I woke up today at 9:00am to freshen up and head down to the continental breakfast the group’s been having every morning. My roommate and I took a short detour there though, walking outside the hotel to see how cold it was and what to wear, a hoodie or my heavier jacket. The wind and slightly above freezing temperature made me decide on the heavier jacket. Having figured out what to wear for the Spanish Civil War walking tour we went to get breakfast. I had a bread roll with turkey, eggs, espresso, and a few fruits to fuel my morning.
After finishing breakfast at 10:00 I met with the rest of the group in the lobby to begin the walking tour. The first place we went was Puerta de Sol to see the El Oso y el Madroño statue, which is the official symbol of Madrid, and the common translation being “the Bear and the Strawberry Tree”. It is unknown why this is the symbol of Madrid, but one theory suggests it is because many bears live around the city in the fields and there were lots of trees that looked like strawberry trees.
Our tour guide did a fantastic job of putting into perspective the history of the Spanish Civil War in the city by pointing out important landmarks and showing us the direction of an area after mentioning it. For example, he told us how during the war Madrid had been on the side of the republic, therefore the city was an enemy of Franco and his authoritarian regime, and pointed in the direction of hills which Franco used to bomb the city with artillery. One student asked if Franco had employed ariel bombardment, which our tour guide told us he did and how it was one of the first in all of history. He also mentioned how Hemingway came to Madrid frequently, even during the civil war! He told us he went during the war to experience the conditions firsthand, from which came Hemingway’s heavy criticism of Franco and his methods, especially the ariel bombardment of civilians.
Walking back toward the Regina Hotel towards Gran Via square we were shown the walls of the buildings in Sol and their marks of war. Faded and repaired bullet holes and bombard damage are noticeable along the sides of these buildings. When we reached the entrance to the hotel again our tour guide pointed out a building with a big, beautiful chariot statue. In the 1920s, this building was the headquarters of a wealthy bank, and the purpose of the massive statue was to symbolize their power. During the civil war however, the city painted this brass statue black in hopes it would be avoided as a target.
After getting to Gran Via square we were given a rundown of this busy yet aesthetically pleasing area. We learned that in the late 19th century and early 20th century Sol was the financial center of Madrid and the streets laid out in Gran Via square were made to create a quick connection from the east part to the west part of the city. During the Spanish Civil War this area was bombed little by little and worn down by Franco’s army. Overall, back then and today it’s used for entertainment, business, shops and is the heart of Madrid.
We continued our walk from Gran Via square in the direction of Plaza de España, passing by a telephone building which during 1929 was the tallest building in the country and most of Western Europe. There, an underground section was built which held a capacity of 1,300 people during the bombings of the civil war.
Even the building we passed that didn’t have much history behind them related to the Spanish Civil war were still so cool to see mainly because of the beautiful architecture, even the building that was refurbished for the modern day fast food chain McDonald’s. A personal favorite part of this walk was getting to see the CR7 hotel in Sol as the owner of the chain, Cristiano Ronaldo, has always been a hero and idol of mine.
On the way to Plaza de España we were pointed in the direction of where Franco’s troops tried a different point of attack on the city, from the mountains instead of river. After getting to the plaza, we saw the Don Quixote statue and took a group photo there, then went passed a playground which me and a few friends returned to later to rekindle our inner child and have some fun (the big slide there was awesome)!! We then took a walk to an area where a barracks during the war once was, there we saw an Egyptian temple given as a gift to Madrid and a breathtaking site of Madrid.
After the tour was over and my friends and I had our fun at the playground, we got drinks at El Invernadero De Salvador Bachiller which had the most calming environment and ambience I’ve experienced this trip so far. Then we went to grab lunch at JolliBee, a good fried chicken place which made my stomach feel at home. Finally, before making our way back to the hotel we spent an hour at the cat café in Madrid, enjoying the company of 20 or so rescue cats. One even sat on my lap!
The rest of the day for me consisted of souvenir shopping, writing this blog entry, and getting tortillas with friends before heading back to the hotel for the night.