Commemorating Christopher Columbus in Spanish Style, Part 2

What would it be like to celebrate a national holiday in a foreign country? I wondered that myself when I found out that I would be in Spain on October 12 for Fiesta Nacional de España, otherwise known as National Day, or Columbus Day in America.

In my last post about National Day in Spain, I shared some of the historic monuments to Christopher Columbus in Andalucia, the region of Southern Spain. This post is dedicated to the monuments and festivities in the nation’s capital, Madrid. (Neither of these posts take a stand on the controversy with replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. So please vent elsewhere.)

Spaniards proudly display their flag at Columbus Square in Madrid, October 12, 2014.

Spaniards proudly display their flag at Columbus Square in Madrid, October 12, 2014.

National Day Festivities in Madrid

National Day is a public holiday throughout Spain marked by celebrations and a day off work for employees. In Madrid, a military parade has been held every year since 2000, when this day was also recognized as Spain’s Day of the Armed Forces.  Most families stay at home and watch the parade on television.  For me, it seemed like a once in a lifetime experience—sort of like being in Washington DC for a historic parade.  If at all possible, I wanted to attend and experience this for myself.

We woke up on Sunday morning, October 12, 2014, to a rather dismal forecast of rain for the day. Our original plans were to go to El Escorial, a royal palace about 30 miles north of Madrid.  My host family was not in favor of going due to the rain in the forecast.  It also put a damper on my hopes to attend the military parade.

However, much to my surprise, Rosa volunteered to escort me to the parade. Umbrellas in hand, we took the underground metro to the center of Madrid in search of the best place to watch the parade.  By the time we arrived at Plaza de Cibeles, an iconic symbol of Madrid, the clouds had parted and blue skies were glistening above.

The streets were closed and the crowds were swarming the area in search of a location to view the parade.  Rosa knew her way around and led us directly across from the Cybele Palace, a large cathedral-like building that is one of several landmarks in Madrid.

Plaza de Cibeles, blocked off for the parade, Madrid, October 12, 2014.

Plaza de Cibeles, blocked off for the parade, Madrid, October 12, 2014.

National Day Parade

There wasn’t much time to waste. I wiggled my way into the standing-room-only crowd of people, settling into a spot about 10-people deep in front of me.  Rosa had seen the parade numerous times in her years of living in Madrid and waited further back behind the throngs of people.

The parade was ushered in with a rumble of military aircraft soaring overhead. The planes released plumes of red and yellow smoke trailing behind in a formation that represented the colors emblazoned on the Spanish flag.

Spanish pride on display from the air.

Spanish pride on display from the air.

As the parade started I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My only other knowledge of a military parade was seeing tanks and other military vehicles on TV, like seen in old time movies or documentaries in school.  This wasn’t like that.  No tanks.  No large armored vehicles to speak of.

The parade was presided over by the recently inaugurated King of Spain, Felipe VI. The crowds cheered as his limousine passed by with the Royal Family inside.

The parade was primarily a display of various regiments of the military each dressed in their unique uniforms.  They were mostly marching on foot.  Some were prominently carrying their rifles in upright positions pointing straight into the air.  Others traveled the parade route on horseback. Their uniforms were varied as well—bright colors and some with Arabian type robes draped over them.  I didn’t know what branch of the military each was from or understand the differences (and couldn’t ask anyone due to the language barrier).  Military sounding music, maybe the national anthem, was being played on portable speakers scattered around the area.

IMG_0988

I’m rather tall, but didn’t get much of a glimpse of the parade. I raised my cell phone above the crowds to get some pictures and video.  It was the first time I realized how helpful owning a selfie stick would be.  For a feel of the parade, watch the short video clip I recorded below.

Columbus Square

The parade was over in less than an hour, and Rosa and I headed on foot to our next destination, Sunday Mass at a local church, Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora. We followed that by meeting Pedro and Rafa (Pedro’s father) for lunch at a nearby German restaurant, La Fábrica Biermuseum.  Even in Spain, they get tired of eating Spanish food, but not drinking good beer.

Twice on our walks to these other destinations, we passed by Madrid’s monument site to Christopher Columbus, Plaza de Colón, or Columbus Square.  Prior to the military parade, the Spanish flag was raised at this site by the King of Spain, Felipe VI. We missed that ceremony, but thousands of people were still surrounding the site, only a few blocks from where the parade was held.

Location of the flag raising ceremony.

The first time I saw this monument and the flag was my second day in Spain in the summer of 2013. My host family took me on a walking tour into the heart of the city, past Columbus Square and Plaza de Cibeles and several other historic landmarks.  (Oh my aching feet!)

Jet-lagged and somewhat still in shock that I was actually in Spain, I was impressed by the beauty of the Spanish flag towering over the majestic concrete sculptures at the monument site.  It is the largest flag in Spain measuring 46 feet high x 69 feet long.

The largest flag in Spain.

The largest flag in Spain.

The Square is made up of three parts. The first is a statue of Christopher Columbus perched on top of a large column in the center of a traffic circle on the Paseo de la Castellana (the Castilian’s Mall), one of the longest and widest avenues in Madrid.  The statue of Christopher Columbus is pointing west toward America.  The sculpture was created by Spanish sculptor Jeronimo Suñon in 1885 and is surrounded by a fountain at the base of the column.

Next to the statue of Columbus is an entire city block that commemorates this Spanish hero. It is made up of the Gardens of Discovery, where the Spanish flag is located, and another monument to Columbus.  The large monument along Calle de Serrano (Serrano Street) is made up of three large concrete structures that represent the three ships in the voyage to the New World in 1492. The monument was sculpted by Joaquín Vaquero Turcios.  The three sculptures bear texts and figures related to the history of Columbus.

Monument commemorating Columbus' voyage in 1492.

Monument commemorating Columbus’ voyage in 1492.

History Comes Alive

In writing these posts about National Day in Spain, I had to rely somewhat on the internet. Sadly that is because my time at many of these monuments was so limited and because of the language barrier.  (For example on both of my trips to Madrid, I walked through Columbus Square, but never got up close to any of the monuments.)

It is one reason why I take so many pictures and keep a journal when I travel. When I’m back home scrapbooking or just looking at my photographs, it brings my travels, even the minutest details, back to life.  And I can research and translate things more at my leisure, like I did for these posts.

This 2-part series on Christopher Columbus has made my Spanish travels richer and more meaningful, and given me a greater understanding of American history as well. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse of these historic places and monuments to Christopher Columbus in Spain.  I leave you with a few photos from this special day in Madrid.

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