Madrid – The Palace And Armory

The first place of interest in Madrid after the Prado is the royal palace. It is one of the finest in Europe, and stands upon the site of the Alcazares, which date from the eleventh century, and were destroyed. by an earthquake. Another palace was built here by Henry IV., and enlarged by Charles V., whose successors, Philip II. and Ill., embellished and finished it in royal style. On Christmas night in 1734, fire consumed this splendid edifice, with its countless treasures, and Philip V. determined to build upon its ruins a new structure which should eclipse Versailles. It was begun in 1737, and not completed so as to be habitable till twenty-seven years had passed. It cost nearly five millions of dollars, and drew from Napoleon the remark to his brother Joseph, whom he had made king of Spain, in 1808, “My brother, you will be better lodged than I am.”The building is of white marble, and forms a square of four hundred and seventy-one feet, and is one hundred feet in height, containing three stories, the lower massive and the upper ones lighter, with Doric and Ionic columns. A wide cornice runs around the top, over which is a stone balustrade, whose pedestals are crowned with vases, in place of the heavy statues which once ornamented the railing, but were removed to the Plaza Oriente, on account of their weight. The southern facade has five noble entrances to the extensive patio or courtyard, which is one hundred and forty feet square and is surrounded by an open portico of thirtysix arches on the first story, and the same number above. The second gallery is inelosed with glass windows, and doors open from this gallery into the royal apartments and the magnificent chapel. A grand staircase of white and black marble ascends to this gallery. There are four statues of Roman emperors who were natives of Spain in the court: Trajan, Adrian, Honorius, and Theodosius. On the first floor are thirty salons, with frescoed ceilings and elegant furniture, including a multitude of clocks collected by Ferdinand VII. and Charles V. The latter monarch wittily observed that if the king could not make any two clocks go alike, it was foolish to expect that he could make men’s heads think alike.

The situation of the palace is superb, dominating the town, overlooking the palace garden along the channel of the river Manzanares, which is dry for a great part of the year, and commanding a splendid distant view of the Purdo and the Guadarrama range of mountains, which are often covered with snow. We went up to this royal residence on a bright May morning to see the guard-mounting. The royal band, one of the finest in the world, marched into the courtyard and up the marble staircase, playing martial airs, and then gave a morning concert of half an hour for the benefit of the queen regent and the little king, who were supposed to be at breakfast. A crowd of strangers and residents thronged the patio and the lower galleries. When the programme was ended, the band marched away as it had come, the squadrons of cavalry and squares of infantry manoeuvred in the open space on one side of the palace, while the royal carriage stood in waiting for the morning drive of the little king. We had not long to wait. Troops were drawn up in line at the main entrance, through which the carriage passed. The queen, veiled like all high-class Spanish women, sat on the back seat, and beside her a pleasing blond boy in sailor costume. As they drove away he got up on the seat and. kissed his little hand to his sister, who waved her handkerchief from one of the upper windows of the palace. It was pleasant to see this bit of home life in the centre of the magnificent display which environs the life of a king.

The stables and coach houses of the palace are situated upon its northern side, and occupy a vast space. There are many beautiful horses of rare and costly breeds and rich and rare colors, and finer mules than are to be found elsewhere. No one who has seen these tall and high-bred animals, would ever speak disrespectfully again of that neutral gender of quadrupeds, in spite of their long ears and uncomely tails. The carriages are of all sizes and shapes, gilded and bronzed, inlaid with pearls and gems, adorned with costly painting and invested with traditions and memories which add to their interest. Among them is the carriage in which Crazy Jane, the wife of Philip L, carried about with her the body of her husband. She was mad with jealousy while he lived and would not let his corpse be buried till she could lie beside him in the grave. There are saddles here of embroidered velvet and embossed leather, chiefly in the style which we call Mexican, raised before and behind, with huge metal stirrups highly ornamented, and bridles to match. Though not equal to the Russian exhibition of equine caparisons, this Spanish horse show was a very handsome affair.

But the great museum of the place is the Armory, which is considered the finest in the world. All armories have a general resemblance; but that of Madrid, besides its size, is celebrated as containing armor and swords which belonged to many of the greatest knights and personages in history; and whose value from an artistic point is also very great. Here are the swords of the Great Captain Gonsalvo de Cordoba, of Francisco Pizarro, the conqueror of Peru, and of Hernan Cortez. Here is the complete armor of Charles V., in which Titian painted him, and his sword brought from the monastery of Yuste after the emperor’s death, a weapon which was wrought by Juan de Toledo. In one place we are shown the suit of armor which was worn by Boabdil, the last king of Granada, who surrendered the Alhambra to Ferdinand and Isabella, and not far away the authentic armor, weighing forty-one pounds, which incased the gigantic form of Christopher Columbus, who, in the reign of the same monarchs, “gave to Castile and Leon a new world.” There are beautiful inlaid Toledo blades, helmets and shields, crowns of gold, sceptres and crosses, the iron inkstand of Charles V., and, strange to say, revolvers of Spanish workmanship, made two centuries before Colonel Colt was born, and a breech-loader which is equally ancient.

We realized, as we reviewed this great arsenal of killing implements, that man was truly “a fighting animal,” and that the power of that gospel which can change such a nature and bring the precept, “Love your enemies,” into practical operation, seemed, in the midst of such a museum, indeed superhuman. In spite of wars and rumors of wars, the principles of peace and brotherhood which Christ taught do make progress; the very front of war is less horrid than it used to be. The great armaments of nations and the inventions for the destruction of life are often guarantees of peace and arbitration, and we believe that the time will come when swords shall be beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruning-hooks, when men shall learn war no more, and the Prince of Peace shall rule in righteousness over a redeemed world. Some things besides wars must cease before that blessed epoch, and among them are the cruelties and barbarities of men to the lower animals, which find dreadful and degrading expression in Spain, especially in the brutal bull-fights.