Victoria in Madrid

Victoria liked Madrid very much …

Sol square

I took the pic above at Puerta del Sol. Can you see the sign to the right of that gorgeous girl? It says “Puerta del Sol”.

(Btw, this post has nothing to do with Victoria’s Secret).

Center of Spain

Puerta del Sol (pic above) is Madrid’s most famous square. It marks more or less the geographical center of Spain.

Madrid street

Arenal Street comes out in front of Puerta del Sol. Victoria lived in that street. Victoria loved this old, bohemian, charming and dazzling neighborhood, known as “el Madrid de los Austrias” …

el viejo Madrid

Arguably, the most famous institution of the 21st century in Madrid is its football (soccer) club: the Real Madrid.

The Real Madrid team plays at the “Santiago Bernabeu Stadium”, which is located far away from Victoria’s neighborhood.

Real Madrid stadium

David Bekham played in the Real Madrid team a few years ago. He was (and he is) married to an English lady named Victoria Bekham, who was a singer in a pop group called “Spice Girls”.

Well, this post is not about that Victoria.

In fact, our Victoria has nothing to do with soccer nor pop music.

Let’s go on.

This is the city of Ávila (Spain):


Ávila is surrounded by an enormous medieval wall. This old city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

Ávila walls

Victoria was born in Ávila.

Teresa, a courageous, intelligent and very good person, was born in Ávila too.

Teresa was some 30 years older than Victoria, but the former exerted a strong influence on the latter. Some people say that Teresa and Victoria’s parents were good friends, but to be sincere I am not very sure about this fact.

As a teenager, Victoria was sent to a college in Rome, Italy.


Victoria was very successful in Rome and made a lot of friends there, but suffered a strong homesickness.

Consequently, Victoria decided to return to Spain.

Thanks God, and thanks to a well-heeled neighbor from Madrid named Felipe, Victoria got a good job in Spain’s capital.

Madrid 7

To put some light on this story, I’ll tell you that Victoria lived in a richer Spain than today’s Spain. In other words, I am referring to a time previous to the fall of Lehman Brothers …

Madrid 6

Ok, now that everything is clear, let’s walk for a while through el Madrid de los Austrias and let’s meet some of the bohemian neighbors of Victoria …

This is the San Ginés’ Church:

Saint Gines Madrid

It is a nice church with a long history and with some hidden surprises. Victoria liked this church very much.

Just behind the church there is a narrow alley called Pasadizo de San Ginés. In this alley there is a chocolatería called … San Ginés.

Madrid chocolate

Chocolate con churros is an energetical breakfast, very typical in Madrid:

with churros

There is also an old book store in the very same alley. They sell very strange books. Perhaps, if you are lucky, you’ll find here a novel written by an imaginative neighbor named Miguel. Victoria was just one year younger than Miguel the writer. I don’t know if they were friends. Probably …

Madrid bookstore

But let’s come back to San Ginés’ Church. Let me show you one of those hidden surprises that I mentioned before. Some time ago (remember: this is a time previous to the fall of Lehman Brothers) a Greek inmigrant came to this neighborhood in search for a job.  He was a painter. He was 7 years older than Victoria. Like Victoria, he pretended to be hired by Felipe (the well-heeled neighbor), but was unsuccesful. His paintings were too odd, colourful and expresionistic for Felipe’s taste.

Fortunately for him, Doménico (the Greek inmigrant) found a job in Toledo (Spain, not Ohio).

And fortunately for me (I like his strange paintings very much) there is a painting by Doménico hidden (literaly speaking) in San Ginés’ Church. It was some kind of miracle that I could find it and take this photo for my happy few followers:


Let’s go on.


This neighborhood is very traditional.

Madrid shop

This is an old barbershop:


I’ll tell you a secret. Do you see this discrete door (pic below)?

Carboneras Convent

It belongs to a convent known as “Carboneras” (Corpus Christi Monastery). Its church is very nice, with a baroque retable made by Antón de Morales and a spectacular painting by Vicente Carducho (Carducci)

The secret is this one: ring the doorbell, go in (if the kind nuns want to open the door for you, because they are cloistered nuns) and ask for some pastries made by the nuns. Buy a box at the old “torno” (revolving pass-through similar to a lazy Susan). You’ll make an act of charity and you’ll get a box of delicious pastries, or almendrados, or naranjitos  …

Pastries Carboneras

Let’s go on.

