Which famous landmark best represents Madrid? For many it would be Cibeles Fountain, for others the Prado Museum, Puerta de Alcalá, the Royal Palace, the Bear and the Strawberry Tree or Picasso’s Guernica. What a tough choice! Today, rather than opting for one of these famous attractions, I’ve decided to give an overview describing some of the other iconic sights located throughout the city, which you’ll only find here. This is a very unique Top 10, and I hope you like it.
1. KM. O
Although Madrid’s most central and bustling square has some distinguished tenants, such as the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, you need to keep your eyes on the ground as you walk through Puerta del Sol. A plaque marks the exact starting point of Spain’s six radial motorways, which began as postal stage routes created sometime around 1720. The original plaque, located in front of the Real Casa de Correos (Post Office building), was placed there in the year 1950, although in 2009 it was replaced with the one we see today, made of granite and brass.
2. THE METRO LOGO
Although born in Galicia, Antonio Palacios has made his mark on history as the great architect of Madrid. The Círculo de Bellas Artes, the Communications Palace, which has been rechristened Cibeles Palace, the Caryatid Building… Many of the city’s most iconic landmarks bear his stamp, as does the Madrid Metro, whose first line was inaugurated in 1919 by King Alfonso XIII. Palacios’ mission was to imbue the entrances and concourses of this new mode of transport with a special decorative style. He designed the granite entryways, with their coiled iron railings, for the historic entrances to the metro. He also came up with its famous logo, which despite having been updated over the years retains its original elements: a red diamond, white background and blue rectangle. If you’d like to see how it looked in its early days, I recommend visiting Andén Cero (Platform Zero), the former Chamberí station, which is a bona fide underground museum.
If you visit Andén Cero (Platform Zero) you’re sure to be surprised by its tile advertisements. In the early 20th century they were used frequently, particularly in shops, where their role was similar to that of window displays. Although the establishments that displayed them in all their glory are no longer devoted to the same businesses, we can still find quite a few scattered around downtown Madrid. In the heart of the Malasaña neighbourhood, on Calle San Andrés, you have the tile adverts of the Farmacia Laboratorio de Especialidades Juanse (Juanse Specialty Pharmacy Laboratory), and on Calle San Vicente Ferrer you will find those of the Antigua Huevería (old egg store).
4. THE NEON SCHWEPPES SIGN
The making of one of the most famous scenes in Spanish film in recent times was no easy task. Álex de la Iglesia had visualised it in his head a thousand and one times before he was able to say the word most coveted by any director: Action! He had to reproduce, bar by bar and with total accuracy, the Schweppes sign on the Carrión building, and then take it into a studio. But the result seemed real; today anyone looking at the sign remembers that climactic moment in The Day of the Beast when Santiago Segura and Álex Angulo hung from it after a demonic chase. Who, when looking up and taking the obligatory photo of one of the most famous sights on Gran Vía, doesn’t imagine they’ve caught a glimpse of them still hanging there? The installation permit for the Schweppes neon advertisement was issued on 5 August 1972, but it wasn’t put up until the September after a payment of 3,750 pesetas had been made to City Hall. It boasts 312 bars, measures 11 metres high and weighs 100 kilos.
5. THE TÍO PEPE SIGN
And speaking of signs… Another of Madrid’s most iconic images is Tío Pepe, one of the more well-known brands produced by the winery González Byass, whose headquarters are located in Jerez de la Frontera. In 1935 Luis Pérez Solero designed the label reproduced in the advertisement hoarding and came up with the slogan. His design as we see it today has remained unchanged since then. He described it in the following manner: “You will see with what simplicity they gave shape to me in Jerez / they bottled up the sun of Andalusia, first / they dressed me in a jacket, with a guitar and a hat / and that was how Tío Pepe was born, brimming with flair and charm!” The sign was placed atop the former Hotel París in Puerta del Sol in the year 1958. It has been declared a part of Spain’s historic heritage and today shines even brighter after a meticulous restoration. Its location has shifted but is not too far from the original site. It is situated on the rooftop of the building at number 11 in the square, on the corner of Calle Preciados. Look up!
My, what fauna Madrid has! It’s impossible to count all the animals that dot the city in the form of sculptures, fountains, façades… What has always particularly struck me is the number of lions running rampant in almost every corner of Madrid. They are at the Monument to Alfonso XII in El Retiro Park, at Cibeles Fountain, the Monument to Philip IV in Plaza de Oriente… and, of course, they stand guard at the entrance to the Congress of Deputies, Spain’s lower house of Parliament. The latter lions are the work of Ponciano Ponzano, and have their own names: Daoíz and Velarde, like the heroes of the Dos de Mayo uprising. They were created using melted bronze from cannons captured by the Spanish in the Battle of Wad-Ras (Morocco) in 1860.
7. THE FALLEN AGNEL
To see one of the extremely few monuments in the world dedicated to the devil himself you’ll need to venture into El Retiro Park and look for the Fountain of the Fallen Angel. This work was cast in bronze by Ricardo Bellver for the Paris World’s Fair (1878) and was inspired by some of the verses of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The piece depicts the agonising moment when the angel Lucifer is struck by the divine lightning bolt that casts him out of Paradise. Since 1885 it has been the centrepiece of this roundabout, with an official height of 666 metres above sea level. Mere coincidence?
8. THE LEANING TOWERS
Although their official name is Puerta Europa (Gate to Europe), everyone in Madrid knows them as the Torres Kio, as this is the name of the company that commissioned their construction. At a height of 114 metres, they have presided over Plaza Castilla since 1995, and are tilted at an angle of 15 degrees. They were the first skyscrapers in the world to be built on such a curious angle. Their creators? American architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee, although the name Álex de la Iglesia is strongly associated with them as well, as they also play a starring role of sorts in the hit movie The Day of the Beast.
9. TELEFÉRICO MADRID
This, another of Madrid’s most iconic sights, is of the ‘highest’ calibre, offering us a chance to travel 40 metres above ground level, from Paseo del Pintor Rosales to Casa de Campo Park and vice versa. It was built by the Swiss company Von Roll and officially opened on 20 June 1969. It was actually scheduled to begin operation on 15 May, the day of San Isidro (festivities celebrating Madrid’s patron saint), but this was delayed when residents lodged a complaint claiming that the cable car intruded on the privacy of their homes. It boasts 80 passenger cabins which can each hold five people, and covers a total distance of 2,457 metres. The whole of Madrid lies at its feet: the Royal Palace, La Almudena Cathedral, San Antonio de la Florida chapel, the list goes on. A voice-over explains everything you see along the route.
10. BOCADILLO DE CALAMARES
On a final note… nothing can beat having someone do all the cooking for you! There is a wide selection of traditional dishes to choose from, ranging from tripe to cocido (chickpea stew), as well as sweet treats like violet petals and torrijas (Spanish-style French toast), or even hot chocolate and churros (cylindrical Spanish doughnuts)! But I think nobody can feel like a Madrid resident through and through until they’ve had a calamari sandwich, if possible from the area around Plaza Mayor. Calle Ciudad Rodrigo boasts an array of bars where you can try one: La Rúa, Valle del Tiétar, Los Ferreros… It’s very hard to pinpoint the origin of this culinary tradition, given that Madrid is not a coastal city, although it’s clear that eating battered fish is a Sephardic custom. Many renowned chefs have put a modern spin on the traditional sandwich, such as Sergi Arola, who serves it up in a sophisticated fashion at his newly opened vermutería (vermouth bar) SOT, located on the second floor of his eponymous restaurant.