The literature route

 

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THE LITERATURE ROUTE

In order to delve deeper into Spain’s grand history of literature, there is no better place to start our tour than Madrid’s Huertas district. Also known as Barrio de las Letras (District of the Arts), this area was once home to writers such as Cervantes, Lope de Vega and Quevedo. Today, it is replete with theatres, restaurants and bars, many of which have inviting terraces where guests can while the evening away until the small hours of the next morning.
                We begin our tour in Plaza de Santa Ana, the corner of which with Calle Príncipe hosts the Teatro Español (Spanish Theatre), which already existed back in the 17th century under the name Corral del Príncipe. Today, it is still possible to see some of the sculptures dedicated to the famous playwright of the Spanish Golden Age, Calderón de la Barca, and the Granada-born poet Federico García Lorca.
                We continue along Calle Huertas, the street after which the neighbourhood was formerly named, and which today is a popular and lively hub of activity. Here, we find the Casa Museo de Lope de Vega (the Museum and House of Lope de Vega), where the distinguished writer spent the last 25 years of his life. It has been turned into a memorial space for the playwright, and reflects a typical house at the beginning of the 17th century. In Calle Lope de Vega, we come across the Convento de la Trinitarias (Trinitarian Monastery), a simple and austere building. Its small church is constructed on a Latin cruciform. It was declared a national monument in 1921. Its façade features a stone plaque with a bust of Miguel de Cervantes, who was buried in the monastery on 23rd April 1616. His remains were, however, later lost.
                We continue our tour until reaching Plaza de Pontejos, located behind the Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower) in Puerta del Sol, where we arrive at Albeniz Theatre. This zone offers an infinity of traditional shops, inviting us to take a step back in time to bygone centuries.
                A little further on, we discover Cava de San Miguel and the square known as Plaza Mayor today. This is undoubtedly one of the most emblematic places in the city. It is an arcaded square, the porticos of which shelter a range of traditional shops and establishments. The square has nine points of access, one of which is Arco de Cuchilleros, from where it is possible to spot the restaurant Botín. It is said that around 1620, this was a veritable hive of activity for both well-to-do gentry and less affluent characters, going about a colourful array of activities in the area. This was very probably where Lope de Vega found inspiration for the many rogues which featured in his plays. Later, in the 19th century, this traditional Madrid neighbourhood also served as a setting in several novels by Benito Pérez Galdósand was even christened with the sobriquet Madrid Galdosiano by historians. Botín has the honour of appearing in various novels written by the renowned Canarian author. In 1886, Galdós wrote one of his most popular works,Fortunata and Jacinta, in which he also mentions Botín. This is a vast mural in which history, society and the urban profile of Madrid unite to provide the backdrop for a story in which two young and very different women fall in love with the same man. Ten years later, he mentions Botín again in another work, Misericordia, a novel which, along with Nazarín, reveals certain influences of the Russian Dostoievski. In Misericordia, Galdós makes reference to several dishes on the menu at Botín, especially the crème pastries. In tribute to Galdós, Botín named the dining room at its entrance after him.
                Botín has been a meeting point for national artists and writers down through time: Bergamín, Indalecio Prieto, Arturo Barea, Fernán Gómez and the brilliant Ramón Gómez de la Serna were all firm regulars. In fact, Ramón Gomez de la Serna even dedicated several of his famous Greguerías to Botín. This charismatic writer, born in Madrid in 1888, was a frequent guest who always had the last word at the regulars’ table organised there. His curious sense of humour, which could be described as somewhat eccentric, led him on one occasion to give a lecture dangling from a circus trapeze, and when invited to talk at the Academy of Jurisprudence, he read out a letter excusing himself for not being able to attend the event due to illness.
                During their travels in Spain, countless foreign authors have also been seduced by the 18th-century charm preserved by Botín: John Dos Passos, Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, Frederick Forsyth and Ernest Hemingway.
                Amongst those who have dedicated some lines to this restaurant is the English writer Graham Greene, who was born at the beginning of the 20th century. His work is characterised as a reflection of the spiritual conflicts in a world of decadence. After the Second World War, he took to travelling around the globe, also visiting Spain. Amongst his last works is Monseñor Quijote (1982), a novel which, albeit in a moderate tone, confronts Marxism and Catholicism. More recently, another British author, Frederick Forsyth, mentions Botín in his novel Icon, which was set in the convulsed Russia at the end of the 90s. 
                American Pulitzer Prize winner, James A. Michener, whose work has been projected onto cinema screens on various occasions, also mentions Botín in his book Iberia. Concerning Ernest Hemingway, his relationship with Botín and Madrid was so special that we have named one of our suggested routes after him.
                After leaving Botín and crossing Calle Mayor, we take Calle Arenal towards Plaza de Ópera. Between this square and Plaza de Oriente lies the Teatro Real (Royal Theatre), one of the most important opera houses in Spain. Continuing along Bailén, we arrive at Plaza de España, which is presided by the statue of Cervantes and the sculptures of two of Spain’s most famous literary characters, Don Quixote and Sancho. A stone’s throw from here is the final point of interest on our route, the Cuartel del Conde Duque(the barracks of the Count-Duke), which was constructed by Pedro de Ribera to house the barracks for the Royal Guard under the reign of Philip V. The severe walls contrast with the façade which offers access to the cultural centre where the municipal historical archive and the newspaper and periodicals library are housed.