Mar 212013




Roland G. Simbulan

      A bustling capital with a population of five and a half million inhabitants, Madrid today is a great walking city.  It was King Philip II after whom the Philippines was named, who chose to make Madrid as the capital of the Spanish empire.  The high points of the city are within walking distance of each other.  Spain is today a country that has 40 million people and 17 autonomous local regions.   The state of good health of the Spanish economy is partly attributed to its booming tourism industry, one of the biggest in the entire European Union.  Its tourism industry claims an equivalent number of tourist visitors pers year as its population, the highest in Europe or anywhere in the world.  Just imagine, in 2003, tourism represented some 11.8 percent of Spanish GDP, boosting this country’s economy to fourth largest among the 25-member European Union.  The large number of tourists per year assures employment in a large service sector and the construction and housing industry.

     The large number of tourists in Madrid  has also made it a thriving capital for pickpockets.  During my three-week visit to Madrid upon the invitation of the Spanish government, pickpockets tried thrice but failed to victimize me in the busy shopping areas around the Sol subway station and of El Rastro (flea market), held every Sunday morning at the city’s commercial center.  El Rastro is said to be the world’s largest flea market, enjoyable but it’s also one of the world’s top spots for pickpockets victimizing tourists.  Spain seems to take petty crime so lightly that one feels that authorities don’t care, and it is not even mentioned in the voluminous tourist brochures that are distributed, as long as pickpockets and other criminals target only tourists and leave the locals alone.

     Dr. Jose Rizal, our national hero, was a resident of Madrid where he finished his medical studies at the Facultad de Medicina de San Carlos in June 28, 1884.  It was perhaps during those years of his life and studies in Barcelona and Madrid did he become part of what Spanish historian Santos Julia referred to as ” a side of Spain that we are all aware of today but was nevertheless left out: the history of foreign writers and exiles, the last generation to express a deep love for Spain.”

     I wondered how many times Rizal walked through the narrow cobbled streets of Madrid.  Though Madrid now has a very efficient subway system (Metro), one can literally walk through Madrid, for Madrid is a walking city.

A Taste of Madrid

     The cuisine of Spain is well know to us all. It has influenced Filipino dishes and gastronomy from chorizos, paella, leche flan, rellenos, jamon, chicharones, etc..  Our 377 years of “Mother Spain” has nearly been extinguished except in our Filipino recipes.  A Museo de jamon, which is actually a restaurant that looks like a butcher shop with jamon dangling all around it, can be seen from the Sol station.  With dinner at 9PM, a Filipino will go hungry especially because usually no rice is served.  Rizal and the Filipino expatriates in Madrid must have missed their staple food, rice.

Night Life

     But it is after 9PM that the real Madrid and the real character of the city emerges.  Tapas bars start filling with people as well as those trying to discover the city. If not strolling, one would observe people just sitting in sidewalk bistros while people watching and drinking or enjoying chorros y chocolade as if it were more than enough. Madrid’s nightlife, or “marcha” is said to be comparable only to that of New York City, ” the city that never sleeps”, or Bangkok.  How Rizal must have enjoyed the city’s nocturnal liveliness, withy its surprises and the unexpected.  For there is so much to see even while street-wandering through the night which seems to belong to no one and to everyone.

Remembering Rizal

     Our former colonizer now remembers us with a Metro subway station at the heart of Madrid: Islas Filipinas.  This subway station is between the Guzman el Bueno and Canal stations where the No. 7 train operates.  A trip to the Islas Filipinas Metro station will lead you right into the Avenida de las Islas Filipinas, a long straight avenue which if followed on foot on the left side of the subway station at the corner of Calle Santander, you will find an almost exact replica of the Rizal Park monument of Dr. Jose Rizal. The poem, “Mi Ultimo Adios” of our national hero is engraved in metal both in Spanish and Tagalog on the left and right side of the statue, respectively.

