Researchers have recently discovered that a Roman tomb in Carmona, Spain may have originally been a Mithraic temple years before. Photo courtesy of Universidad Pablo de Olavide. 

Long thought to have been solely used as a burial site by ancient Romans in the 1st century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D., a tomb in the necropolis of Carmona, Spain (just outside of Sevilla) surprised researchers from Universidad Pablo de Olavide last week, who announced that the tomb was actually first used as a temple by the devotees of Mithraism, a cult that came to exist during the Roman empire.


I recently came back to Barcelona on a whim, somewhat of a necessity but additionally without any plans to remain or return, or to go any other direction. I suppose I was lost, and Barcelona always allows me the comfort to dive inside her, to swim in circles if need be until I can stand on my own in the deep end. It’s a city I hold very dear to my heart: Barcelona provides me with many memories and opens her arms wide to receive me again and again. On this last visit to the ‘Ciudad Condal‘ I encountered a similar soul, a wanderer like me – we hit it off and became fast friends – however, we both knew that this friendship would be short lived, like our time in Barcelona. Because it’s a transient city; people, businesses, heat, rain showers come and go like a ripple of the Mediterranean, the sea which it sits beside. Popular names such as Picasso, Hemingway and Manu Chao have left their footprint in this city, and for good reason; the streets are riddled with charm, character and life. Zigzagging from neighborhood to neighborhood, new discoveries await the urban explorer. It sometimes feels as though there is a place for everyone in Barcelona during some point of their life, although the difficulty of language, jobs and the wanderlust of many sweep the streets of their inhabitants like the twice daily street cleanings, inviting new souls and dust to settle the next day.

Even Untapped Cities contributor and photographer Sivan Askayo couldn’t get enough of what drew her  aesthetically  to this city, her adventure in Barcelona  sparked a love affair.

Catalan, the official language of the autonomous community, la Comunitat de Catalunya, provides another element to this temporal feeling besieged on its visitors and immigrants. While not an impossible language, there are hot  political  feelings associated with the teachings, learnings and daily life activities that take place in a society which is believed by outsiders to be Spanish. Expats of Australia, the US or the UK are often confined to a period of teaching English or freelance work in their native language, and while they adore the city and their life in it, they bore of being pigeonholed, and they eventually move on. Regardless, this ephemeral effect on the city has its advantages, and the diversity and continuously throbbing energy of new talent being pumped in the city can be seen in its urban art and graffiti scene, also in its cultural offerings – but this could be at risk.

A stencil graffiti piece by C215 found in BarcelonaFrench street artist C215 uses stencils to create his colorful and eye-catching works of art in Barcelona.

Barcelona's local graffiti artist PezLocal urban street artist Pez has been known and commissioned by many of Barcelona’s vendors to paint their stores’ shutters.  

Street Art in El Raval BarcelonaBarcelona’s ‘El Raval’ neighborhood is littered with street art from international artists eager to paint scenes throughout this diverse and ever gentrifying ‘barrio.’

As I mentioned in a previous article about Madrid’s street art scene, Spain as a whole has struggled to let itself become too vulnerable to new things, particularly those perceived as artsy or alternative. The newly elected right-wing government has put the masses through a predicament as of late and in its spiral toward bankruptcy has made enormous budget cuts against education and culture (some artists have already expressed their vision of the current dilemma). As of September 1, 2012 a new law went into effect activating a tax of 21% on certain services. Those which were once considered to be basics are now thought of as a luxury. This means that everyday tasks like going to the barber shop, attending the gym, buying school supplies, going to the movies or attending a theater (of which Madrid and Barcelona have strong roots and actors with incredibly high talent), will be put into jeopardy for the average citizen of the state.

For pessimists this equates to destruction of an important part of life, a degradation of the spiritual and mental health of its residents. What will be left for the population if no one can afford to properly care for their children, support artists and craftsmen, allow themselves to laugh with a comedy, or cry with an opera? This is where I hope that graffiti artists around the globe can give life to the city, to brighten the streets from the misery that some people deem they are doomed to feel in the coming months, to put their work on display and inspire another generation to be creative, active and expressive, to encourage the fact that sitting behind a desk in a job that gives you security but little else is not the only window of opportunity.  For many residents, it’s that or leave, and as strong as the heart strings of Barcelona may tug, the reality stands that for the time being a calmer, more inviting water awaits them somewhere else.

