs to read, mammoth organs to stare at or ornate altars to marvel at. (To be fair, there is one interesting altar on the side chapel, devoted to the patron saint of Madrid, Santa Maria a la Real de la Almuneda, whose ornate gilded altarpiece was created in the 16th century.)
After that short visit, we stepped out into the steady rain on the hunt for lunch. We had to walk several blocks down Calle Mayor to move past the restaurants displaying photos of their food. We found an excellent choice, Taste Gallery on the Plaza Miguel, where the Mercato is located.
Taste Gallery is noisy, bustling and delicious. We ordered their tapas tasting for three, which included grilled prawns, Iberian ham slices over mashed sweet potatoes, a jigger of spicy tomato soup, cheese croquets and boneless chicken wings. We all declared the lunch excellent, and Lynn and I plan to return next week when it may be less crowded.
Back out in the now heavier rain, we parted ways with Candy, then slogged home through the streets now filled with water to dry out at home. Incredibly, by the time we alighted from the Lavapies Metro station, the rain had stopped for the most part, the clouds parted and the sun actually came out for our hike up the hill to our apartment on Amparo.
Then it started to rain again, and we chose to eat our delicious Max Madrid leftovers at home. They were no less delicious the second time around.