     How many times Rizal must have enjoyed a wide variety of tapas or delicious snacks and appetite whetters such as chorizos in Madrid’s celebrated taverns and bars.  One of his favorite restaurants where he used to have his meals was the VIVA MADRID.  Outside the entrance and above the right hand wall of Viva Madrid restaurant, which is now also a bar, a Rizal marker  is distinctly displayed with the following Spanish inscription:

                                               VIVA Madrid


                      ” En este el heroe nacional Filipino Dr. Jose Rizal se reunia con sus

              compatrios par la eleaboracion de su actividad conjunta en favor de las re-

              formas libertarias para Filipinas.”

     Viva Madrid restaurant is located along the narrow alleyways of Calle de Mansuel Fernandez y Gonzales, near the Sol Station Metro subway, downtown.  And yes, the bartender cum waiter knows why this restaurant is important not only because of the Rizal marker but also because of the throng of Filipino visitors who come and take a lot of pictures of the restaurant.  The Viva Madrid has a sensual atmosphere not only becuse it is dark inside, but also because of the drawings and photos displayed on its half-lighted corridors.  A street corner away from this area is a publwhere our patriotic compatriots, more than a century ago, must have had countless inumans(drinking sessions) and pulutans.

     The ” hijos de pais” of the Propaganda Movement regularly met at the bar called Los Gabrielles.  But Nina, the senorita-bartender of Los Gabrielles told us that he knew nothing of the history of their bar, except that it was old.

     Parque del Buen Retiro, said to be Jose Rizal’s favorite park and haunt, inspired our hero to name his place of exile in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte as “Mi Retiro”.  At the Retiro Park stands at the banks of the lake, a magnificent statue of Alfonsus XII. Spain’s cultural terrain is perhaps enriched by the fact that long ago, it became part of the Roman Empire, also of the Visigoth Kingdoms, and the Arab Kingdoms before it was finally unified in 1492 as a Christian country and then emerged as the Spanish Empire, with intercultural immersions in its colonies in the North Americas and Asia.

     Madrid impresses a visitor as reflective of the Spaniard’s very strong sense of art, of culture, of a sense of history.  Now I am sure that Rizal visited the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid where he must have seen displayed at the Museum Antonio Allegu Llamado Corregio’s painting, “Noli Me Tangere, 1525.”   The painter is said to have lived from 1493 to 1534.  The painting portrays an angel refusing to be touched by a mortal.  The Prado Museum is also the best museum in Europe to see the paintings of Goya, Velasquez and El Greco. Other great museums in Madrid are the Thyssen and the Reina Sofia.  But buildings such as the Post Office Palace, the Congress Parliament and others are also works of art: priceless, artistic, monumental, historic.  The city’s empire-old buildings contribute to a priceless artistic and cultural heritage of old Madrid.

     One cannot miss the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia which highlights a permanent Philippine exhibit on its ground floor, an African exhibit on the second floor, and other ethnic groups on the third floor (Pacific, Eskimo, etc.).  But Rizal would have been aghast at the portrayal of Filipinas in this museum as a backward, tribal society, perhaps deserving to be colonized and civilized.  One cannot but notice the emphasis on the warrior cultura in our islands consisting of Moro swords, shields, armor and other weapons, with additional sections of mountain tribes in the Cordillera.

     Our Embajada de Filipinas in Spain is located in a plush district of Madrid at the corner lot of Calle Eresma #2, 28002. It is a good thing that our cultural office at the Embassy has published a booklet, titled, “Rizal’s Madrid”, which is a walking tour guide to places in Madrid associated with Dr. Jose Rizal.  I felt that it was such a patriotic gesture, except that my physician-colleague, Dr. Manuel Agulto, M.D. , noticed that the Philippine flag on the flagpole of the Embassy was almost nearly in tatters.

     This was such a memorable first visit in the land of a former colonizer which ruled over our country for 370 years.


The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in Sept 10th 2007




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