A graffiti in El Born BarcelonaAn unknown stencil artist leaves behind a piece for  contemplation regarding  the 21st century definition of ‘El Dorado’ in El Born, Barcelona.  

So where is the light at the end of the tunnel? The key, and hopefully the Achilles’ heel of Barcelona is that she keeps alluring talent into the city, that she  doesn’t  allow her controlling and baleful policy makers to get the better of her, that she seduces those who fancy a dip regardless of the red flag at high tide. After all, the storm shall pass, and when it does, how nice will it be to fall in love with her all over again?

Things like this Kickstarter campaign  curated by Katrine Knauer of Urban Artcade will become a reality, merging local Barcelona based artists with a myriad  of expertise in the hopes of educating the public and sparking a dialogue with the city’s governing bodies. They are also responsible for the site  Mapping Barcelona  and will be celebrating the fundraiser’s success with an exhibit and documentary entitled Las Calles Hablan (the streets speak) this October.

Graffiti in Barcelona's Raval neighborhoodThe whole world is in our hands. We’d like to think that citizens stop and think in front of this street art example in Barcelona.  

Barcelona El Raval, Graffiti artist Alice Alice, a popular Italian street artist, stays quite busy with happy and bright colors portraying scenes of women of all ages throughout Barcelona, above all documented in the ‘El Raval’ area.  

Other websites such as bombarcelona  and Street Art News also document Barcelona’s urban art. While it seems that those who admire these works are notably niche groups, with the government putting restrictions on so many other facets of Barcelonians’ daily life,  undoubtedly  a new coat of paint on the walls and streets should call their attention and create action. After all, street art, like love stories, are free manners of expression for all citizens, regardless of how long they stand and observe.

Get in touch with the author @jamon_y_vino.

Welcome to the creative universe of Ferran Adrià­     (photo courtesy of Palau Robert, Barcelona).

The “Ferran Adrià­ and elBulli. Risk, Freedom and Creativity”  exhibition unveils the creative universe and talent of Ferran Adrià­ , the late 20th and early 21st centuries’ most influential chef, as well as the comprehensive capacity to innovate that he has applied to gastronomy with his work at elBulli restaurant. The exhibition is open to the public from February 2, 2012 to February 3, 2013 in room 3 at the Palau Robert in Barcelona.

Ferran Adrià­   (on the right) visiting the exhibition, seated at the projection table (photo courtesy of Palau Robert, Barcelona).

Over the years, Ferran Adrià­   has become a global icon of gastronomy. The work done at elBulli – considered the world’s best restaurant for five years running – has received global recognition and has set the direction for the future of cooking and how we think about food and dining. The names of Ferran Adrià­, Juli Soler, Albert Adrià­and of elBulli’s entire creative team are associated with values such as reflection, talent, innovation, leadership, teamwork, a job well done, internationalization and solidarity. Going far beyond the field of gastronomy, their work embraces areas such as art and technology.

The room “Origins (The Learning Years)” recounts the history of elBulli from its origins in 1956 to March 1987, the time when Ferran Adrià­ took charge of elBulli as its chef (photo courtesy of Palau Robert, Barcelona).

The exhibition comes after elBulli closed its doors in July 2011 and celebrates the restaurant’s 50 years of history (from 1961 on), coinciding with a time when Catalan gastronomy has become one of the top-ranking gastronomies in the global arena. Incidentally, Adrià­ turns 50 in 2012.

Although the decision to close the world-famous 3 Michelin star restaurant was taken in order that it could undergo its transformation  (Adrià­ stated elBulli had completed its journey as a restaurant) into elBulli foundation, a center for gastronomic experimentation and innovation that plans to disseminate its creations on the Internet from 2014 on, critics like to point out the restaurant had been operating at a loss in its later years. Once you enter Adrià­’s creative universe at the exhibition, however, it quickly becomes clear that here is a genius who cannot simply go on cooking – he needs to innovate and transcend regular restaurant work.

