Photo Sunday: Madrid

As I’ve mentioned, my wife and I took a trip to Spain last month to celebrate our first anniversary. I’m not going to inflict all my vacation photos on you, but we did see some sights that are relevant to the kind of thing I usually write about on Daylight Atheism. If you’re interested in seeing more, click through to view the rest of the post.

On our first day in Spain, we did some sightseeing in Madrid. Our first stop was the Palacio Real, the official state residence of Spain’s king, Juan Carlos I. He was the handpicked successor of the military dictator Francisco Franco, the one whom Franco had intended to carry on his authoritarian right-wing Catholic theocracy after his death. Instead, Juan Carlos initiated Spain’s transformation into a secular and democratic country – so even though I’m anti-monarchy as a matter of principle, I can’t help feeling admiration for him for that. (Plus, there was this incredibly amusing exchange between him and Hugo Chávez.)

Across the street from the Palacio Real is Almudena Cathedral, the seat of the archdiocese of Madrid. By European standards, it’s brand-new; its construction began in the early 1880s (and was completed in 1993, which is a typical construction time). In 2004, it was the site for the wedding of Prince Felipe, Spain’s crown prince, to his wife Letizia, princess of Asturias. Compared to Spain’s other churches, it’s nothing special – we saw others that were much larger – but I still have to confess: I love cathedrals. I can’t help admiring the craftsmanship, the colors of light in stained glass, and the vast, lofty spaces – even if I think the beliefs of the builders were complete nonsense.

Of particular note was the altar. It wasn’t nearly as large or as ornate as some of the others we saw later on the trip, but it does give you some idea of the vast wealth that’s routinely on display in Spanish cathedrals. (There was a service going on while we were visiting and we couldn’t get too close, hence the slight blurriness of the zoom.)

The wealth of the cathedral and the royal palace was a sharp contrast with something else we saw in Madrid: the main city square, the Puerta del Sol, was taken over by protesters who are angry about bank bailouts and crushing unemployment, particularly among young people. They’ve set up a tent city and festooned the square with posters and banners explaining their grievances:

I can’t fault the protesters for their passion, but I wonder if their efforts weren’t counterproductive. While we were there, Spain had local elections in which the governing Socialist party fared disastrously, while the conservative opposition, the PP, made major gains. I strongly suspect that it’s because thousands of people like this, who are probably the Socialists’ usual base, stayed home in protest. (That said, the conservative party in Spain is probably about as liberal as the Democrats here in the U.S., if not more so.)

Next: The city of Toledo and a museum, once a synagogue, bearing witness to the once-flourishing cultural diversity stamped out by Spanish monarchs.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Andrew T.

    Thanks for sharing. Due to my personal circumstances, world travel is something of a pipe dream for myself at the moment…but I went on a brief European tour four years ago, and relate to a lot of the sights and emotions you experienced in Spain. I’ll be curious to see and read more about what you saw and learned in this long-standing theocracy abroad.

  • Rike D.

    I’m so glad I’m not the only atheist who loves cathedrals! I really believe cathedrals (and probably temples, mosques, etc.) are religions’ only redeemable quality – oh, and maybe the music: I love Gregorian Chants!

  • Polly

    I love cathedrals. I can’t help admiring the craftsmanship, the colors of light in stained glass, and the vast, lofty spaces – even if I think the beliefs of the builders were complete nonsense.

    “An atheist goes to church”
    That’s a good title when visiting a Catholic country. I went to Italy and I was “in church” every day. It’s unavoidable if you want to see anything historic or architectural. I hope you got pictures of Alhambra (from that other version of nonsense).

  • Ebonmuse

    Yes, we did see the Alhambra, and it was spectacular. That was near the end of the tour, and I’m planning to post pictures from one city per week (we did Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Seville, Valencia and Barcelona), so I’ll probably get to that sometime next month.

  • Katie M

    Have I told you how jealous I am? ;)

  • the chaplain

    Thanks for the report and the photos. When I was in Italy last year, I was stunned by the opulent cathedrals. St. Mark’s and St. Peter’s Basilicas are stunning, as is the Vatican museum.