National Geographic : 1931 Aug
MADRID OUT-OF-DOORS BY HARRIET CHALMERS ADAMS AUTHOR OF "BARCELONA, PRIDE OF THE CATALANS," "ADVENTUROUS SONS OF CADIZ," "ACROSS FRENCH AND SPANISH MOROCCO," ETC., IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE MIDSUMMER and high noon! I stood by the parapet of a castle in Spain and looked out over a treeless red plain. Red, too, were the moun tains back of the castle, their jagged peaks sharply outlined against a cloudless azure sky. They were the Sierra Guadarrama, which separate Old and New Castile. Be yond them to the north lay Segovia and other noble old Castilian cities famed in the history of Spain. On the sun-baked plain to the south stretched New Castile, with Madrid only an hour away by motor. Both Castiles lie on Spain's central pla teau. On the east, this plateau slips down to the coastal lands of the alluring Spanish Riviera bordering the Mediterranean Sea; on the west, it merges with the highlands of Portugal. Madrid, on its wind-swept heights, is approximately in the geographi cal center of Spain. In the ruddy glow of plain and moun tains I read Castilian history written in warrior blood. Madrid was not, as the guidebooks tell us, a mere caprice of kings. League by league, this plateau was wrested from the Moslem invader. The very castle by whose parapet I stood was once a strong hold on the frontier of Christendom. From out its great gate and over its wide moat rode armored knights pledged to battle to the death with a turbaned, white-robed host fighting under the banner of Islam. Where Madrid now stands stood the Moslem fort of Majrit, built to defend the populous Islamic city now known as Toledo. If we dig deep beneath Spain's splendid capital, we shall find it built on a rock as solid as the granite Guadarramas, the rock of Castilian strength and courage proved by those hardy Iberian crusaders nearly nine centuries ago. THE ROYAL PALACE OCCUPIES THE SITE OF MOSLEM FORT Traveling south from the Guadarramas, we reach the low-lying district beside the stony-bedded little Manzanares River and obtain an impressive view of Madrid's western face. Beyond the narrow canal ized stream, set high on a bluff, the Royal Palace towers white above green woods. Just here the Moslem fort once stood. Back of the fringe of imposing buildings along the bluff lies the historic portion of the city-the narrow streets, old-fashioned dwellings, and arcaded plazas left to remind us that this magnificent continental capital of tree-lined boulevards, palatial buildings, and widespread parks has evolved from a restricted, wall-girt Spanish town. The last of my many visits to Madrid was in summer, when the fashionables, like migrating birds, had flown north to the delightful Basque coast and the rugged mountains of Asturias; northwest to green Galicia. The lure of French casinos, whose roulette wheels are not silenced as in Spain, had led many across the frontier. But the mass of the Madrilefios, and there are nearly a million of them, were at home, living, for 18 hours out of the 24, happily, noisily, out-of-doors. In the leafy glory of parks and paseos, in sidewalk cafes, they lounged, chatted, ate, drank, and even slept. Those who still cling to the idea that Spain is a conservative land of barred windows and stony-hearted du ennas should see the happy summer lovers strolling through the fragrant gardens of El Retiro, not a chaperon in sight! MADRID'S GREAT AVENUE ONE OF THE FINEST BOULEVARDS IN THE WORLD Madrid's outstanding feature is the great avenue, Gran Avenida de la Libertad, one of the finest boulevards in all Europe, bet ter known by its three divisions-Paseo del Prado, Paseo de Recoletos, and Paseo de la Castellana-separated only by plazas adorned with fountains and statues. The most imposing of the governmen tal palaces, museums, and hotels face this noble boulevard, which runs north to south along the eastern edge of the city. On its fringe lies an exclusive residential section and the large park known in the old days as Buen Retiro. Were the foreign visitor to linger in the capital no longer than 24 hours, he could still see much of its throb bing life on this one great avenue. The Avenida's wide, tree-lined walks for pedestrians, lying between the inner automobile and carriage highway and the outer traffic roads, are vividly alive by day and literally thronged by early evening.