The restaurant you can see in the pic below is really old. To be precise, it is the oldest restaurant in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It is open since 1725.


This is Plaza Mayor:

Madrid main square

Some people love taking relaxing cups of café con leche in Plaza Mayor …

coffee Plaza Mayor


Madrid Plaza Mayor

El Madrid de los Austrias has some others interesting, tranquil plazas and gardens, like this one:

Anglona Garden

That (above) is the Prince of Anglona Garden, and this (here below) is Plaza de la Villa:

Plaza de la Villa Madrid

Now follow me. Let’s walk around the Palacio Real (Royal Palace):

Royal Palace Madrid

In 1738 King Philip V ordered the construction of this impressive Royal Palace, which spanned 30 years. It replaced the previous palace (known as the “Royal Alcázar” ) which was destroyed by fire in 1734.

Palacio Real Madrid

The Royal Palace is well worth a visit. It is full of paintings, sculptures, luxurious furniture and tourists. No pics allowed in its interior.

Royal Palace of Madrid

Just in front of the Royal Palace there is a big square named Plaza de Oriente.

In its center there is an awesome statue.

Awesome statue

This statue is awesome because:

1.- The horse rears, and the entire weight of the sculpture balances on the two rear legs; a feat that had never before (1640) been attempted in a figure this size.

Philip IV horse

2.- It is awesome because it is a very well executed work of art. It was a made by the Italian sculptor Pietro Tacca and the Spanish sculptor Juan Martínez Montañés.

Madrid statue

3.- It is awesome because its artistic design was made by Diego Velázquez (one of the greatest painters in history) and its scientific design (in order for the horse to withstand centuries in that tiring position) was made by the Italian Galileo Galilei (one of the greatest physicists in history).

In other words: teamwork at its best.

Felipe IV Madrid

The guy riding the horse is King Philip IV of Spain. He ruled Spain between 1621 and 1665.

The sun burns. Let’s go on.

Opera square Madrid

At the other side of Plaza de Oriente is the Teatro Real (Opera Theatre)

Teatro Real Madrid

Victoria liked music very much, but I don’t know if opera was included …

Verdi in Madrid

I am hungry.

As I told you before, Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) was a great painter. Most of his works are in Madrid, in the Prado Museum.

The Prado Museum

I mention the great Velázquez because I am hungry. Velázquez painted a “Woman Frying Eggs” …

I like fried eggs very much.

There are lots of traditional restaurants in Victoria’s neighborhood.


The best place to eat such a simple and delicious dish as fryied eggs (or a variation with potatoes called “huevos rotos”) in Madrid …

Lucio's huevos rotos

… is Casa Lucio.

Casa Lucio Madrid


I’m fine now. Let’s go on. We are about to finish this story about Victoria in Madrid.

This is the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales:

Royal Convent in Madrid

The convent resides in the former palace of King Charles I of Spain and Isabel of Portugal. Their daughter, Princess Juana de Austria, founded this convent of nuns in 1559.

Juana de Austria

Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Las Descalzas Reales attracted young noblewomen and rich widows. Each lady brought with her an offering. Works of art and all kinds of treasures quickly piled up, and the convent became one of the richest convents in Europe.

The Dowager Empress María of Austria (Princess Juana’s sister) lived from 1583 in retreat in this convent.

On 26 February 1603, the Empress María of Austria died.

María de Austria

Victoria composed a Requiem for her …

On 27 August 1611, Victoria died. He was buried in the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales, although nobody knows exactly where.

End of the story

STARRING (in alphabetical order):

Doménico (the Greek immigrant): El Greco, born Doménikos Theotokópoulos (1541 – 1614). He was a painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. “El Greco” (The Greek) was a nickname. 

2014 marks the 400th anniversary of El Greco’s death. A host of celebratory events and exhibitions are being held across Spain this year, specially in Toledo, where El Greco spent most of his creative time. (Btw, did you read Covetotop’s A walk through the old Toledo and Lost in Toledo?)

