Spain: Peeps at Many Lands - Edith A. Browne

A Peep at Madrid

Madrid, in the present stage of its development, takes rank among the great European capitals. It is the centre of a network of railways and telegraph-wires; the streets are wide, well paved, well kept, well lighted, and traversed by a constant series of electric tramcars, which cover the ground at up-to-date speed. It has capital lungs in its spacious squares, that are laid out, park-wise, with trees, lawns, flower-beds, and fountains. It boasts some remarkably fine shops, big hotels, and excellent restaurants, and its public and private buildings are on a large scale.

But this description lacks character, you say, and you would fain grumble at me because I have indulged in generalities instead of giving you a special picture of the special city which enjoys the proud distinction of being the capital of Spain. Your grievance is essentially akin to the grievance I cherish against Madrid itself. It makes no special impression; it has no special character, no individuality—in a word, there is nothing Spanish about the capital of Spain, nothing to identify the first city in the land with the romantic history of a country that has struggled so hard to maintain its nationality.

Nothing, did I say? Well, I have been speaking of Madrid as she reveals herself in general aspect, and in so doing I have not exaggerated her very ordinary appearance as a wealthy, busy city, and nothing more. If you are bent on discovering Spanish features in the capital, I must admit they are to be found; but either you must choose the time of your visit to coincide with some special. period of festivity—such as carnival season, Christmas Eve, or a bull-fight Sunday—or you must search the everyday life and movement of the streets with diligent eyes till finally you espy a country cousin in picturesque national costume, or, maybe, a loyal daughter of Spain, who, despite the fact that she belongs to the cosmopolitan capital, has not yet discarded the mantilla for the latest fashion in French hats.

"Why, then, should anyone ever go to Madrid for pleasure?" you ask, adding, in a somewhat aggrieved tone: "Why have you guided us there?"

Pleasure-seekers who have anything of the artist in them go to Madrid over and over again, and many a time will you want to return to the Spanish capital if you are a lover of pictures. For here is situated one of the finest picture-galleries in the world—the finest, if rated by its exclusiveness, without any thought of historical completeness as a factor in appraising its worth.

The Royal Picture-Gallery is situated on the Prado, the fashionable promenade of Madrid; hence the name by which it is generally and widely known—"The Prado."

The Prado collection does not pretend to be an international history of painting. Originally the pictures did not form a single public exhibition, but several royal collections, the various gems having been acquired individually by Spanish Sovereigns for the adornment of the various royal palaces. The collectors were all connoisseurs, each imbued with personal taste to influence his choice, but everyone endowed with a desire for the best. Now that these gems are all housed together, they make their home a unique picture-gallery, in that it consists entirely of masterpieces. And now you will readily understand how it is that the Prado is purely a pleasure resort, in the highest sense of the term, and not an academy.

But if you are an art student, there is one master whose magnificent career you can follow step by step in the Prado as nowhere else in the world; for here are gathered together the finest creations of the wondrous genius of Velasquez in all its phases. It is the dream of every art-lover, be he master, student, or mere beauty-worshipper, to make a pilgrimage to the Prado as the shrine of Velasquez.

In addition to the unrivalled collection of Velasquez gems, the Prado's priceless treasures include some of the best and most famous creations of the greatest Spanish, Italian, and Flemish masters; indeed, there is hardly a world-famous master who is not represented by a world-famous creation in Madrid's world-renowned picture-gallery.

Mosque at Cordova