Above: Monastery of Santa Maria la Real de las Huelgas
It’s not easy to reign over a contested kingdom when you ascend to the throne at age two. Think of the royal intrigue that would trigger – all the scheming regents and relatives trying to unseat you before you can toddle down a hallway on your own.
But Alfonso VIII (1155-1214), King of Castile and Toledo, managed to ward off a legion of enemies to hold onto his throne – not without assistance and numerous defeats and victories on the battlefield along the way. And crusades against the Alamohads. To consolidate his power and secure a powerful ally while still a teenager, Alfonso gained the hand of 12-year-old Eleanor (Leonora) of England (1161-1214), a daughter of the contentious couple King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
At Leonora’s behest, the young royals founded the Monastery of Santa Maria la Real de las Huelgas in 1187. She bore 11 children before dying less than a month after her husband. The couple and numerous of their children were buried in elaborately decorated chapels within the expansive monastery. Royal weddings held there included that of Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290) to King Edward I of England (1239-1307) while Eleanor was 12 and Edward still a duke.
There he is, the fallen angel himself, painfully ensnared atop a beautiful fountain, guarded by gargoyles, in the heart of Madrid’s Retiro Park. John Milton’s Paradise Lost inspired sculptor Ricardo Bellver to create a monumental depiction of the devil in 1877. Both widely acclaimed and highly controversial, the statue is regarded as the only piece of major public art dedicated to the devil.
Anyone bedeviled by the artwork can easily avoid it, as Retiro Park is huge and is only one of many found in the capital city. Madrid has more parkland in its center than any other major European city, and Madrilenos take full advantage of them any time they are free.
These photos are from Retiro Park and the Jardin Botanico next to the Prado.
Totally swooned for the handsome tuxedoed birds. Exotic in my mind, but considered nuisances by many – common magpies. As with the storks earlier in our trip, never recalled setting eyes on them before, which might be lucky as a multitude of legends portray magpies as harbingers – or at least a single magpie – of ill will.
With his theft of glittering objects, the magpie envisioned by Gioachino Rossini in the plot of an 1815 opera almost caused an innocent maid to swing from the gallows. And the magpie’s reputation surely was not enhanced by the inclusion of the overture to signify impending over-the-top violence by Stanley Kubrick in his 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange.
Building a house made of sticks might not be wise for a pig warding off a big bad wolf, but these storks in Spain have the engineering down. We encountered an afternoon too windy for even creatures as large as we are to venture out, but not a single twig in their nests appeared out of place the following day.
White storks, with wings dramatically tipped with dark feathers, are partial to nesting atop Romanesque church towers. They seem to prefer man’s architectural accomplishments to nature’s own; nesting in town is fine.
If fertility is what they bring, they might need to go elsewhere. Most of the worshippers we see entering these churches are well beyond child-bearing years. Certainly, I feel safe exploring the altars beneath their perches.
But, while Spain’s birth rates might have been dipped downward for a few years, the storks appear to be correct. We are dodging baby carriages everywhere we walk.
Happy Mother’s Day (albeit this post is a week late for celebrations of the day in Spain).