The hills, the parks, the two superb museums, Guernica, Goya, the metro, the weather and the bernabau were the highlights of Madrid in April. A city in the middle of the vast expanse of the Iberian Peninsula, the capital not because of any evident geographic advantages but because it is at the centre, between the autonomous communities of Castile and León and Castile-La Mancha. Later the Moors were here and it was Philip II, who moved the capital from Seville to Madrid in 1561.
It was one of the battlefields of the civil war from 1936-1938, having been one of the strongholds of the Republicans in the early stages. It was here that citizens were first targeted by aerial bombing in the history of warfare, although Guernica has prior claim to that disgrace (see pages27 and 28).
It is very bold in winter and very hot in summer but in April and, I suspect, May, its just delightfully warm.
It is not as architecturally interesting as Barcelona but there are the parks, notably Parque del Retiro, formerly the grounds of the palace built for Felipe IV,. The population in the city is around 3 million and in the greater Madrid area almost 6 million.
Real Madrid, one of the most successful football clubs in the world (out of the Champions League this year but top of La Liga) is here, as is the less successful club Atlético Madrid. Real Madrid ground is the famed Bernabéu where we went on the evening of Sunday, 30 March for the game against Seville, which the home team won 3-1.
The stadium is spectacular. Its capacity used to be 120,000 and is now 80,000, around the capacity of Croke Park. Unlike Croke Park, it is enclosed on all four sides and an extraordinary feature are huge electric heaters hanging from the top of the stands' covers, beaming heat down on spectators, even at ground level, in the cool March evening. The match itself was tedious enough, I thought, although it got ecstatic coverage the following morning in the local newspapers – nothing as exciting as the recent Dublin-Meath match at Parnell Park.
The Madrid Metro is said to be the fastest-growing metro works in the world, second largest in Europe only to the London Underground. It runs over 200 miles of lines and carries hundreds of thousands of passengers per day. A future of it I found difficult to understand was not shallow underground it is, all the more inexplicable given the hilly terrain on which the city is built.
But it is the museums that are the most striking feature of the city.
The Museo del Prado has the world's finest collections of European art, from the based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, with large numbers of the finest works of Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, El Greco and Murillo. Also paintings by Titian, Rubens, Raphael, Botticelli, Caravaggio and Rembrandt.
I went there the day after I had been to the Picasso exhibition in the nearby Museo Reina Sofía, suffering from exhibition fatigue. I visited only the paintings of Goya, notably the famous “black Goyas” and even then there was a sense that they alone deserved hours of observation.
A week's visit to Madrid could be absorbed by Museo del Prado alone, even for the uninitiated. One piece I regret not seeing is the famous Goya painting “The Third of May 1808, painted shortly after the end of the Peninsular War between the Spaniards and the armies of Napoleon. Goya shows the execution of the Madrid patriots who had rebelled against the invaders. The contrast between it and Guernica would have been interesting.