Santa María la Real de La Almudena cathedral, viewed from the Parque De La Montaña in Madrid

The final stop on The D&O Diary’s European assignment last week was a brief sojourn in Madrid, Spain’s capital city. More than 3 million people live in the sprawling city, but the city’s elegant central district is quite compact. Under any conditions, the city’s many boulevards and neighborhoods invite exploration on foot. But with the summer-like sunshine and warmth that prevailed throughout our visit, we were happy to ramble around the city, taking in the sights and enjoying the city’s many charms.


The warm sunshine drew us to explore the city’s many well-maintained parks, particularly the Parque del Buen Retiro, the former royal garden adjacent to The Prado art museum. The sunshine prevailed late into the evening; Madrid has put itself in the Central European Time zone, rather than in the Western European time zone, where it more properly belongs. As a result, during our stay, the sun didn’t set until well after 9 pm, conditions that drew us to picnic on the Retiro’s green lawns.


The boating pond in the Retiro, with the monument to Alfonso XII on the far side



A nice spot for a picnic in the Retiro; there is a children’s birthday party in progress just across the way



The chestnut trees were in full bloom in the Retiro






On the opposite side of the city’s historic central district is the Palacio Real, the Bourbon-era royal palace located on a bluff overlooking the Campo del Moro, the gardens below the palace. I understand there are many beautifully decorated rooms inside the palace. On the day we visited the palace, the weather was so fine we just couldn’t stand the idea of going indoors. Instead, we explored the surrounding area, including the Campo del Moro. From the several of the surrounding overlooks, we could see the Sierra de Guadalarrama mountains, many of the peaks of which were still snow-covered despite the summer-like conditions in Madrid.


The Palacio Real



The Palacio Real viewed from the Campo del Moro



Snow covered peaks in the Sierra de Guadalarrama



With the clear air and brilliant sunshine, we explored many of the city’s streets and neighborhoods, admiring the many interesting and historic buildings, many of which are pictured below. I am not sure how far we walked but we covered a lot of miles.


The Casa de la Villa (old city hall) in Old Madrid



Jardines del Palacio del Príncipe de Anglona




A neighborhood street in the Lavapiés district



The historic Plaza Mayor in central Madrid



The Puerta del Sol



Madrid has many fine art galleries, including in particular The Prado, the city’s most renowned gallery. The museum has a particularly impressive collection of Spanish art, including many paintings by Francesco de Goya and Diego Velázquez. Among the many distinctive paintings is a particularly striking portrait of Queen Mariana of Austria. The queen’s hair and clothing – particularly the farthingale  skirt in which the queen is attired. The nineteen year old queen’s sad expression is quite noteworthy as well, perhaps because she was compelled for Habsburg dynastic reasons to marry her much older uncle. The painting is quite noteworthy, but we were even more interested to see a peculiar form of street art in which casts of the queen’s figure were displayed throughout the city, each cast decorated in an unusual or creative way. We were never able to learn the backstory on this interesting artistic project, but we enjoyed the many different installations. {Editors’s Note: Please see the addendum below for the backstory — and for the reference to the correct painting.}


Portrait of Queen Mariana of Austria by Velázquez






















With the beautiful weather we enjoyed and with the city’s many interesting and attractive buildings and neighborhoods, it was pretty easy to fall in love with Madrid. I have been fortunate to travel to a lot of places, but the long evenings in the Retiro have to rank right up there as among my favorite travel experiences. Madrid is a hard city to leave.


UPDATE: A loyal reader who saw my post and who knew the backstory about the sculptures contacted me after I published the post, to fill me in on the backstory. José Martinez of AIG Madrid sent me an email with the complete explanation about the sculptures. I have pasted an excerpt from José’s email below. The most important detail in José’s email is that the model for the sculptures is not, as I thought, Velázquez’s portrait of Queen Mariana; the model in fact was a much more well-known painting by Velázquez, Las Meninas. I have pasted an image of the painting below, just before the excerpt of the email from José. The sculptures were not modeled on royalty at all, but on the ladies-in-waiting Velázquez’s more famous painting, as José explains.



Here is the excerpt from José’s email:


I was reading the part of the portrait of Queen Mariana you saw in the Prado museum, which you associated with a street art project, but were unable to get the background story on. Hence my email to you!

The project is called Meninas Madrid Gallery, a work of Antonio Azzato. There are 90 glass fibre sculptures across the city from April 15th until July 15th. The initiative was born in Acotex, an association of the fashion and retail sector. They wanted to reinforce the image of Madrid as a city for fashion / shopping tourism and were looking for a beloved and recognised icon of Madrid. The choice was easy: the Meninas of Velazquez. 3 Meninas have been painted by the Italian artist Antonio Azzato. The rest by Spanish fashion designers, sports men/women, a movie director, a bull fighter, … showing how they understand the city. The mayor of the city, Manuela Carmena, was also supportive of the project, seeing it as a tribute to diversity and freedom of expression through contemporary art.

Las Meninas is probably Velázquez’ most famous painting. “Menina” means maid of honour, a girl who served in the royal court. The painting shows the princess, the Infanta Margarita, with her two maids of honour. Margarita was the daughter of King Felipe IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria.

You might have been in trouble in our golden age, associating the Queen with the maids of honour of her daughter!


My thanks to José for his very detailed explanation — and for clearing up my confusion about which painting was the model for the sculptures!