Madrid Walking Tour Connecting Yesterday and Today

Hola, friends. A note: This post is from my recent  2017 Camino: On the Way home, a stop in Madrid, continued. It’s full of photos and. . . .  commentary.  

I’m home, but I feel that I am still on Camino, reporting my experiences and observations on a Madrid Walking Tour and how we are all connected, Beyond Borders. 

Onward for our tour of Madrid, the Capital city of Spain . . .
Today was a day of discovery, the new and the old, sharing, learning and fun. For me, the Camino is about people from everywhere on our planet. The different languages, cultures and beliefs bring us together, instead of dividing us. Our expert tour guide from Columbia, Viviana, carried on that respectful and inclusive way of making each of us, as individuals, feel part of the whole group. Gracias, Viviana.

Palacio Real

A Camino surprise   Join me on Viviana’s two and a half hour city walking tour, rich in history, architecture and stories, with a little of my commentary and a few side-trips!  This tour provided an unexpected bonus, as I heard more about religious and sociopolitical history that I have been searching for in Spain. Viviana’s stories of past and present connected to my earlier encounter with a pilgrim scholar on The Camino.

 Is everything connected?  While I was walking the Way, I met Aaron, who  filled in many missing pieces of my  puzzle of questions about Spain’s past.  Much  of the physical evidence has disappeared, but historical information is out there and Aaron, a Princeton scholar, shared some of  his past and current research, in September, when I met him at my albergue in Rabanal. He, too,  was spending the night, while walking the Camino with family. He has published work on Jewish and Christian Identities and more. Wow! His matter-of-fact response when I mentioned not finding the embedded Jewish ghetto marker in the cobblestone of León’s old town, was a surprise.

We walked to Plaza Mayor, described as the site of some beautiful and also  tragic history, dating back to the Inquisition which began in 1492, but continued into the 19th century. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I: power, greed and persecution, repeated for centuries worldwide.

Today, there are million € apartments in the same square for the wealthy and celebrities.  It’s also a plaza for festivals, gatherings, celebrations, markets and work-a-day activities for residents and tourists.

In Plaza Mayor, my D.C. friend and I on the way to  Chocolateria San Gines for the famous Chocolate con Churros, our pre-tour breakfast.

Plaza Mayor, Inquisition and History 
Viviana explained that Jews and Muslims (Moors) were targeted in the Inquisition in the Alhambra Decree, the Edict of Expulsion of 1492 and given the choices: convert to Christianity, leave, die. Those who converted were often tested for their sincerity. Offered ham, jamón, a forbidden food, if they showed any signs of fear or distaste, they might give themselves away. Some Jews may have left window shades open to show they were not cleaning for or observing the Sabbath or Jews and Muslims might have hung legs of ham in a window to prove they converted.

In the publication, “The Week,” I read an article about Spain’s current offer to make up for its persecution of Jews, by providing dual citizenship for Sephardic Jews who can prove their ancestry, but not for the persecution of the Moors, because, according to authorities, “the Sephardim kept their identity traits” while the Moors  assimilated to new cultures when they left. This controversy is further cause for divisions.

There are still symbols of Muslim presence as well as persecution, including the Alhambra  Palace and Fortress in Granada, Spain with its exquisite architecture and art, changing back and forth, Moors to Christians, in early centuries of war and conquest. small Alhambra Ceiling straight crop 800 iso unsharp copy   Many churches were once mosques or synagogues. I read about the “Spirit of Córdoba” that describes a time when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in peace. I have visited  the impressive Alhambra in Granada.While it is beautifully preserved, much culture, not only in Spain, but in other European countries, and in the United States,  maybe world-wide, has been lost or destroyed, often in the name of different religious or political beliefs and conquest. While many churches were once synagogues, I couldn’t find an original Synagogue from past history, that is still open for practicing Jews, but there are current Synagogues in Spain for the Jewish population that numbers an estimated 14,000 in a worldwide population of 14 million Jews.  Preserve or destroy the past? In my  poem, “Walking the Way to Santiago,” the question, Where is a synagogue? is still my question. There is tragedy in much of my search.


Traveling, walking on the Camino, is living history at it’s best. I know most of what I think I know is just the surface of the deep and often ancient past. Bridges, roads, walls, churches, cathedrals, art, so much more. We are fortunate to look at the past with a historical eye. What I find so incredible is how old buildings, bridges and walls still stand. I love how Madrid’s historical buildings house modern government and businesses, preserving the past and connecting with present and future.