The evolutionary map illustrates the products, techniques, elaborations and philosophy with videoclips, and visitors can see emblematic dishes elaborated, all of which have been major milestones in Ferran Adrià­’s career and elBulli’s history (photo courtesy of Palau Robert, Barcelona).

The exhibition recounts the history of elBulli, from its origins in 1956 with the arrival of Dr Schilling and his wife Marketta at Cala Montjoi (between Roses and Cadaques), to March 1987, the time when Ferran Adrià­ took sole charge of elBulli as its chef. Audiovisuals, documents, photos and objects in chronological order highlight the qualitative jump made by the restaurant through an increasingly sophisticated gastronomic offering that had clear references to French nouvelle cuisine. In addition to Ferran Adrià­, the key figures in this transformation were Jean-Louis Neichel,  Juli Soler and Albert Adrià .

“The Search For A Style” room with a restaurant table where an elBulli 40-dish menu is projected (photo courtesy of Palau Robert, Barcelona).

One of the highlights is the “The Search For A Style” room where visitors can see a recreation of the atmosphere of the restaurant’s dining room through an audiovisual with props (table and chairs from elBulli): images of an elBulli 40-dish tasting menu are projected onto the table from overhead, allowing visitors to at least visually witness the dining experience. And in general there is great emphasis on how elBulli’s innovative contribution to avant-garde cuisine is the sixth sense: sparking a response in diners, which is expressed in the form of gestures and emotions of surprise, questioning, recollection, desire and happiness. Ferran Adrià­  creates neither dishes nor recipes, but rather concepts and techniques that he can subsequently apply to countless elaborations, as is explained in the section “Moment 0” of the exhibition.

One of the more quirky exhibits: a signed Matt Groening caricature of Adrià­ (with a scribbled Bart Simpson looking over his shoulder).

His technical-conceptual approach to cooking and creating requires a whole team devoted exclusively to creation in an ideal space, and to immense subsequent cataloging; among the exhibits are drawings of dishes done by Ferran Adrià­; a display of metal tableware elements used for serving, custom-made silicone molds, objects and utensils used in the cooking process, an array of plasticine dishes used to demonstrate the ideal food layout on a plate, and of course countless cookbooks and notebooks.

“The Time of Major Change” – A recreation of elBulli’s kitchen through projections in triptych form (photo courtesy of Palau Robert, Barcelona).

Plasticine ingredients used to demonstrate the ideal layout of a dish (photo courtesy of Palau Robert, Barcelona).

The exhibition will be presented in New York in 2013 and will then travel to London. It will also become the seed or basis for the future Centre-Museum devoted to Ferran Adrià­ and elBulli in Roses. The aim of these and other initiatives that may subsequently arise is to project the image of Catalonia to the world –showing it as a modern, innovative country – and to position it as a leader and point of reference on the global stage of gastronomy thanks to the enormous amount of research that was carried out at elBullirestaurant and will continue to be carried out at elBullifoundation. The exhibition also deems that Catalonia should officially ask UNESCO to designate Catalan gastronomy as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as it did with the castellers (people erecting Human Towers).

The beginning: a bronze statue of the “Bulli” bulldog that gave the restaurant its name.

While it is possible to venture out to Cala Montjoi and the site where elBulli the restaurant is being transformed into elBulli the foundation, you’ll have to head to Barcelona to experience the food: the Adrià­ brothers run both the tapas bar Tickets on Avinguda Paral ·lel 164 and an avant-garde place next door called 41 ° (41 Grados). Just like at elBulli, getting in is difficult: 41 Grados only takes reservations online and only for an even number of diners, thus keeping out solo critics. They serve “one experience” of 41 mini-courses to a total of 16 people per night. But there is more: Ferran and Albert Adrià­ are setting up a Mexican restaurant (their first of a different cuisine) and plan on opening a Japanese-influenced Nikkei place, both also in Barcelona. Who knows what’s next? It will remain interesting to watch the Adrià­s.

Ferran Adrià­   and elBulli. Risk, Freedom and Creativity exhibition
The Palau Robert Catalan Information Centre
Passeig de Grà­cia, 107 08008 Barcelona [MAP]
(+34) 93 238 80 91 / 92 / 93
Open Monday to Saturday 10am to 8pm. Sunday 10am to 2.30pm. Admission free.

