It’s easy to combine a visit to the Templo de Debod with a stroll in the Parque del Oeste and get a photo opportunity to snap the Palacio Real with the Catedral de la Almudena in the background. The temple, set over a pond, is genuine; built in the 2nd Century BC, it was given to Spain by the Egyptian government as a token of appreciation for the Spanish engineers who helped save ancient monuments from floodwaters while the Aswan Dam was being built on the River Nile. The park itself is landscaped and quiet, with many benches. It marks the contrast with the busy, noisy Plaza de Espaňa, which looks on to Gran Vía and its incessant traffic. The plaza boasts an obelisk, as an homage to Cervantez, with bronze statues of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza on their respective mounts, moving toward another adventure.
But another park offers, to my mind, a more grandiose view than the Parque del Oeste: the Campo del Moro (Field of the Moor). On the edges of the Rio Manzanares, the park rises until it reaches the back of the Palacio Real. The park earned its name from history: in 1109, the Moorish Army, led by Ali ben Yusuf, set up camp there. Later on, it was used for jousts by Christian knights.
As a park it was originally laid out in the 19th Century, under the aegis of Queen Maria Cristina, and was designed according to the norms of English gardens of the time, which promoted nature as romantic. It has winding paths through thick woodland, and the heat of the day disappears there. It doesn’t take a lot of luck to happen upon a flock of peacocks, for which the park is known. You can also find the bright green, squawking, Quaker parrots, mourning doves, and the black blue and white magpie.
What the park offers more than any other if the most fabulous view of the Palacio Real. In the center of the park, rising steadily towards this brilliant white facade, is a long lane of grass, dotted with flowers and fountains.
And if, after all this tranquillity and beauty, you’re in need of stimulation, right beside the park is the Principe Pío train station and a huge, modern shopping center (they even have a McDonald’s and a Burger King). No quaint shops for tourists there: think more Bayshore than Byward Market.
That’s in part what I find so thrilling about Madrid: it’s a bustling, modern city that doesn’t cling to its heritage but respects what has been handed it down the years.