The angelical musicians painted by El Greco in The Annunciation (The Prado Museum) are playing instruments from Victoria’s time.

Felipe (the well-heeled neighbor): Philip II (Felipe II in Spanish; 1527 – 1598) King of Spain.  In that epoch (previous to the fall of Lehman Brothers, as I told you)  Spain reached the height of its influence and power. The expression “The Empire on which the sun never sets” was coined during Felipe’s time to reflect the extent of his possessions. Juana of Austria and María of Austria were his sisters.

Miguel (the imaginative writer): Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547 – 1616). He was a novelist, poet, and playwright. He wrote Don Quixote. My dear follower, did you read Covetotop’s Don Quixote and Don Miguel? No? What are you waiting for?

Teresa (the good and intelligent lady from Ávila): Saint Teresa of Jesus, also called Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515 – 1582). 

In 2015 the world celebrates the 5th centenary of her birth. More info about said celebration (in English):

 She lived like a saint and wrote like an angel …

Victoria: Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548 – 1611), scholar, mystic, priest, singer, organist and composer. The Spain’s finest Renaissance composer (“Victoria is the best Renaissance composer, period” – Harry Christophers) was also chapelmaster at the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales (Madrid) from 1587 to the end of his life in 1611. He was chaplain of King Philip II’s sister, the Dowager Empress Maria de Austria, widow of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II.

The death certificate of Tomás Luis de Victoria can be found in the archives of the San Ginés’ Church. At the Church’s entrance, there is a commemorative plaque with the names of three of its glorious parishioners: Francisco de QuevedoFélix Lope de Vega and Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Victoria in San GInés Church

The street that connects (roughly speaking) the Royal Convent of Las Descalzas Reales to the San Ginés’ Church is named “Maestro Victoria Street”.

Maestro Victoria Street

That plaque is simply embarrassing: that caricature of a bald monk has nothing to do with any of the real portraits of Victoria that have survived up to our days. The birth and death dates are deathly wrong too. It is a pity to dedicate a street to such a great person and paying so little attention to him.

Some of the very best choirs of the world (which happen to be British) do pay a lot of attention to Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Harry Christophers (conductor) and The Sixteen (choir and period-instrument orchestra) are probably the best interpreters of Renaissance music in the world. 

Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort & Players are very good too … 

The Ensemble Plus Ultra  like Victoria very much and celebrate his works very well under the direction of the Australian conductor Michael Noone (Their Victoria recordings won the Gramophone Award 2012

The Spanish choirs Schola Antiqua and La Colombina recorded the wonderful version of Victoria’s Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae,  which I am listening while I write this post …

I am realizing that this post about Victoria is getting too long.

If you have reached this far in this post, I sincerely thank you. You are a very loyal follower and a good digital friend –my few human friends have no interest at all in Renaissance music-.

Or perhaps you like Victoria’s music as much as I do.

Whatever the case, you deserve to watch a wonderful documentary made by the BBC   named “God’s Composer”, dedicated to Victoria. Look for Tomás Luis de Victoria God’s Composer in YouTube and you’ll enjoy a superb production about this master, and you’ll see the amazing choir The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers, playing (and commenting) his divine music.

And if you are really crazy, read this marvelous (and free) book: “Spanish cathedral music in the Golden Age” (Robert Murrell Stevenson.  Berkeley, University of California Press, 1961). 1/3 part of this book is devoted to Victoria.

In 1605 Tomás Luis de Victoria published his Requiem (Officium Defunctorum, sex vocibus, in obitu et obsequiis sacrae imperatricis) and Miguel de Cervantes published his Don Quixote.

Real Madrid Barcelona FC

By 2014 the Spanish Golden Age is definitively over.


About Covetotop

A Mediterranean blogger
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30 Responses to Victoria in Madrid

  1. Amanda says:

    Lovely post. These are all of my favorite things, fav writers, food, painters, rulers. It’s very funny, subtle humor too. Yo fui a Madrid en mi luna de miel y me enamore! Gracias por acordarme de todo. Necesito regresar.

