Hi everybody! I'm in Madrid. At this point, I am probably just getting over jet lag. Our hotel is right smack in downtown Madrid, mere blocks from the Prado. I hope it's nice. Although Madrid is Europe's highest capital city, at 2,120 feet, it's supposed to be damn hot during the summer. This will be a theme of this trip.
Madrid itself was not the capital of Spain until 1561. Its location has the great advantage of being central, but it's not any sort of port or other geographical site, which meant that it wasn't really useful to be in the center of Spain until there was a Spain to be the center of. Once the reconquista was over, and New World treasure started pouring in, then it was time for Spain to become a unified entity rather than a collection of smaller kingdoms.
People often wonder about the Spanish empire, and particularly the decline of said empire and the assumption of 3rd rate power status. A book I have makes the trenchant observation that Spain as empire brings to mind the parable of Dr. Johnson's dog, which surprises you so much by walking on two legs that you do not expect him to do it well. Having a basically poor and ill-endowed corner of the world through good fortune and excellent timing conquer a vast and rich empire is much more the rare occurrance. The subsequent reversion to a subordinate place in world history was a regression to normalcy - like the dog returning to all fours.
At any case, they collected some nice stuff while they were on top, so we're here to see it. I doubt they will let me take it home. I suppose Mexicans and Peruvians might be able to gripe about that, but all Spain ever got out of California was some good legends and a place to send troublemakers you never wanted to see again. Speaking of, did you know that Santa Fe was founded in 1607? Think about that - there were Europeans setting up shop in New Mexico 13 years before the Pilgrims hit the beach and began their own odyssey of dying in droves. And, just as in California, for the colonists in Santa Fe nothing ever happened. They lived, hung around a bit, and died, and Spain never really got back to them. It must have been like being on hold with the DMV, only for several generations.
Anyways. We just got here (Spain), so it's time to have a look around...