Category Archives: Old stuff

So Many to Visit and So Few Visitors.

Cementerio de La Almudena
Avenida Daroca 90
Opening hours: daily from 08:00 to 19:00 (winter) – 19:30 (summer)
Metro La Elipa or bus 15 from Sol will leave you very close to the main entrance.


Telling your colleagues and friends that you used part of your weekend to visit a cemetery will raise a few eyebrows: has somebody died? Telling them that is was a fun visit only does not help a lot. For die-hard Madrid lovers who have seen it nearly all: Cementerio de La Almudena deserves a spot on your ‘been there, done that’ list. The slightly eerie atmosphere is in sharp contrast with Madrid’s everyday life.


Cementerio de La Almudena was built around 130 years ago, when it was decided that is was better to bury the dead outside the city instead of around the churches. The original graveyard was designed with a capacity of 7.000 funerals a year in mind, around half of all funerals at that time. The modernist entrance, chapel and other buildings constructed at the time may remind you of Gaudí and seem to be meant to accommodate for every Madrileño, rich or poor, from every religion.


Estimations state that around 5 million people have been buried there, but that is a bit hard to believe. True: the cemetery is huge –although you will only discover that walking around, because it is a bit hilly and you will not get an immediate oversight- and most graves are family graves, but 5 million? That would be more than the city’s current and living population!


It is said that the Comunidad has plans to promote the cemetery in a touristy way, indicating directions to famous graves. Luckily, that has not been done yet and the graveyard is best experienced just walking around. Once passed the beautiful entrance, you will quickly find yourself to be the only visitor. Despite many inscriptions on head stones that ‘your wife and children will never forget you’, many family members have done just that because La Almudena, despite the vast number of people buried and bus line 110 running a service through the cemetery, is shockingly quiet. How unlike Madrid. And how unsettling.


Some parts are just very old and on the verge of collapse. 80-Year old graves from presumably very poor people are so dilapidated that you almost start looking for bones. Their wrought-iron monuments are completely rusted and illegible. And then there are the newer graves from rich people, adorned with larger-than-life statues: the circus director apparently very fond of himself, the bull fighter with a copy of himself in bronze. Normal graves are decorated with plastic flowers. How useful if you do not plan on visiting for a long time.


The Art of Talking – Tertulias in Old Madrid

TertuliaBetween the end of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th, Madrid’s favorite pastime – talking, talking, talking – was taken even more seriously than usual. Part of a proper bohemian life was engaging in tertulias, informal gatherings to chat about, of course, everything counter-cultural.

The newly developed tradition of sitting down at a marble table in a red-velvet-and-dark-wood café with a cup of coffee (yes, new!) meant a lot of time could be filled discussing politics, art and bull fighting. In the dozens of cafés especially established to accommodate these heavy talkers, writers would gather to exchange ideas and experiences and read from their work. Painters established new directions and styles over a café solo with a lump of sugar and politicians tested the feasability of their society-changing ideas. Very much an “old skool” and “open source” network, so to speak.

Eventually this little diversion became quite serious, – the gatherings became a force to be reconed with. There were very few influential Madrilenos who did not participate: the tertulias could make or break reputations, careers and governments and so you’d better be there.

Of all the cafés offering tertulias, there is only one left: Café Gijón. Heavily resting on its laurels at this point, books and plaques on its rich history cannot disguise the fact that the current cafe looks rather cutre (tacky); however, there are still some interesting details to be found. According to my waiter, poets, writers and actors still gather to talk about the past, present and future of their professions and, sure enough, actor Manuel Alexandre was engaged in an animated chat with a fellow 90-year-old. A former tobacco seller named Alfonso is honoured with a picture on the wall. It says: Aquí vendió tabaco y vió pasar la vida. Alfonso. Cerillero y anarquista. (Here he sold his tobacco and he saw life going by. Alfonso. Cigarette seller and anarchist). However, the four extra chairs surrounding the actors’ table remained very empty and the spot where Alfonso used to make his money is now filled with a cigarette vending machine. Past glory indeed.

If the tertulia was especially gripping and coffee alone was not enough anymore, our bohemians would head out to L’Hardy, not far away, for something more savoury. This second-storey restaurant is apparently still visited by literary and political Madrid, but the shop on street level with Spanish delicacies and 19th century flair will leave even the most hardened tertuliano speechless for a few moments.

Another option would be Ateneo de Madrid – it was a big name back then and, let’s face it, things haven’t changed. Tertulias are still organized in this theatre/cafeteria/library/museum. If you feel like contributing to the ongoing discussions regarding republicans, Carl Gustav Jung, civil rights, Picasso and primitive arts – to name just a few – this will be your chance. Less interactive but equally interesting classical concerts, recitals and conferences (on ANY topic) are accessible for just 1 or 2 euro.

Go on, bring out the bohemian in you and start talking. 


Article first published on, autumn 2007