The secret's out: 1992 Madrid is the happening capital of culture

May 31, 1992|By F. Lisa Beebe | F. Lisa Beebe,Contributing Writer

With the Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Expo '92 in Seville and a host of quincentennial celebrations throughout the land, 1992 is indeed the Year of Spain. Not to be upstaged by these events, the Spanish capital, Madrid, has also planned a rich agenda of events, activities and spectacles to fulfill its role as 1992 European Cultural Capital.

In many ways this honor marks Madrid's recent coming of age as a world-class capital. Not since Spain's Golden Age in the 16th and 17th centuries has Madrid been such a hotbed of cultural and commercial activity. In the freshly democratic 1980s, the movida madrilena, which loosely translates as the Madrid Happening, kicked off the capital's whirlwind comeback with a social renaissance that sparked the city's long dormant vitality and imagination.

Fashion designers, writers, artists, intellectuals and filmmakers emerged from seemingly nowhere to forge a dynamic cultural climate that thrust Madrid squarely into the ranks of Grand Tour capitals. Designer Adolfo Dominguez (who dressed "Miami Vice's" Don Johnson for one season), Pedro Almodovar (creator of the acclaimed film "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown") and Camilo Jose Cela (winner of the Nobel Prize for literature) spearheaded Madrid's leap from provincial, low-key municipality to sophisticated, high-profile metropolis.

Not that Madrid was at all a lackluster place before the eruption of the movida. It's just that its numerous charms and cultural treasures were the delectable, shared secret of a privileged few -- those of us who lived in the Spanish capital and the handful of visitors curious enough to venture beyond the Prado, Madrid's premier art museum, to find such jewels as the Museo Romantico or the Sorolla Museum.

For three years before the eruption of the movida, I lived in Madrid. Nowadays, on my frequent return visits, I am amazed at the city's rapid rise to international urbanity after the demise of the Franco dictatorship. Post-movida Madrid is fast-paced, choking on traffic, teeming with trendy clubs and restaurants, bursting with shopping malls and boutiques and studded with the shiny, new headquarters of multinational businesses along its broad avenue of commerce, the Paseo de la Castellana.

In short, Madrid is now on the savvy traveler's short list of world-class capitals, and its reign as 1992 European Cultural Capital promises to attract more visitors than ever with an ambitious schedule of activities grafted onto a cultural agenda that in any given year is already brimming.

Yearly happenings

First, let's take a look at what goes on every year in this fun-loving city. In the fall there is the Festival de Otono (Autumn Festival), several weeks of music, theater and dance performances. From mid-May to June there's the Fiesta de San Isidro (the feast of the city's patron saint), featuring a spirited round of bullfights, street fairs, concerts and theater events. Shortly after that is the start of Los Veranos de la Villa, a summer, all-arts festival lasting through August. Then, before you know it, it's time for the Festival de Otono again.

In the brief respites between these cultural binges are other annual events such as the ARCO contemporary arts fair, which for a week in February draws connoisseurs and collectors from ** all over the world; the International Jazz Festival in November; a year-round concert schedule ranging from rock to opera; and assorted crafts, antiques and book fairs.

But 1992 is special and calls for so much more. So Madrid is plan

ning a culture fest of huge proportions.

Culture fest

Here's a sampling of highlights: performances by Pavarotti and the Berlin Philharmonic; a compelling Velazquez Exhibition at the Prado; a series of concerts, exhibitions and lectures celebrating Spain (Jan. 21-27), Europe (March 16-22), the Americas (May 18-24) and the Latest Discoveries (Oct. 19-25); a series of presentations from Europe's previous cultural capitals -- Athens, Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Glasgow and Dublin; a series of theater performances in the Plaza Mayor, the city's beautiful, 17th-century main square; and a series of events spotlighting Madrid's own historical and cultural heritages.

Madrid first blossomed as a cultural powerhouse in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fueled by its New World colonies, the nation's Golden Age brought to the capital the greatest concentration of genius and talent to be found in Europe. Among its gifted citizens of yore were such men of letters as the playwrights and poets Lope de Vega, Calderon, Gongora, Tirso de Molina and the celebrated novelist Cervantes, all of whom lived near the Palacio de Medinaceli, which is now the elegant and animated Palace Hotel (my favorite Madrid lodging, by the way).

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