The Companion Guide to Madrid and Central Spain

These extracts say more about this volume than any intro could! Each is filled with wonderful detail, opinion, anecdote, and a deep knowledge of Spain, its history, art and culture. The entire book imparts profound affection for Madrid, Segovia, Avila and Toledo – the “heart of Spanish civilisation”.

On Goya, in the Prado:

The dominant canvas here is La Familia de Carlos IV.  Goya’s first patron, Charles III, had died in 1788, leaving his amiable, slow-witted son an outstanding court painter and his painter a family hardly distinguished for good looks. But they were no uglier than the Habsburgs and their consorts who had confronted Velázquez and Carreño. Also, Goya managed to treat the King’s good-natured, undistinguished face with real affection, while there are enchanting passages throughout the whole picture, especially the young couple on the right, Don Luis de Borbón, the King’s son-in-law, with his wife and babe-in-arms – while even the future Ferdinand VII in blue on the left, whose later role in Spanish history is not exactly glorious, appears here as an attractive princeling of promise. Goya does not attempt to endow the Queen’s purse-lipped (she was toothless) and self-satisfied (she wore the trousers) face with charm or dignity, both of which it conspicuously lacked, but he does justice to her well-rounded arms of which she was inordinately proud.

Chapter One, Madrid, p. 51

El Escorial

On Alcalá de Henares:

On the left is the Casa de Cervantes built in 1955 on the site of the house in which the author of Don Quijote was born. His father held the post of surgeon and bloodletter in the adjacent hospital, founded in 1487. The interior offers an idea of a sixteenth-century dwelling, with furnishings, and a multi-lingual collection of Don Quijote editions. A little way up the side street is the Plateresque entrance of the Carmelite convent governed by Saint Teresa for some months in 1567. Continuing along the main street we emerge into the large Plaza de Cervantes, with a bandstand and a statue of the great man. Also arcaded, the west side includes a theatre which, after being a cinema in the 1970s, has recently revealed a history going back several centuries and appears to rival London’s Shakespearean Globe in antiquity.

Chapter Two, Excursions from Madrid, p. 172

The ‘Casas Colgadas’ of Cuenca

On the Aqueduct in Segovia:

It may seem surprising that so imposing a monument should exist in splendid isolation, for though Roman stones have been identified in the city wall, there are no signs of a theatre, amphitheatre or any other of the appurtenances of Roman civilisation. The answer seems to be that Segovia was simply a military post whose job was to keep the tribes in order. As such, one of its first requirements would have been water, which was accordingly brought with characteristic thoroughness across the valley from the melting snows of the Sierra de Fuenfría.  During the great period of the cloth industry, little factories grew up under the aqueduct’s vast granite wing, drawing their water from the top by pipes called cervatanas. The inevitable filtration damaged the fabric and produced cascades of icicles in the hard winters.

Chapter Three, Segovia, p. 185

On the museum commemorating the siege of Toledo during the Civil War:

Mudéjar Ceiling in San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo

On the wall is a transcript in many languages, including Arabic and Hebrew, of the telephone conversation held on 23 July 1936, between the Commandant, the chief of the Republican militia, and the Commandant’s son Luis, who had fallen into the enemy’s hands. The militia chief demands the surrender of the Alcázar within ten minutes or Luis will be shot. Luis comes on the line and confirms this will be so if his father does not surrender. Moscardó says, ‘Then commend your soul to God, shout “Long live Spain!” and die like a patriot.’ Luis answers, ‘A big kiss, Father.’ And the latter replies, ‘A big kiss, my son.’ After all, Spain does not change much under the skin. This immediately calls to mind the almost identical action of Guzmán el Bueno in similar circumstances at Tarifa in 1294.

Chapter Five, Toledo and La Mancha, p. 298

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The Companion Guide to Madrid and Central Spain
Alastair Boyd
Revised by Alastair Boyd
Revised by Richard Oliver
9781900639378, Paperback, £13 or $16.87