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MADRID - NEARBY TOWNS

ALCALÁ DE HENARES
Declared a World Heritage City, this historic university town was first developed by the Moors and then in the 12th Century captured from them by soldiers led by the warrior Bishops from Toledo. It is recorded as being founded as an official seat of learning in 1499 by Bardenal Cisneros and quickly became a rival to Salamanca the only other university town of that time.

The main university building in "Plaza de San Diego" boasts a proud façade and the interior courtyards are also worthy of a visit. The most famous of these is called the Patio Trilingüe in which students of Hebrew, Greek and Latin languages were taught. The Auditorium is also worth a visit as is many of the city’s fine churches. The house where Cervantes was born is on "Calle de la Imagen" and it has been reconstructed and furnished with furniture and household items from his era.

Driving east 33 Kilometers from Madrid it is on the N-II Highway in the direction of Zaragoza.

Trains from "Atocha" and "Charmartín" Stations leave every 10 minutes.
Buses at the beginning of "Avenida de América" depart every 10 minutes.
Tourist Information: 918 892 694


ARANJUEZ
This location is renowned for being a Royal Retreat with an impressive "Palacio Real" and the surrounding magnificent gardens. Although recorded as being inhabited since Roman times and later by the Order of Santiago, the Palace built on the order of King Philip V has been a residence of the Spanish Kings since the 15th Century. Plagued by a history of fires and subsequent reconstructions it still continues to maintain its original architectural unity. The "Jardín del Parterre" garden is adorned with numerous sculptures, while the "Jardín de la Isla" stands out for its classical fountains. The "Jardín del Príncipe" is a Spanish version of a typical English-style garden of the same period. The "Casa del Labrador" is an unashamed imitation of the "Petit Trianon" at Versailles. This hunting pavilion was constructed by order of King Carlos IV and is to be found in the "Jardín del Príncipe".

The associated town of Aranjuez was only built in the 18th century on the orders of King Fernando VI. It reflects many of the ideas of the Enlightenment Movement that was very much in vogue at that particular time.

Driving from Madrid it is 47 Kilometers taking the N-IV highway.
Trains leave every 30 minutes from "Atocha" Station. From May to October (with the exception of August) there is a special tourist train on Saturdays called the "Tren de la Fresa" (Strawberry Train).
Buses leave from the "Estación Sur de Autobuses".
Tourist Information: 918 910 427


ÁVILA
Often known as the town of "Stones and Saints", the somber small medieval walled town of Ávila is the birthplace of Saint Teresa. She was born in 1515 and at the age of 22 she had a vision of "an angel piercing her heart with a burning arrow". From this moment on she became a devotee in promoting the Carmelite Order and spreading their influence throughout Spain. The Roman walls have eighty-eight towers and ten gates and were rebuilt in the 11th Century by King Alfonso VI as a defense against attacks from the Moors For the those who are feeling energetic to “walk the walls” allow sufficient time as they measure a total of 2.4 Kilometers. The Cathedral dates from the 14th century and the "Convento de Santa Teresa" is where the very popular mystic Saint is honored. There is also an interesting museum reflecting the original history of the town at "Los Verracos".

Driving 115 Kilometers northwest of Madrid by taking the N-VI highway.
Trains leave from "Atocha" Station.
Buses depart from "Paseo de la Florida, 11".
Tourist Information: 918 211 387


CUENCA
This attractive town lying between two rivers is perched on the steep sides of a narrow hill topped off with a castle. The town although not lying on a major inter-city route is definitely worth placing on a tourist list. The quaint attractive houses seem to be piled on top of each other with the inevitable twisting and steep narrow streets to be negotiated. The town boasts an exciting a excellent Museum devoted to works of outstanding 20th Century modern artists.

Leave Madrid and on the A3 to Tarancón and then take the N-400 - a journey of approximately 190 Kilometers.
 


EL ESCORIAL
The correct name of this location is San Lorenzo del Escorial but due to its fame it has become popularly known just as "El Escorial". King Philipe II ordered the construction of this austere, grandiose and ponderous, granite structure. Architecturally designed as a rectangular block crowned by four towers, this mystical monastery, church and palace are composed of a mathematical framework of courtyards, corridors and as many rooms. It is stated that it has over 10 miles of corridors with some 2.673 windows! Built by a very somber pious King the building there are many fables attached to the reason why it was built and a likely one is that it is to record the battle of St. Quentin fought in 1557. On the 10th of August the Spanish artillery were forced in victory to destroy a church on the border of Flanders dedicated to the venerable Saint. It is recorded that the devoted and pious King felt sufficient regret to compensate his act and the decision to build such a massive structure was probably based on this and many other good reasons now lost in time.