Thanks to the Palau Robert for the pictures and press material.
Get in touch with the author @flachrattenmann.

The coastal region of Northeastern Catalonia in Spain, stretching from Blanes outside of Barcelona to the French border, is known as the Costa Brava (rugged Coast) for its wild rock formations and rough landscape. Due to the combination of an excellent summer climate, overwhelming nature and first class beaches, the region has been largely exploited for tourism, which took over from fishing as the principal business, especially in classic seaside resorts such as Blanes, Tossa de Mar and Lloret de Mar.

Costa Brava, the rugged coast.

One of the places that (for now) are able to hold the balance between attracting (international) travelers and preserving their original beauty and native charm is the town of Cadaqués. Roughly 80 kilometers from Girona and 170 from Barcelona, Cadaqués is a day-trip destination and experiences a manifold population increase during the peak of the summer season. However, since over land it’s only accessible via a winding road and the terrain is hilly and difficult, development is kept largely at bay so that the town maintains a low population off-season while still being able to accommodate a reasonable number of visitors.

Spying on people’s boats from above.

Because of the geography, people traditionally rowed and sailed from town to town, or simply walked. Traveling like the locals is the ideal way to experience the beauty of the area, and if you string all the trails connecting the seaside towns together, you end up with one long walk: the Camino Ronda. The “round way” (also: Costa Brava Way, GR-92 – Grand Rondonee) is a trail running all along the Costa Brava from Collioure near France to Blanes. It’s quite extensive (around 220km), well-marked, and runs mainly along the coast, taking you through fishing villages to coves and small beaches which are far from crowded. Going on foot will let you stray away from the coast as you like and enable you to see inland sights as well.

Ample trail markers on the Camino Ronda along the Costa Brava.

We settled for a small stretch of the Camino Ronda, from Roses to Cadaqués. At around 21 kilometers, it’s a one-way hike of moderate strenuity (with the possibility of taking a bus back). There are several bays and beaches along the way where you can cool off with a pleasant swim in the Mediterranean Sea, but ample sun protection is advisable.

Looking back at the town of Roses.

Coming from Roses, about one third into the hike, you will come to the bay of Cala Montjoi. Overlooking the beach sits 3 Michelin star restaurant elBulli, declared the world’s most controversial and experimental restaurant. Restaurant Magazine judged it to be Number One on its Top 50 list of the world’s best restaurants for a record of five times, but alas, elBulli closed its doors to the public in 2011. Inconspicuous looking from the outside, getting in was a matter of first-come, first-serve. Bookings for next year’s limited season were taken on a single day after the current season closed. Despite over a million requests, the restaurant only served around 8,000 diners per season that way.

Almost hidden: elBulli restaurant, now closed.

Though the restaurant had been operating at a loss in its last decade (with profit coming from book sales and lectures), chef Ferran Adrià­ stated elBulli had completed its journey as a restaurant and that he wanted to free up the creativity of the people involved for other projects. Adrià­, who has been called “the father of molecular gastronomy” and was in sole charge of the kitchen since 1987, has transformed the restaurant into elBullifoundation, which is scheduled to open as a creativity center in 2014. The Creative Universe of Ferran Adrià­ is an exhibition at the Palau Robert in Barcelona (which will travel to New York and London in 2013) and outlines the 50 years of the restaurant’s history and explains the keys of elBullifoundation as well as the future of the Centre-Museum in Roses.

Looking back at Cala Montjoi and elBulli restaurant.

Although Costa Brava seems the naturally most fitting name for this rugged stretch of coast, other names have been suggested, among them Costa Grega (Greek Coast), and indeed, some of the bays and views you’ll encounter on this hike might trick you into thinking you’re elsewhere in Europe.

Feels and looks like Greece: Costa Grega.

A little inland stretch on the hike.

Cadaqués with Cap de Creus in the distance.

Approaching Cadaqués you’ll come through Portlligat, where surrealist painter Salvador Dalí spent summers in his youth and later created a house out of a fisherman’s hut over the course of forty years. In a biological approach, each new pulse in the life of Dalí and his wife grew into a new room, like the cell of a being. Every window frames a view of Portlligat Bay, a fixture of reference in Dalí’s work.