The Palacio Real in the Plaza Almudena

We walked to the Palacio Real, the palace and residence for the royal family in the Plaza Almudena, that it shares with the Almudena Cathedral. It’s now the site of official ceremonies and the royal family lives elsewhere. While walking through the plaza, Viviana asked us to share our observations of the Catedral de Santa María La Real de La Almudena. The Cathedral, is relatively new, built in 1879, even though it was planned centuries ago, when the capital moved from Toledo to Madrid. While stunning architecture, it is modest compared to the palace and many churches and cathedrals in Spain.  We guessed about the structure, but didn’t come up with Viviana’s explanation that the royal family didn’t want a cathedral to upstage their palace. You can do your research on that! But, walking around the corner and later to a park above the plaza, we saw the Cathedral from another vantage point and its baroque and ornate exterior lives up to expectations. Maybe modest in the plaza and ornate on the other side made everyone happy!   It was finally completed in 1993 and consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 2004.


Almudena Cathedral from a View above the Plaza and Palacio

On the Camino,  St. James may be  portrayed both as the Moor slayer, Santiago Matamoros, a legendary figure of power and as a Saint, St. James. Lots of stories and legends, and sometimes myths, surround early history and the Camino.  One of the last lines of my poem, “Walking the Way to Santiago,” describes the different ways we might know St. James,

St. James with a sword,

St. James with an open Hand. 

            What we do to find God. 

and explains in some way society’s ambivalence between power and peace and the stories we learn to make sense of our world. The organization, American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) is my go-to for history and information about the Camino and this is their advice on researching further to understand  the difficulty of knowing what is fact and what could be legend or myth: “All of that having been said, there is historical support for various aspects of the story and, on the other hand, there are complications and contradictions.” For further reading, we would suggest the Catholic Encyclopedia or the Library of Iberian Resources Online.

For many pilgrims, who do not practice a Christian religion, including myself, walking the Way may be a spiritual experience that is life-changing, beyond the borders of one religion and it was for me. I will always be on a Camino. I walked because it’s the 21st century and I can. I walked on the land that once was forbidden, but not any longer.  Yet, we all know, equality and religious freedom must be protected, that we must pay attention.  What happens to one of us, happens to all of us.

You can earn a Compostela, certificate of completion, for walking for either, religious or spiritual reasons, or both. If walking for other reasons, a distance certificate is available. 

The Compostela, Certificate of Completion, 2016


A Camino from Madrid?  After all this history and culture, you might want to walk the Camino de Madrid.  A modern route on the Camino de Santiago to the Camino de Francés starts from Madrid.  You can read more information on the Confraternity of St. James Website, which describes the route, “Camino de Madrid a Santiago de Compostela. A modern route designed by the Amigos de los Caminos de Santiago de Madrid to enable pilgrims from Madrid and central Spain to journey to the Camino francés under their own steam.”  Walk 321 km, about two weeks, and you can join the Camino Francés and continue walking to Santiago de Compostela.

The power of a tour and research is that we are able to learn about history and current world events in real time and on location. The history of the world is not hidden. It can be, at the same time, enlightening and disturbing. And the amazing art, architecture and culture, still alive and preserved,  a gift to all of us.

Spanish Philosopher and Poet  Present in my mind is the lesson from my high school history teacher, Mr. Bryan, in one quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” by George Santayana, philosopher, poet and novelist (1863 – 1952). And here’s a surprise: Santayana was born in Madrid, Spain. Once more, we are all connected.

Viviana, our tour guide and the group during and after the 2017 Madrid tour.

After my 2016 Camino, I spent time in Madrid and walked my own tour of historical and national monuments and sites. Here are more photos to add to today’s excursion.

Fountain of Neptune

I was invited to join the Walk for Mobility. Here I am with t-shirt, water and a walk around the amazing Retiro Park. And a backpack full of gratitude. An unexpected surprise and an honor to walk with generous Madrileños. Camino kindness and great fun.

The stunning Plaza Cibeles. Walk up eight floors to the rooftop and view the magnificence of Madrid.

At the end of our 2017 tour, after a group picture, several of us went to lunch for a Menu Del Dia, equivalent to a Pilgrim’s menu, but in a trendy restaurant, Rosi La Loca. From this shared tour and lunch, I met many new friends. Around the table, Brazil, USA, Romania, Argentina, Switzerland and U.K.

img_2339     img_2340

The Camino continues. There will be more. Ultreia, mis amigos. Onward!


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