WRITTEN BY: CASSIDY ARMBRUSTER
MADRID’S SECRET STORIES: LEARN THE HISTORY BEFORE YOU VISIT
Spain’s capital, Madrid, offers more than what meets the eye.
Sure, the sun shines.
Of course, the Sangria flows.
Yes, the paella simmers.
But these details only touch the surface. Madrid’s most visited sights have two things in common:
- They tell a story.
- These stories are well-kept secrets.
These places tell bloodstained stories and mysterious ones. They tell stories that shed a light on Madrid’s lifestyle and they tell stories that Madrileños would like to forget. However, these stories have seeped deep in the ground. These days, you wouldn’t know that your walking ground was once an execution stage or that a king was assassinated above the restaurant you’re eating at.
ShoreTrips wants you to see Madrid through medieval eyes. Read some of the secret stories of Madrid before your next visit and wow your companions with your rich knowledge of the mysterious past.
Plaza Mayor: What’s that Smell?
Let’s start by stepping into the shoes of a 19th century Madrileño in the centrally located Plaza Mayor, seeing King Philip III’s statue on a rearing horse for the first time. The statue was placed in Plaza Mayor, as it’s the oldest historic center in Madrid, and a square that experienced triumph and torture throughout history. It was used for celebrations, for bull fights, for markets and for public executions during the Spanish Inquisition, yet these events are not the basis of our story today.
The statue itself is impressive, but what might be more impressive is the stir it caused in the decades following its placement. A gut-wrenching smell covered the plaza; the stench was so strong that authorities evacuated every room in the surrounding buildings to discover what was causing it. No solution came, but the Spanish Civil War did, and during Franco’s dictatorship, majority of the statues related to the Spanish monarchy were damaged or destroyed. A firecracker burst the stomach of the bronze horse, and an explosion of bird bones was revealed. The mouth of the horse had been open all these years, and birds had been escaping the summer sun by entering the mouth of the horse, only to be trapped. The smell was finally discovered- it was the horse’s stomach that had become a cemetery of rotting sparrows.
Buy Roman Baked Goods at the Monastery of Corpus Christi
Weave through Madrid’s narrow streets in the city center, and it’s unlikely that a pink brick convent will call your attention. There are many in Madrid, but unlike the majority, this is a cloistered nun convent, meaning the nuns are secluded from the world. At the small door along the convent’s wall is what looks like an ordinary doorbell. However, buzz it, and you are let into a clandestine nun-run bakery. When you shut the door of the convent behind you, you shut out the noise of the city and find yourself in a peaceful and seemingly empty courtyard.
Follow the path through the convent and make your way to a thick wooden revolving door. After a greeting and several moments of silence, a nun will offer you what’s available that day: almond cookies, orange sweets or traditional treats. Spin your money around the revolving door to be traded a delicious box of homemade goods, supposedly made using recipes from the Roman times. You’ll never see the nun’s face and she’ll never see yours, as she is cooped up in the convent for potentially the rest of her life. It’s said that the youngest woman currently living in the Monastery of Corpus Christi is eighty-seven years old.
Dine in Casa Ciriaco
When you dine at Casa Ciriaco, one of Madrid’s rustic and traditional Spanish taverns on Calle Mayor, you will feel nostalgic for a time you’ve never lived in. The restaurant is covered in dark wood and black and white photos. There is an effortlessness to the outdated décor that is somehow beautiful and refreshing. Ciriaco’s entrance is a beaming red, as you may notice many of Madrid’s restaurants are. The red once signified that “vino tinto” or red wine was sold at the establishment. Enjoying a glass of red wine in Casa Ciriaco, you may embrace the tranquility of the restaurant, but without knowing that it was witness to a chaotic catastrophe in 1906.
Calle Mayor was filled with celebrating Spaniards in May of 1906, as King Alfonso XIII and his bride Victoria Eugenie were parading through the streets after their wedding. The couple passed by Casa Ciriaco when, suddenly, a gentleman threw a bouquet of flowers down to the newlyweds. Stuffed in the bouquet was a homemade bomb created by anarchist, Mateo Morral. Though the royals left unharmed, 100 bystanders were injured and 23 were killed. This restaurant had housed the most distinguished intelligentsia in the last 150 years and in 1906, it bore witness to this atrocity. Every year since, on May 31st, the staff of Casa Ciriaco places a wreath on the monument nearby to commemorate the attack.