Salvador Dalí house museum in Portlligat.

Cadaqués itself has a long history of painters: the Cadaqués museum displays charcoal sketches by local artist Mei Fren, the first modern artist to live in the town and followed by many notable others, among them Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Marcel Duchamp. Other sights in town are the 17th century Church of St. Mary, a traveling market on Mondays, and a quirky replica of the Statue of Liberty with two upraised torches instead of just one.

Portlligat bay at dusk.

Within easy reach of Cadaqués is the easternmost point of the Iberian Peninsula, Cap de Creus, a natural park and extraordinary landscape of dry, wind-beaten rock with nearly no trees.

Coming back from a day’s hike, Cadaqués is a great place for eating out with a good selection of family operated restaurants to sample Mediterranean cuisine, fresh seafood and Catalan white wine or sparkling water.

All photographs courtesy of Alexandra March.

Get in touch with the author @flachrattenmann.

For some the addition of music or buskers on the bus, train or metro is a welcome accessory to their daily commute. In Madrid, as of lately I have seen more and more artists take the underground or stake claim in Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor as an opportunity to earn their daily bread. I’ve seen them surrounded by the metro’s white tiles in a corner next to the escalators, riding alongside the other passengers with their guitar bag or pull-cart of a speaker or waiting at high traffic areas for commuters to finish their lunch hour or work day. The other day someone told me that they had experienced a full-on Shakespeare troupe in the metrohow cool!

However, another day riding the subway I encountered a new circumstance. Two security guards ushered a busker off the metrowithout forcewhile the entertainer was mid-song. I asked one of the guards why they had done that, “Is it illegal to play music on the metro?”  She answered that it is prohibited only when it is a nuisance or annoyance to the passengers. Therefore, it could be perceived as permitted in wide hallways, during hours of slow commuter traffic or if no objections are made.

Which led me to contemplate, how do we perceive art? What is bothersome to us? Will we allow ourselves to be introduced to new forms or are we only willing to pay for something if we choose to enter the four walls housing the exposition, act or artwork? How then does urban art, an “intrusive”  form of artbeing that it is never up to us if we see it or not, it is just thereaffect Madrid’s civilians and which artists are changing our perceptions?

According to another set of policemen, la guardia civil, graffiti is illegal on all accounts in Spain, minus in situations where an artist has been commissioned to produce something and the legal paperwork has been filed to validate this agreement.


urban art store front in black and white MadridA store front window is decorated in black and white, likely the outcome of a hired artist and approved city codes.  

Urban art on apartment building Lavapies MadridApartment building mural in the Lavapiés neighborhood. Calle Lavapiés #17, designed by Cristina Gayarre.  

There are over forty-four museums in the Spanish capital. If you are interested you can find a wide variety of sculptures, classic pieces, modern, theater, comedy, photography and specialty museums, like the Naval Museum or even  18th century garments. Street art however is a rarer sight, especially along the tourist path running from el Museo Prado to the Palacio Real on the far west end of the city. Splashed across shuttered store fronts, trains out towards the city limits or on crumbling walls of deserted warehouses you are more likely to see “bubble”  signatures or tags of that nature.

I suppose the phenomenon in Madrid starts with the definition of graffiti. We are generally, from a young age, taught or gather from the media that graffiti has a negative effect on society.

graf ·fi ·ti [gruh-fee-tee]    noun

1.  plural of graffito.

2.  ( used with a plural verb ) markings, as initials, slogans, or drawings, written, spray-painted, or sketched on a sidewalk,wall of a building or public restroom, or the like: These graffiti are evidence of the neighborhood’s decline.

The second influence is our government’s perception. If a city, district or nation bans or allows this type of expression from its residents or tourists, the city’s entire persona can be altered accordingly. Take a look at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as Michelle the founder of Untapped Cities called attention to the city’s aggressive and prismatic landscape in her featured article in the Huffington Post. Is there a coincidence that this city is home to the happiest people on Earth?

