In Plaza de la Independencia, at the intersection of Alcalá and Alfonso XII streets, very close to the famous Plaza de Cibeles, there is the Alcalá Gate (Puerta de Alcalá), one of the most famous monuments in Madrid.
This monument created by Sabatini is of neoclassical style and has three arches and two squared doors. It was completed in 1778, after 9 years of labor, and was built with granite from the mountains of the province of Madrid. It used to be the eastern limit of the city, and served as an entrance and exit, being located on a sheep track.
In 1986, Ana Belén and Víctor Manuel recorded a song called "La Puerta de Alcalá" which made it famous in half of the world.
Historical Monuments in San Lorenzo de El Escorial
The Valley of the Fallen is a part of our more recent history. That's where Francisco Franco and Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera are buried along with 35,000 combatants from both sides in the Civil War, Nationals and Republicans. This place was ordered to be built to honor the war dead, and it got a spectacular and grandiose location. If you're a fan of history, this is a must-see for you. It's a shame it's not given sufficient funds to keep it in perfect condition, but we know that in this country continues to remind us of our history. We're the only ones who lose out.
In the landmark town of Alcala, is the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso. It is the oldest University in Spain, founded by Cardinal Cisneros in 1499, where the likes of Lope de Vega, Quevedo, Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Society of Jesus) have studied. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The beautiful facade was designed by Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón. It has two interior courtyards and a Moorish style chapel where you can find the tomb of Cardinal Cisneros. The auditorium celebrates the Cervantes Prize award to an author writing in Spanish every year. Usually the award alternates each year between a Spaniard and a Latin American. There is a guided tour, costing 4 €.
Another symbol of Madrid is Neptune. Although it is probably less mentioned in travel guides, it is also well known. It lies on Cánovas del Castillo square and, like Cybele, it is surrounded by beautiful buildings I highly recommend visiting, such as the Palacio de Villahermosa (the headquarter of the Thyssen-Bornemizsa museum) or the famous and luxury Ritz and Palace hotels.
A curious fact is that, even though the fountain was designed by Ventura Rodríguez, some attribute the authorship to Juan Pascual de Mena y José Arias. As many other monuments, it carries a lot of symbology: Neptune is on a shell-shaped carriage, drawn by two sea-horses. He holds his trident with his left hand and has a snake coiled in his right one. He is the God of the Sea in roman mythology. In the Greek one, he is known as Poseidon.
If you take a closer look, there are also dolphins representing salvation, since they are considered 'friends' of humans. Do not miss this statue in Madrid.
Historical Monuments in Madrid
Historical Monuments in San Lorenzo de El Escorial
Going to the Pantheon impressed me - going down the dark stairs, surrounded by marble, giving the place a unique and sombre ambience. When you get to the center you are surrounded by all the coffins, each with their own name, with the next one all prepared. I do not like the idea of having a coffin with my name on waiting for me. Another thing that surprised me was the Pantheon of Infantes, ie the children who have died, which is designed so that it looks like a wedding cake, it was strange association of ideas that came to my mind.
When you are arriving in Buitrago, you can see its silhouette from the road, the silhouettes of the castle's towers and the fortress-wall that surrounds the village. It's amazing to imagine how people in the past depended on having good protection to survive so they could fend off attacks, guaranteeing victory. Mannequins were placed on the walls to act as watchmen, and you can imagine what it was like at that time. We climbed to the height of the dummies and were, for a few seconds, in charge of monitoring the invader. The weather that day was mild, but there was persistent rain.
Three very old streets branch out from Plaza de la Villa:
Madrid street you will cross very fast while crossing the passage that separates it from Sacramento street.
Cordón street, where you can still hear the labored breathing of the Count of Puñoenrostro, chasing his courtesan. It was formerly called Azotados (the whipped) street, a name I prefer forgetting. Someone also told us, while looking at the narrow line, that is was the place from which Antonio Pérez escaped.
Codo (elbow) street. Warning! Three hundred years in the shape of a right corner are watching us! This is where the name comes from. If you come from the square, you will be able to see a beautiful door in the shape of a horseshoe arch to your left. It’s reminisces of Arab architecture, which is unique in Madrid. Now it has been there for five centuries, we are at the Tower of the Lujanes, beautiful mudejar construction of the middle of the 15th century, full of history since the beginning, when it was part of the Palace of the Luján or Lujanes; powerful and influential family of the Middle Ages.
It was almost demolished because it was too deteriorated in the 19th century. They saved it to create the "Telegraph Station". Afterwards it was used for the "first meeting of the Association of the Press of Madrid".
Currently, this singular building is shared, on the first floor by the Real Sociedad Económica Matritense de Amigos del País and, upstairs the Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas.
But before going away and leaving the eminent square and the beautiful tower we can listen to one of the many legends like the one about the imprisonment of the French King François I (legend that, according to some chronicler, was the reason for the reputation of the building, when it was about to be abandoned).
If you are tired and want to have some coffee, you have to go back to Mayor street, it is full of bars and cafes.