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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Meandering About Madrid - Page 3

Written by Eric D. Goodman
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A Mix of Styles


      The Santa Maria la Real de la Almudana is the cathedral that stands directly across from the Palacio Real. It is an interesting mix of styles. Unlike most cathedrals in Spain, this Cathedral of Madrid is a relatively modern structure. Dating back to the late 1800s (practically brand new for Spain), the cathedral was still being worked on until 1993, when it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. 

      

      When construction began a Gothic revival style dominated. But when work resumed after the Spanish Civil War the plans were adopted to reflect a more baroque style, to match the palace it faces. The mosaics and designs inside the church have a modern, almost “pop art” feel to them—and they really do pop! While tourists may be used to walking into a cathedral and doing a once-around the place, this one is quite different. 

      

      The tour seemed almost a maze as we went through one section after another, starting in the chapterhouse and main sacristy, then climbing to the balcony for a bird’s eye view of the Royal Palace and a glimpse of the roof-top statues from behind. Then, it was all the way back down into the neo-gothic center, passing through mini museums with artifacts of the church and priests as we descended. The exterior, while grand and beautiful, does not exemplify what one will find inside. The unique mosaics alone made our time visiting Cathedral de la Almudana a pleasure.


San Miguel—the Basilica, not the Beer 


      The Basilica San Miguel or St. Michael’s Basilica, is just a few minutes’ walk from the Royal Palace. When we arrived, we came to find the guard closing the great iron gate as the basilica was closing. Another group of four older people arrived at the same time as we did from another direction. The guard, a man in his late fifties, smiled at us all, said something we could not quite understand, and extended an open-armed welcome to enter the gate which he reclosed behind us. Carrying an enormous key ring with equally large keys, he opened the great door to the basilica and allowed us to enter.

      

      The cool room was dark when we entered. The guard was kind enough to let us in to enjoy a quick viewing of the shadowed frescos and statues, the painted dome and the circular altar. But after just a few minutes, he ushered us out. We understood that the basilica was closing when we arrived; he was kind enough not to turn away visitors who had traveled far to see the beautiful basilica. 


The Rain in Spain Falls Mostly on Us 


      Next, we made our way to another site we were told was not to be missed: the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales. The working convent is also an award-winning museum. From what I’d read, it sounded a bit like the Sloan Museum in London: not one of the larger museums, but a smaller collection that is in some ways even more a pleasure to discover; just enough of a good thing without becoming overwhelming. 

      When we arrived to find a long line outside, we decided to wait. To our chagrin, the line was not moving. As we often do in such cases, one of us remained in line as a placeholder while the other shot to the front to get details on what was to come. We knew ahead of time that they maintained selective hours, only opened a few hours at a time and closing for siesta during the early afternoon. We learned now that they also had timed entries. We had about half an hour until the next group would be allowed inside. We decided to wait.

      

      Then the rain came down. We didn’t have our umbrella with us—it had been sunny most of the day—so after a few moments we fled the line and made our way to a nearby restaurant. It was past lunch time anyway; we enjoyed some house wine and tapas as we watched the rain pour.

      

      When the rain stopped pouring, along with the wine, we returned to the monastery only to find that they were “full.” We took this to mean they were full for the moment, that at the next timed entry they would allow us in. So we did some shopping along the nearby pedestrian street where kiosks and vendors sold jewelry, art, and souvenirs. About an hour later, we returned to the monastery for the next timed entry. To our surprise, there was no line. We waited at the front door, closed to us, and stared at the sign that seemed to say the next timed entry was right then. After knocking, a worker told us they were full for the day.

      

Carefully following the printed schedule we’d found in a tourist publication, we would return the next day when they opened after siesta … only to be told, once again, “we are full.”


      “Full for the 4:00 timed entry? So we can come back at 5?”

      

      “Full for the day.  We are full for the day.”

      

So, although we made three visits to Monasterio de las Descalzas, we never actually got in. Yet another reason to return to Madrid … perhaps with a local who can help us navigate the complicated schedule.


Chagall Saves

      After the rain stopped, after our Spanish omelets, cheese, salmon, and red wine, after we were turned away from the convent, we found something right across the street we weren’t expecting: a special Chagall exhibit sponsored by the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in the Fundacion Caja Madrid. The two main floors and several additional rooms were filled with the works of Marc Chagall, the works ranging from the early 1900s to the 1980s.  In the collection were large oil paintings, sculptures, and series of engravings. Some of the most memorable pieces included War, Vava, The Red Circus, The Blue Circus, and Dance. Just when the rain and inability to get into the art collection at the monastery were beginning to get us down, Chagall unexpectedly came to the rescue.


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