Getting away from adverse connotations of graffiti to educating the citizens about street art is in the hands of the artists. People will need to be surprised, awed and moved. Tagging is no longer the answer for grabbing attention, and defacing property isn’t the motto of today’s street art icons. Murals, small objects in wall corners or building skins need to be unique and speak to the population. Spanish artist  Escif  is quickly gaining the attention of the urban art scene for his international work, however the majority can be found in Valencia, Spain, where he resides. Escif  paints rather politically themed murals and one-offs with a minimal color palette. He also keeps a YouTube channel to display his works to fans.

Madrid has proven to be a little slower to adapt. There are less artists than say Paris or New York City, but according to word on the street, the artists that roam the capital are active in what they do.

Mostly found in the neighborhoods of Malasaà±a and Lavapiés, you should keep your eyes out for 3ttMan, a multipurpose artist  who in 2011 headed a campaign based on cement carvings. He worked in broad daylight, blending in as a construction worker, yet still received threats and fines for his expressions.

3ttman cement street art Madrid“Mas obra, menos arte, More construction, less art,” states this piece by 3ttMan on Calle de la Luna.  

Urban art on the streets MadridThe door of a small storage-space becomes the canvas for an urban graffiti artist in Madrid.  

REMED, a Frenchman who claims Madrid as his adoptive city,  creates colorful and generally large scale pieces, e1000ink specializes in surreal and 3D paintings, Neko, very active in Madrid, produces stickers, posters, stencils and neon light fixtures that take the place of advertising modules or telephone booths. Sam3 has been gaining more national and international attention, arriving to be known in London and Portugal. His most recent billboard makes references to the recortes, or budget cuts that have been hitting Spain’s state, education, health and cultural programs with drastic cutbacks. dosjotas who has a gift for the irony, reinvents street signs, garbage collection notices, public advertising or state information with a twist. Only those who read the fine print or recognize the sarcasm in the changed landscape will know he has been there.

3ttman and Remed Madrid urban art2009 mural by 3ttMan and REMED on Calle de la Luna in Madrid’s city center.  

Madrid Calle Noviciado mural 3ttManA fresh fish shop is adorned with the art of 3ttMan on Calle del Noviciado.  

Finally, Nuria Mora or just Nuria in the art world has been painting geometric shapes with “girly”  touchesfloral or gingham effectsfor years now. She has a tendency to choose attention grabbing locations in the touristic center of the city. For a large mural on Calle de Cedaceros she worked 7 hour days for a finished product that mixes the industrial feeling of the street with her daintiness. When I went to visit, it had already been covered by others, more proof that these pieces are so temporary, or at least always straying further and further from the artist’s’ original intentions.

Madrid Mural Nuria Pastels and flowers merged with city landscapes in Madrid’s historic center. Mural by Nuria.

There also exists a movement of people who are dedicating themselves to capturing this art, documenting it before it is removed, worn-away or splashed over, such as Madrid based photographer Guillermo de la Madrid and artist Alberto de Pedro. Or bloggers dedicated to making Madrid known to the rest of the world.

Today street art is more mainstream, once underground sites like Street Art News and Unurth, give a daily update of happenings and discoveries around the globe to thousands of fans, through various social media platforms. But like anything that goes big, the anti-movement will likely be even more powerful, aware and present of the opposition. Although this Guardian article dates back to 2007 and it speaks to the UK’s position on street art, its trifle nature remains an international current affair. The answer quite simple, those creating the pieces do less harm than those removing it.

Alice street art MadridA moment too late, a small piece by  street artist Alice is covered by a tag in Madrid’s Malasaà±a district.  

You may wonder what makes certain cities more artsy than others. Is it rebellion? For instance Parisians are more likely to jump the metro and they have a history of being flamboyant protesters. Are they creating an environment for anti-system procedures and free expression? Is it something already present in their culture? If so, Madrid should be almost at the top of the list with Velázquez and Goya as a base. Or has the Spanish capital been too far gone from the creative nucleus, as artists in the early 20th century fled to Barcelona, France and beyond? I don’t have the answer for you, I can’t tell what moves the artistic and inventive cooperative of the city. But I’d be willing to guess that Madrid will show more expression in the coming years, that artists will be passing through or settling permanently between which they’ll leave their mark on the city. Why? Because Madrid is in transition. The unrest of politics, unemployment, civilian rights and a renaissance or revolt of what it means to be “Spanish”  will speak itself in the form of art. Or at least I hope so, because a city is bare, weak, lacking energy and character if its artistic set cannot be lauded and admired on display for the public.