    • Covetotop says:

      Thank you, Amanda. I am glad you liked it. Certainly all the bohemian (and the “well-heeled”) neighbors featured on this post were great people. Chocolate con churros es un estupendo desayuno o merienda. And the “huevos rotos” is a delicious and extraordinarily simple dish. Si algún día regresas, encontrarás este barrio exactamente igual de encantador que siempre … 🙂

  2. Trish says:

    Wow, this was a lot of work. But how interesting! And it’s not over yet – now I’m going to listen to some of the music you recommend. Thanks Covetotop.

    • Covetotop says:

      Yes, it was! Specially, writing all those long and complicated paragraphs in English (I am afraid they are full of grammatical errors). I envy all those skilled writers/translators –like you- who are able to write marvelously in two or more languages. On the other hand, taking the pics was not a hard work, it was a pleasure, because Madrid is a wonderful city to walk (and to take pictures).

      I am sure you’ll like Victoria’s music very much. Renaissance music is a little difficult at first listening, because it is very different to that of our times (or even to classics like Mozart) But if you allow it the time to properly blossom in your heart, you’ll be very gratefully surprised. As an introduction, I cannot but recommend the BBC’s documentary “God’s composer” (easy to find in YouTube). It contains some awesome Victoria choruses sung by The Sixteen and a very clear introduction to that wonderful music and its time. Thank you very much for your interest and for your –as always- kind and encouraging comment, Trish!

  3. Aquila says:

    Victoria is one of my favorite composers. I’ve sung O Magnum Mysterium. Nice to see the places he knew in life.

    • Covetotop says:

      So you are one of the “happy few” human beings that have found and understood that mostly unknown (statistically speaking) realm of peace and beauty named Victoria’s music … Thank you for commenting, Aquila.

  4. Aggie says:

    Storyline had me laughing… I know Verdi but not Victoria. Will put him on my list to explore. Thanks. –Aggie

    • Covetotop says:

      Thank you, Aggie! Yes, you should put Victoria on your list. Be patient with Victoria, his music is complicated at first listening, but very rewarding for sensitive people –like you-. You won’t be disappointed! 😉

  5. harri8here says:

    C2T, this dish of red herring has been prepared with such imagination and flair that it could be on the menu at Diverxo. So very witty.
    Wonderful images of Madrid, although I would have loved to have seen Victoria caminar a través de los árboles de El Retiro ;). And what a treat to catch a glimpse of those El Greco colours in San Ginés’ Church.
    Me encanta this portrait of Victoria, and thank you too for elaborating on that magnificent statue.
    I gave up sugar back in February but I would very much like a breakfast of Chocolate con churros followed by some fried eggs con huevos rotos. Can you oblige my deliciously greedy wish? (You might then need to wheelbarrow me to the retiro so that I can recover in green shade, or to Sorolla’s garden if that is more convenient). HR8

    • Covetotop says:

      Oh my! I hope that my humble dish will never be on the menu at Diverxo. Their waiting list: almost one year. (Btw, they are about to open another restaurant in London)

      I know that you like El Retiro very much. It is a really wonderful park. Caminar a través del Retiro es una experiencia maravillosa. You are right. Perhaps it deserves an exclusive post … But I am sure that such an adventurous peregrina of the Camino de Santiago like you don’t need to be wheelbarrowed through El Retiro, although chocolate con churros is certainly a heavy breakfast 😉

      Very few people know Sorolla’s house and garden. It is a delightful museum. I am realizing that you are an expert in Madrid …

      You didn’t give up sugar. Your comments are as sweet and delightful as always 🙂

      • harri8here says:

        I also hope that your humble dish is omitted from such a restaurant because in truth my tastes are far simpler, but your post was so mouth-wateringly tiered I couldn’t resist making the comparison. I should have compared it instead to an Oriol Balaguer creation, for which I did not have to queue but take away and eat under a tree. Yes terrific indulgence and it was sad not to share it with anyone.
        I’m certainly no expert of Madrid. Fancy visiting such a splendid city for four days and spending at least 60% of the time in the Retiro?! However it’s true that I roamed the streets too, and discovered the oasis of Sorolla’s house (there’s a lecture about him at Instituto Cervantes De Londres next week which I’m hoping to attend 🙂 )

      • Covetotop says:

        Oriol Balaguer and his chocolate cakes, Sorolla, El Retiro … As I said before, your comments are always sweet and delightful … 🙂

        Btw, if you like chocolate, croissants and all kind of cakes, next time visit Moulin Chocolat. It is my favorite patisserie in Madrid and it is located just in front of El Retiro (Alcalá Street 77). It is very little, but their cakes and chocolates are simply superb.