The original design was by Juan Bautista de Toledo who worked on St. Peter's in Rome and on his death the project was taken over and expanded by his pupil Juan de Herrera who then completed it by 1584. The main structure of the Palace serves principally as a tomb to the Kings of Spain. As from Charles I of Spain all royals are buried here with the exception of Philip V, Ferdinand VI and Alfonso XIII. With few exceptions, their Queens and also Princes are to be found here in the "Panteón de los Infantes". 

The Basilica is topped by a 92 meter dome and with paintings on the vaults by Lucas Jordán. Along the walls there are 43 altars with typical painted altarpieces. The church originally was full of gold ornaments and the valuable precious stones from the Tabernacle which were efficiently removed by Napoleon's troops during their looting in 1808. The "Patio de los Reyes" which precedes the Basilica is a solemn rectangular courtyard where the bareness of the walls contrasts with the grandeur of the front façade.

- Palaces: In those occupied by the Hapsburgs, the "Sala de las Batallas" is decorated with frescoes and is worthy of special mention. Among the various palaces are the sumptuous rooms belonging to the Bourbons decorated with luxurious tapestries and Pompeian ceilings.
- Chapterhouses: Works by El Greco, Velázquez, Ribera, Titian and Bosch, are some of the many paintings are from the 16th Century of the Venetian School.
- Library: This library preserves more than 40.000 volumes which date as far back as the 9th Century. It is reputed to have the finest collection of illuminated Arabic books in the world. There is also a collection of paintings with works among others by Titian, Veronese, Zurbarán and Tintoretto. In the Architecture Museum a visitor has the opportunity to view many documents appertaining to the construction of this whole Monastery.

Allow plenty of time as there is so much to see in the El Escorial.


The Monastery is located in the town of "San Lorenzo de El Escorial" 50 Kilometers to the northwest of Madrid on the N-VI highway.
Trains leave from "Atocha", and "Charmartín" Stations.
Open daily except for Monday from 10.00 Hrs. to 13.00 Hrs. and from 15.30 Hrs. to 18.00 Hrs.
Tourist Information: 918 901 554


LA GRANJA DE SAN ILDEFONSA
The Palace to be found at this location was initially built in the 15th Century by King Enrique IV. Later, Felipe I who was born a Frenchman and was the first of the Spanish Bourbon Kings, decided in 1720 to construct an impressive palace in its place. It seems that he quickly too exception to having to live in the sober and massive Royal Palace of "El Escorial" an decided to escape by creating "La Granja de San Ildefonso". This is a lovely Palace with 28 Hectares of gardens and set in comparative wilderness at the base of the Guadarrama Mountains. Its unquestionable fame is due to the outstanding series of fountains which are considered by many to be more impressive than those to be found in the Versailles gardens outside Paris, and on which they may have been modeled.

These fountains are fed from a man-made lake which gathers the snow in the winter from the nearby mountain slopes. There are twenty-six separate fountains of monumental size with many additional smaller water jets. They all vary in strength and in height with the tallest being 115 feet. These fountains are only run seven times during the year and if a visitor wishes to see them in action they have to choose one of the following dates. January 23rd, May 30th, the eight day after Corpus Christi, June 21st, August 10th, September 4th and September 10th.

To the west of this Palace lies the Monastery of "Santa María de El Paular. In 1390 this first monastery in the kingdom of Castille was built by the Carthusians. Due to a law in 1836 the building was possessed by the State and it was only in the 1950s that the abandoned building was restored to some of its original glory and is now a inhabited by Benedictine monks with active church and a hotel. 

Driving it is 98 Kilometers northwest of Madrid taking the N-VI highway and only 11 Kilometers past Segovia.
Bus or Taxi from Segovia.


MANZANARES EL REAL
Located in the "Sierra de Guadarrama" this town is at the foot of "La Pedriza" mountains. It acts as a popular summer residence for many "madrileños". The restored 15th Century castle stands proud within the town and it is worth taking a stroll through "La Pedriza" park and along the banks of the "Manzanarez" river.

Driving it is 47 Kilometers from Madrid on the Colmenar Viejo Highway.
Buses leave from "Plaza de Castilla", "Mateo Inuria".
 


SEGOVIA
The Roman Aqueduct dominates this ancient town and King Carlos V built the famous Cathedral. The majestic "Alcázar" castle stands at the spur of the town and gives the impression of being the master of the barren plateau of Castile. The Aqueduct which is said to be the tallest surviving one in the world is capable of supplying sufficient water for a city of some 50.000 inhabitants. Dating back to the Moorish occupation the original "Alcázar" was burnt by a rebellious group of army cadets in 1862. The present version is a 19th Century a romantic fancy and gives a poor impression and interpretation of the original proud architectural structure. In contrast the imposing Gothic-style Cathedral which was also burnt down in the 16th Century presents an overwhelming somber feeling and accurately reflects the period in which it was constructed. The interior of this fine structure  has an almost cheerful harmonious atmosphere with its attractive stained glass windows.