Lavapies Garden Mural MadridAn onlooker admires part of a mural at the community garden in Lavapiés.  

“La calle es de todos, es para transmitir el arte que cada uno de esos artistas urbanas lleva dentro.” 

“The street belongs to everyone, it exists so that every artist can transmit what they carry inside to the masses.”

–  Mario Suárez, Journalist and autor of urban art books.

Follow Untapped Cities on Twitter and Facebook! Get in touch with the author @jamon_y_vino

Hemingway Madrid Toros

I recently watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ”˜The Layover’ as he visited my old territory of Los Angeles. One segment showed Bourdain touring the streets of LA with a professional tour guide mastered in the subject of Hollywood’s darker side-celebrity deaths and their death places-perhaps most notably Black Dahlia, John Belushi, Janis Joplin and Charles Manson’s victims.

It’s true that often we travel not just to take in the city, but to relive it, sometimes as we would have imagined it when [enter dead celebrity here] was alive. The human obsession with morbidity and mystery is reflected in travel highlights like the Tower of London, the Roosevelt Hotel, the toilet at Graceland…the lists goes on and on.

This leads me to a hunch as to why people come to Spain. Sure, the sun, food, architecture, vibrant culture and flamenco guitar melodies attract many, but I’m convinced others do so to combine their interest in stepping foot where famous acts and figures in history spent their last days; where the Spanish Inquisition (one of the most tortuous examples of human mistreatment, persecution and prejudice) took place, or the death and final resting place of Christopher Columbus, or maybe even an interest in the life of Roy Kinnear (you know, that British comedian who spoiled Veruca Salt rotten in Willy Wonka?). And lest we forget Ernest Hemingway, who left his footprints well marked throughout the Spanish state, and has likely inspired millions of tourists to become aware of Spanish culture or make the pilgrimage themselves to visit his old stomping grounds. Simply uttering the name “Hemingway” is likely to conjure up many images for the Western Literature fan, or anyone who paid attention in their high school English Lit class. For many others, this name probably draws upon imagery of Paris, the Caribbean, Spain, bullfighting, and of course, alcohol. The latter three can all be found in Madrid-and still visible and accessible-through Hemingway’s trail.

Hemingway was no stranger to Europe, his novels are dotted with inspiration from his time in Italy, Paris, and London (although not always by choice-living through two world wars), but Madrid was a city that he always came back to, including one of his final international trips before his suicide in 1961.

Who’s to say exactly why “Don Hemingway,”  as the Spaniards called him, became so enamored by Madrid? We may always just wonder what drew him back during the hard times, a civil war, the beginning of a dictatorship and later between trips to his other permanent residencies. Some of his most active literary years were those that he spent in the Spanish capital, predominately in the mid-1920s and mid-1950s.

An eccentric and extroverted ex-pat, he was known to visit and return to his passion points, or to bars that leaked Republican news (those of the anti-fascist movement). More than fifty years since his death, you can still wander through the skinny cobblestone alleys, lean against the dark wood and marble-laden bars or sit in the shade at the famed bullring.

Madrid Hemingway Sherry BarLa Venencia on Calle de Echegaray in the barrio of Huertas

Begin at the epicenter of Madrid, kilometro cero, from which all of the corners of Spain sit equidistant, officially known as the Puerta del Sol. This is the old part of town-the historic district-so it won’t be difficult to put yourself into Hemingway’s shoes from here. Cut right onto a less crowded side section and soon you’ll find yourself on the quiet street of Calle de Echegaray. The painted block letters above door number seven will read La Venencia. Go inside and ask for a glass or tasting of jerez-sherry wine fortified with brandy and a typical apéritif-maybe you’ll hear your neighbor discussing Republican democracy, or simply sit and enjoy, whether that be while mourning or celebrating his legacy.

Madrid Restaurante Sobrino de BotinFront entrance to El Sobrino de Botin on Calle de los Cuchilleros

Stumble out into the callejones Madrileà±os that seem to be frozen in time and direct yourself towards Restaurante Sobrino de Botin, or just Botin to the locals. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is the oldest working restaurant in the world. Dating back to 1725, this restaurant witnessed many an afternoon and evening with Mr. Hemingway. He chose this site as a point of interest in his novel The Sun Also Rises, in which the protagonists share a meal here. His “table”  remains on the upper level, essentially as he would have left it, so many years ago.