  6. harri8here says:

    I wonder whether you share the red herring idiom in español?

    • Covetotop says:

      Your intuition (that of supposing that I had no idea about what “red herring” is) was absolutely right. When I read your first comment, I didn’t know what the word “herring” meant. So, I checked the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and found this definition: “Any of a large family (Clupeidae) of soft-finned bony fishes (as the herrings, shads, sardines, and menhadens) that have a laterally compressed body and a forked tall and usually occur in schools”.

      My first thought was: HR8 says that my post is something like a sardine that goes to the school.

      My second thought was: perhaps I should quit blogging in English. I am not able to deal with this complicated language properly.

      My weak brain was about to produce a third thought when your new comment appeared on the screen. The key wasn’t “herring”. The key was “red herring”. Oh my! Thanks to Wikipedia I don’t quit blogging in English yet (“Red herring «arenque rojo»: es un modismo del idioma inglés. Se refiere a una maniobra de distracción,1 una falacia lógica que desvía la atención del tema tratado.2 También es usado como un recurso literario que lleva a los lectores o personajes a una falsa conclusión, es usada frecuentemente en los géneros de misterio o ficción detectivesca”)

      Thank you HR8. Your comments are always truly welcome. 🙂

  7. Trish says:

    Hi again, I watched “God’s Composer” this morning, and learned a lot. Thanks for telling me about it. I’ve learned so much about Spain from your blog, all I need to do is go and spend some time there. Not just a few days.

    • Covetotop says:

      Hi Trish. I am glad you watched it. I liked this documentary very much. Don’t hesitate coming to Spain when possible. You won’t be disappointed!

  8. Oh man, I wish you had posted this before I was there with my friend Deena in January! Guess I have to go back 🙂

  9. a ferreira says:

    The brave Covetotop! You’re doing more for your Country here than any politicians will ever be able to even start imagining.
    Your blog is a wonderful refuge, brilliant and engaging, so much that it can sometimes be painful. Every time I reach the end of a post I can’t stop me from thinking: – That’s it? There’s no more? This is the compact version, where then is the full version? 😉
    Brilliant, is the word! 🙂

  10. Sarah says:

    Missing your posts, Covetotop! I need another virtual trip to one of your lovely places. 🙂

    • Covetotop says:

      Hi Sarah! I have been out of the blogosphere for a looooong while, but I am almost back. Thank you very much for your interest, my loyal friend! 🙂

  11. What another great blog! I loved the detail and the great pictures you took! Yes, San Gines is the burial place of Juan Hidalgo and his son, I believe. His wife may have been buried there, too. I really must look up that piece of youtubery where the BBC features the great Victoria! Thank you so much for your comments about my Bruckner posting! And for looking at so many more of my bits and pieces! You could do worse that read ‘The Harpist of Madrid’ – much of it takes place in the area of the city you so eloquently describe! (One minor glitch – I think Philip IV reined from 1621 t0 1665, but a minor point!)

    • Covetotop says:

      “The Harpist of Madrid” is now on my “must-read list”. It is a long long list, but tempus fugit … San Ginés is certainly a surprising church. Lots of talent and history within its walls. I love this church.
      (Glitch corrected, thank you!)

      • Hi Covetotop, Did you read “The Harpist of Madrid”? Just curious! Best wishes, Gordon

      • Covetotop says:

        Hi Gordon. It is still on my “to-read-list”. The problem is I don’t get to read as much as I would like… And the same goes with my writing (see this blog). But I hope to enjoy more free time next summer. Best wishes

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