Some people love to visit palaces in every country they travel to, but we usually skip them. They all tend to look alike to us. I mean, how many objects can you slather with gold to show visiting dignitaries that your country is wealthy (while your peasants are starving and dying from poverty). I have to say that Spain’s Palacio Real is no different. I wanted to see it, however, because I recently read a brief history of the country, and it was interesting for me to see, for example, which room beloved Carlos III died in and how his son Carlos IV redecorated it as a memorial to his father (the fabric on the walls was woven to match the trim on a robe worn by his father in a portrait painted shortly before he died). Or how Alfonso XII took over the three rooms remodeled for Carlos III’s wife, Maria Amalia of Saxony, and turned them into a fantastic banquet hall. (Sadly Maria Amalia died just before her elaborate apartments were completed, so she never got to live in them.) I was also captivated to enter a gorgeous room lined in deep blue velvet and trimmed with fleurs-de-lis, the first room decorated by Felipe V after he was crowned the first Bourbon king of Spain. After all those red rooms, it was quite a relief! Like stepping into the cool, blue sea after broiling on the red-hot beach. (Red is the color of Spain, as blue is of France.)
Another thing I found interesting: The chapel contains thrones for the king and queen. While they are not as elaborate as those in the Throne Room, they were a constant reminder that the church and state are one. Coming from a country where the separation of church and state is so integral to our foundation, I have to remind myself that this is not the case everywhere, even in this day and age.
But really, if you don’t know one king from another (and I barely do), does any of this really mean anything? It’s just another excuse to gape at the opulence of a once-rich country. Note: The current palace was built during the Empire, when Spain was still bringing home silver, gold, and other riches from her colonies in America. At that time, their wealth was beyond compare. Too bad they weren’t able to hold on to some of it or invest it more wisely. So sad that today they are struggling financially.
Coolest thing about the Palacio Real? It’s built on a bluff, the western edge of Madrid, overlooking the Manzanares River, the plains of Castilla, and the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains to the northwest. It’s the site of the Moorish Alcazar fortress built in the 9th century when the Moors (from northern Africa) occupied most of Spain. Good place for a fortress; very easily defended, I imagine. In fact, the original palace was the Alcazar until it burnt to the ground in 1734. Gorgeous view from the palace and very dramatic itself when viewed on the clifftop from points north or south!