Madrid Botin Dining RoomDownstairs dining room at Botin

Botin KitchenRoasted suckling pigs awaiting their turn inside the 300 year old oven at Botin

If necrophobia is the fear of dead things and things associated with death, then perhaps necrogastrophobia would be the fear that you will die before trying quintessential dishes that famous people had dined on before you. If that’s your thing, order the roasted suckling pig (cochinillo) and a glass of rioja alta wine. PETA advocates have been forewarned-these little piggies won’t be going all the way home.

Hemingway Madrid Botin UpstairsOr choose the upstairs dining room where Hemingway preferred to sit

After dinner, mosey uphill towards Gran Via, the busy and well-lit intersection of the city, lined with early 20th century facades, brimming with locals, out-of-towners and theater-goers. Grab a nightcap at Museo Chicote, known in Hemingway’s day as Taberna Chicote-it was, and still is hip, modern, art-deco and classic. Drinks are strong and the design is well-kept, cheers to authenticity! For the record, other deceased celebrities walked through these doors and sipped these cocktails including: Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Orson Welles.

Hemingway Madrid Bar Museo Chicote Gran ViaA classic bar stop on Madrid’s busy Gran Via

Hemingway Madrid Cerveceria Alemana Plaza Santa AnaIn Hemingway’s day La Cervecerà­a Alemana  served one of Madrid’s best beers on tap

Hemingway Madrid Bar Cerveceria Alemana Jamon LegsWhat Spanish pub isn’t equipped with cured ham legs and strong liquors?  

If the night must live on, or if the next morning you find yourself needing a hangover cure with a slice of history, pop into Cervecerà­a Alemana  in Plaza Santa Ana. Perhaps these folks play too heavily on the “Hemingway was here”  catchphrase, but alas for all those retracing his steps, this bar/restaurant shouldn’t be overlooked. The inside holds to its past and one can marvel at the jamón legs from the marble counter-top or steal his spot in the window for people watching and that touch of nostalgia. Bring your copy of Death in the Afternoon his non-fiction writing on bullfighting and courage, or For Whom the Bell Tolls, his interpretation of the Spanish Civil War. Have no fear, the bartenders won’t kick you out until you want to leave.

Hemingway Table Cerveceria Alemana Madrid Hemingway WAS here

Hemingway Madrid Bar Alemana
In Madrid for the weekend? You can follow Hemingway’s lead to the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. Every Sunday from the beginning of March until the end of October tourists, Madrileà±os and Spaniards (generally of the older generation) mark their space inside the nearly 24,000 seat arena to partake in the viewing pleasure, or disgust, of bullfighting.

The subject is very touchy here in Spain (Catalonia banned the practice in 2011) as to whether or not in today’s society it is an art form, animal cruelty, or dying tradition, but the truth is that Ernest Hemingway was a passionate enthusiast of the “sport.”  You can still find many tapas bars serving up rabo de toro, a stewed bull’s tail, which comes from-you guessed it-the final act of the bullring.

For architecture fans, Las Ventas is worthy of a trip to see the blend of Muslim and southern Spanish styles on a grand scale. Inaugurated in 1931, it’s no surprise that this impressive construction, as well as literal execution inside and out, must have deeply impacted Hemingway.”  ª

I challenge you not to feel swept away by your surroundings as you spend a day in the life of Hemingway in Madrid. Enjoy!

Many flock to the outer areas of the bullring for picture taking and gawking

Hemingway Madrid BullringCarefully placed bricks, ironwork and tiles line the circumference

La Venencia [map]
Calle de Echegaray 7
28014 Madrid Spain

Restaurante Sobrino de Botin [map]
Calle de los Cuchilleros 17
28005 Madrid Spain

Museo Chicote [map]
Gran Via 12
28013 Madrid Spain

Cevercerà­a Alemana [map]
Plaza Santa Ana 6
28012 Madrid Spain

Plaza de Toros Las Ventas [map]
Calle Alcalá 237
28028 Madrid Spain

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