My friend, whom I had not seen since January 2020 as the pandemic kept us apart, dropped by for a visit as she was in the area. Since the weather forecasting had not been promising, I had not booked anything, but given her a bunch of options to do. She was particularly taken by the castle in Manzanares El Real, a town in the Madrid area, so we drove there.
The palace-castle Castillo Nuevo de Manzanares El Real was built in the late 15th century as a replacement of the previous one by the House of Mendoza. The noble family was given control over the area the previous century, and after a hundred years living in the older castle, the new one was commissioned to Juan Guas, who designed the building in a on a Romanesque-Mudejar style. It was built in granite stone, with Isabelline Gothic decoration, mixing defensive / military, palatial and religious architecture. It was inhabited for about a century before it was abandoned. The castle was declared a Cultural Monument in 1931, and it has undergone several restorations. In 1961, it was used as shooting location for Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren’s “El Cid” film.
Considered one of the best-preserved castles in the Madrid area, the building it has four towers, six floors, and a central patio. It holds a collection of tapestries, and most of it can be walked. Unfortunately, the towers cannot be climbed, but you can walk around the walls, both in the terraced gallery and outside. It was a bit overpriced, but well-worth the visit.
We made a pause for lunch and tried the best wild asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius) that I have had in ages – just grilled with salt and lemon. We had some croquettes too.
As we had walked into the village for lunch, we only had to walk a little further to find the ruins of the original castle Castillo Viejo de Manzanares el Real. At the moment, only the foundations can be seen, though it is similar to the new one. The archaeological excavation started in the year 2022, but nothing much is known of it, except this one was an actual military fortress that predates the new castle. From there, the views of the new castle and the local church make a nice skyline of sorts.
It was still early in the afternoon, so I suggested stopping by Alcalá de Henares. I wanted to make a stop at a shop to check for something, but after a quick visit to the shopping centre, we moved on to what is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting buildings in town – the small palace house Palacete Laredo. Built in the Neo-Mudejar style, it is a bizarre combination of mosaics, moorish-like decorations, and vibrantly-coloured windows that somehow work, somehow. Though only about half of the building can be visited, I just find it bizarrely alluring. My friend loved it. Furthermore, the building has a few Complutensian Polyglot Bibles in display – the first polyglot edition of the Christian Holy book, published in the 16th century under the patronage of the Cardinal Cisneros, a key figure in local history.
We continued on, and walked round the city. We saw two back-to-back weddings at the cathedral Santa e Insigne Catedral-Magistral de los Santos Justo y Pastor – that meant we could not snoop into the cathedral, but we did see one of the brides arrive in a Rolls Royce.
Finally, we dropped by the archaeological museum Museo Arqueológico Regional, which has opened a very interesting new palaeontology ward – holding reproductions and real fossils of animals that used to live in the Madrid area, with a few coming from the palaeontological site of Cerro de los Batallones – most interestingly a Tetralophodon longirostris and a Machairodus aphanistus sabretooth cat.
We did a little more shopping afterwards, and eventually we drove off into the sunset… and the traffic. We ended up walking for 12.47 km (19078 steps), and driving for a good three hours, though M40 was so busy it actually felt like much much longer.