About Me

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Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New Apartment and Malasaña

Cody and I moved to a new apartment last week. It was really a last-minute decision. One of the secretaries at school asked if anyone was looking for an apartment, telling us that a friend of her's had one for rent. It is a two to three minute walk from our school, very large, and the same price as our last apartment (with utilities). The apartment is located a five minute walk from the town center and right across the street from a bank, grocery store, and the train station. It belonged to the mother of our landlord, Antonio, who passed away a month prior. He told us that everything stayed (including the furniture, television, dishes, and trinkets). He even bought us new dishes. Katie and Kelsey moved in with us as well as they had some problems with their old place. Antonio even bought two beds for them. Here are some pictures of the new place:
Last weekend I went to Madrid and visited a neighborhood called Malasaña. This is a trendy neighborhood popular with artists and musicians. It originally became a popular area during the Transition, the period after the death of Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco (1975-1980s). In Madrid the Transition produced a cultural movement called La Movida ("The Movement"). La Movida was a period in which many of the restrictions of the Franco years, now gone, transformed into a whirlwind period of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. American and British rock of the era was popular at the time, namely The Ramones and David Bowie. Both still have a large following in Madrid (The Ramones logo is seen quite a bit in Malasaña). A large number of nightclubs and bars opened throughout Madrid, but those in Malasaña were the most popular. Possibly the most internationally famous figure of La Movida was the Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. Many of his films are set in the area of Malasaña. Today the area consists of many cafés, trendy clothing and thrift stores, tattoo parlors, and music/book stores.

La Movida died out in the 1980s, but caused some major changes to Spanish society. For example, the new Spanish Democracy also gave more rights to women (during the Franco years, women were basically possessions of their husbands or fathers and relied upon their permission to engage in any social situation). This resulted in a new dynamic between men and women in Spain, as the concept of machismo had goverened Spanish society for nearly its entire history prior to 1975. Here are some pictures of Malasaña from a warm, sunny day:
The area of Malasaña is much older than the 1970s/80s, however. There are many nineteenth-century churches and plazas. The central plaza is Plaza del Dos de Mayo, named after the day on which began the popular uprising against the invading French army of Napoleon in 1808. The uprising itself began near the Royal Palace (quite a bit away from Malasaña) but it spread throughout the city and sparked rebellions elsewhere in Spain. The following day was equally notable as the French army responded to the uprising with a brutal attack on the citizens of Madrid. One victim of the French response was a fifteen-year old seamstress named Manuela Malasaña. Manuela was attacked by French soldiers during the chaotic fighting in the streets. She attempted to resist their attack and when the soldiers discovered she was carrying scissors they executed her for carrying a "concealed weapon." The neighborhood and one of its main streets are named in her honor.

The fighting against the French continued for years after this uprising. The common people took up arms to fight off the invaders. These people used hit-and-run tactics, attacking squadrons of French troops by surprise. This type of fighting was given the name guerilla, which is Spanish for "little war." Today the name is still used to describe a similar type of warfare. The British eventually arrived in Spain to fight the French at the same time Napoleon's forces were having a tough time, on the opposite side of Europe, in Russia. The French left Spain in 1814, but the politcal and social chaos from the years of foreign occupation bred more than 100 years of civil warfare and military coups in Spain.

Here is the statue from the Plaza del Dos de Mayo. The sculpted figures have become enmeshed in the bohemian atmosphere of Malasaña:
Here are some of the churches of Malasaña:
Here are some of the cafés and restaurants of Malasaña:
The last restaurant, El Carpincho, is Spanish for "The Capybara." A capybara is the world's largest rodent. It lives in South America and also goes by the name "grasscutter" or (my favorite) "Master of the Grasses," as it is known for consuming large amounts of grass.

I also came upon this building which housed a clothing store and apartments:
I walked from Malasaña to Gran Vía, which was particularly crowded that day. I walked down Gran Vía until I came to the area of the Royal Palace at Plaza de Oriente. From here I walked to the old area of Madrid, known as Bourbon Madrid. This is where much of the oldest architecture exists, dating to the 16th century when Madrid became the capital city. Prior to this, Madrid was little more than a small town with several monasteries and large hunting grounds favored by the Castilian monarchs. The area is known as Bourbon Madrid as the current ruling family in Spain (which has been the same family since the early 1700s) are the Bourbons (originally of France). The ruling family which established the area, however, were the Habsburgs (originally of Austria). Here is a Habsburg palace I had never seen until that day:

There are also some interesting back alleys in the area. The Mudejar style of architecture, which shows a heavy Arabic influence, is evident here:
I then passed the strange tapas bar I mentioned in an earlier post, Rey del Piminento:

I then walked to Plaza Mayor and took some photos in the sunset:

Plaza Mayor was constructed in 1617 during the reign of Felipe III. It became the center of Madrid and many ceremonies and events took place here. It was often used as a bullfighting arena. Felipe III's father, Felipe II, had enlarged the Inquisition during his reign and it was a powerful force during his son's tenure. The Inquisition came from the time of the Reconquista, when the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula joined in an attempt to oust the Muslims who had controlled much of the Southern three quarters of Spain since the year 711. These kings believed they needed something to unify their cause and the most obvious symbol was that of the Catholic Church. In the final years of the Reconquista and the centuries that followed, the Inquisition sought to ensure that only one faith existed in Spain. The Catholic Church had most of the control over the Inquisition and thus gained more power than it did in other countries. In the years that followed the Reconquest (which ended in 1492, an important year for Spain), the Inquisition expanded as the Catholic Monarchs (Fernando and Isabel) wanted to ensure their dominance. That same year saw the forced expulsion of the Sephardim, the Jewish community of Spain. Jews could remain in Spain, but had to convert to Christianity, and the same applied to Muslims. Those who were suspected of practicing their old religion in secret were brought before the Inquisition. This consisted of a questioning by church officials, often accompanied by torture until the accused confessed. Following confession, an auto de fé was performed. This is a Portuguese phrase which means "act of faith." This consisted of a religious ritual in which a confessor's sentence was read. This was sometimes followed, in a separate ceremony, with a public execution (often burning at the stake or administration of the garrote, a typically Spanish method of execution which consisted of a device designed to crush the windpipe of the condemned). These executions took place in the center of Plaza Mayor.

In the following centuries, as the Protestant Reformation spread through Europe, the Inquisition kept such new Christian sects out of Spain. Those accused of reading works by Martin Luther, John Calvin, or other Protestant leaders were subject to the Inquisition. While Rome had its own Inquisition, which banned many secular books, the Pope never officially supported the Spanish Inquisition. While its influence rose and fell over the centuries, the Inquisition remained until the French invasion in 1808.

History is everywhere. You can walk past a building or down a street completely unaware of the lives that passed by, the ideas that that necessitated the construction of a landmark whose original purpose has been lost in time, or the laws and restrictions which governed the lives of a city's ancestors. Occasionally you will see something, a reminder left by some bureaucrat from the city offices, which will tune you in with history. Such as this plaque indicating the birthplace of cubist painter Juan Gris:

It can sometimes be difficult to understand how we are connected to the past. Yet here, you only have to look around to see how La Movida, Franco, Napoleon's invasion, the Inquisition, and the inventive artwork of people like Juan Gris have made Spain what it is today.


  1. your new apartment looks nice. I love the walls in your kitchen. And that store front with the painting of the owl is very cool. Wish Scott and I were coming to visit with mom and dad! Love and miss you!

  2. Great apartment Eric! Can't wait to see you. I just finished packing and hope I can sleep tonight.
    Love ya,