Among the many other attractive locations to be visited in Segovia is the Palacio Episcopal with its museum, Spain's largest monastery El Parral, and the 16th Century Convento de los Carmelitas at which Santa Teresa was Prior and founded the Order. Across the river from the main town is the Church of the "Vera Cruz" which has survived from 1208 and was built for the Knights of the Templars. The Museo de Segovia contains amongst many items examples of 15,000 year-old Stone Age drawings and tow large Celtic stone Bulls which acted as protectors to their stock.

Driving it is 87 kilometers northwest of Madrid taking the N-VI highway.
Trains leave from "Atocha" Station.
Buses depart from "Paseo de la Florida, 11".
Tourist Information: 911 430 328


 


TOLEDO
The town of Toledo is among the most famous places in Spain to visit. It has thirty-one major sights and many other aspects of fascinating interest reflecting its role in the history of Spain. This once upon time seat of the Spanish Court had tremendous wealth and was inhabited by Christians, Moors and Jews. However, due to the ever increasing power of the Church and its Bishops, the Royals decided to move their Court to the much inferior and then dirty town of "Madjrît" - now well known as the City of Madrid.

At the time of the Romans discovering the location it was the inhabited by a local tribe known as the "Carpetanni". After taking possession the Romans promptly renamed it as "Toletum". Few ancient ruins remain to show the presence of the Romans and it is assumed that their structures were later destroyed when occupied by the Visigoths. The town has many curious fables and one of the best known relates that a tower built by Hercules that originally stood on the town's edge. This tower was barred from entering over centuries but King Roderick of the Visigoths decided one day to force his entry. After fighting off a very evil warrior he found in a casket in the top of the tower a scroll that when he unrolled it he visually saw the future destruction of his army by unknown invaders. Shocked and frightened the King fled and as he did so a large eagle flying overhead dropped a burning brand on top of the tower burning it to the ground. In the year 716 the King was slain and the town was captured by the invading Moors! It is recorded that in the course of their occupation of the town the Moors tuned it into a great centre of learning with some 200.000 inhabitants. In 1085 the town was taken by the forces of King Alfonso VI and happily for its inhabitants the Castile Christians continued with the previous order of intellectual pursuits. This situation changed dramatically under the rule of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella with the introduction of the "Inquisition" and then the intellectual members of the Jews and Moors were the first to be put to the stake.

The "Hospital de Santa Cruz" contains half of all the paintings that survive from the master painter El Greco and his own house can be found attached to the "Palacio de Samuel Levi" who was the treasurer of "King Pedro the Cruel". The small unassuming Church of "Santo Tomé" houses the outstanding work "The Burial of Count Orgaz", and one of El Greco's finest works. The Cathedral holds many attractions and particularly that of the "Mozárae Chapel" which is said to be the only surviving example of Visigoth Christianity left in Europe. It is still the daily practice to celebrate a Visigoth Mass in this Chapel every day and whilst this ceremony is being practiced it this is the only time that the Chapel can be visited. The "Alcázar" built by King Carlos I of Spain on the ruins of an ancient fortress, was extensively damaged during the Spanish Civil War and has since been carefully restored. This restored building is considered a national political shrine to the Nationalists for the courage and determination of a group of their soldiers who successfully defended their possession for two months against a superior force until they were relieved by their own forces.

The famous painter El Greco's adopted Toledo as his town and many of his masterpieces can be found hanging in its many churches and in his home which is now a Museum.

Driving it is 70 Kilometers southwest of Madrid taking the N-401 highway.
Trains leave from "Atocha" Station.
Buses depart the "Estación del Sur".
Tourist Information: 925 220 843


VALLE DE LOS CAÍDOS
This monument at Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos is the much discussed memorial to those people who died on both sides during the Spanish Civil War. It was constructed under the orders of General Franco the leader of the winning Nationalist side and the dictator of Spain until his death in 1975. This monumental memorial is considered to be at the same time a symbolic tribute to the memory of General Franco. Building started in 1950 and the main work force was drawn from his political enemies that were still to be found in his many prisons. A 245 meter tunnel has been blasted into the mountainside which is sheer granite and then above a 150 meter stone cross has been erected. This cross is claimed to be the largest one of its kind in the world. At its base is an interior cave-type church and is in keeping with the grandeur of the monument. Under a plain slab in front of the altar lies General Franco and opposite the tomb of José Antonio Primo de Rivera.

It is some 13 Kilometers to the north of El Escorial.

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