Madrid: Palacio de Cibeles, Royal Tapestry Factory, CaxiaForum, and Sorolla Museum

Today, my last full day on this trip to Spain, I went to the Palacio de Cibeles, the Royal Tapestry Factory, the CaxiaForum, and the Sorolla Museum.

Palacio de Cibeles

An exterior shot of Palacio de Cilebes

The Palacio de Celebes is a cultural centre, née post office headquarters.

The building is, in my opinion, grandiose. I mean that in a good, not sarcastic or condescending way. It’s grandiose, but not overwrought.

The exterior surfaces are relatively clean and white and elaborately designed. The lobby is a tall, mostly open space, with two large, arched skylight ceilings. In the areas below the skylights, the lobby rises a few floors. The upper floors are colonnaded, with arches above the columns. The space between the two atriums is less attractive, likely because it’s below the core building.

A view from the Palacio de Cibeles observation deck.

Rick Steves’ Spain tour book said the building is full of auditoriums and mostly empty exhibit halls. But, he said, the eighth-floor observation deck provides 360-degree views.

I went up. It does.

The views are expansive and attractive. However, Madrid is a fairly flat, old city. The city, correctly, protects its architectural heritage. Consequently, the view of the city is not as dramatic as in a city with soaring skylines or surrounding mountains or hillsides.

Another view from the Palacio de Cibeles observation deck.

That low-rise skyline reminded me of how different my hometown is from old European cities in terms of building heights. In Madrid, there are some taller buildings, particularly farther from the centre. But in central Madrid, some of the best views are from this eighth floor observation deck. In downtown Toronto, an eighth floor observation deck would likely get you a view into an apartment or office window on a low floor of a skyscraper.

Yet another view from the Palacio de Cibeles observation deck.

Royal Tapestry Factory

You probably figured out that the Royal Tapestry Factory (Real Fábrica de Tapices) makes tapestries. But that’s not all it does. It also repairs and restores historical tapestries for museums and makes and repairs rugs.

The Royal Tapestry Factory offers a number of tours per day, which is the only way to visit the factory. They offered only one tour today in English. Obviously, that’s the one I went on.

It was fascinating.

First, I feel the need to clear up a couple of possible misconceptions. For one, “factory” probably plants the wrong mental image in your mind. Scrap that image. Replace it with the image that forms when I say “workshop” instead. However, the English translations I’ve seen all translate the name to Royal Tapestry Factory, so that’s what I’ll go with for the most part here

The second clarification involves the rugs. Make no mistake, these are not the sort of rugs you can buy at the Marketplace in your handy suburban IKEA. They are handwoven. A single rug can take months to weave.

Despite the “Royal” in the name, I think the Royal Tapestry factory would be willing to sell its rugs and tapestries to anyone who can afford them, but they are typically destined for places like the Spanish Parliament.

Oh, what I said about the rugs? That applies to the tapestries too, but more so. The Factory is currently working on a large tapestry project for a palace. The project started in 2011. They expect to finish in 2021. They sometimes stopped work at logical breakpoints to work on other smaller projects, but that’s the kind of work we’re talking about.

Laura, Maybe

I think the tour guide’s name was Laura. However, between her accent and my almost nonexistent familiarity with Spanish names, there is an exceptionally high probability I got that wrong. But I’ll stick with Laura because it’s briefer and more personal than calling her “the tour guide” throughout.

At the start of the tour, Laura provided a plethora of names, facts and figures about the history of the Royal Tapestry Factory. Below are the very few I remember.

The Royal Tapestry Factory was founded in 1721. It wasn’t always in the current building. In the 19th century, city officials forced all factories to move out of the city centre. The land the the Factory constructed the new building on had been olive groves. Today, the city has expanded so much that the Royal Tapesty Facory’s location is considered to be part of the city centre.

Goya, the Goya, worked at the Royal Tapestry Factory for a number of years. I forget exactly when. He drew templates for tapestries.

Goya’s Cartoons

Laura called the templates “cartoons.” I had never heard the word used that way way. I was certain I must have misheard her.

Mishearing her was a reasonable possibility. During the tour, Laura referred many times to workers making notes in the rugs. Notes? They make notes in the rugs?

Then, one time, after saying several times that they make notes, she referred to them tying notes in the rugs. Oh, not notes. Knots.

Later she showed us a drawing of the type of notes knots they use, confirming in my mind that it was knots.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t mishearing her about the cartoons. I subsequently looked it up in the dictionary. Much to my surprise, I learned that one definition of cartoon is, “a full-size drawing made by an artist as a preliminary design for a painting or other work of art.”

OK. Yeah, I know. I’m ignorant, but a little less so now.

Apparently, Goya wasn’t very good at his job at the Royal Tapestry Factory. He liked to paint the cartoons with oil paints, which didn’t provide fine enough lines for the weavers, who need to be able to see where every thread needs to go.

A tapestry in the hallway of the Royal Tapestry Factory.

As part of her Factory introduction, Laura also told us about the history and design of some of the tapestries, two of them historical, on the walls in the hallway where she spoke. The Factory doesn’t own those tapestries. It doesn’t have a collection. They were tapestries restored for museums. Rather than taking them back immediately, the museums allowed the Royal Tapestry Factory to display them.

Laura didn’t say why the museums allowed that. I’m guessing that limited display space may have meant that the tapestries would go into storage if returned to the museums.

The Rug- and Tapestry-Making Workshop.

After the introductory talk, Laura took us into the workshop where they make new tapestries and rugs. There are a number of large wooden looms in the room. They all date from the 18th and 19th century.

In the workshop, Laura described the tapestry- and rug-making process.

The factory had just finished a rug last week and hadn’t started a new one yet. So we didn’t get to see rug-making happening. But a number of workers were busy with the decade-long tapestry project I mentioned above.

Workers work behind the looms. They need to use a mirror on the other side of the tapestry-to-be because their side is entirely obscured by bobbins still hanging on the portion of the tapestry that is in process or already done.

The technology hasn’t changed much since 1721. They now use acetate for one of the many tracings they must make of the cartoon. They use chemical dyes for the silk and wool rather than natural ones because of the better colour accuracy and consistency. And one worker used the zoom on her phone’s camera to get a closer look at what she was doing. But that’s about it for new technologies.

Restoration Workshops at the Royal Tapestry Factory

The Royal Tapestry Factory has two repair and restoration workshops. One works on rugs that are still used as rugs. The other works on historical tapestries and rugs, principally for museums.

We went into the first workshop and saw some workers repairing holes in an old rug. We weren’t allowed in the other because of the delicacy of the tapestries they work on in there.

The Royal Tapestry Factory forbids photography in its workshops. Laura said there are two reasons for that. For one, the workers object. It’s an active workplace. The workers’ job is making and repairing rugs and tapestries. The workers are not exhibits and they don’t want their pictures taken several times every day, Laura explained.

The second reason for forbidding photography is many of the Royal Tapestry Factory’s clients don’t want their tapestries photographed. A clause in many of their contacts states that photography won’t be allowed.


The floating CaixaForum

CaixaForum is not generally rated as a top attraction in Madrid, but I had a few reasons for stopping there, including:

  • The building is incredibly intriguing.
  • CaixaForum is on the route of the rather long walk from the Royal Tapestry Factory to my last destination (other than dinner) of the day. It is near the start of the walk, but at least it broke it up a little.
  • It is near my hotel, which is only a very slight deviation from the route. Why is this relevant? I take great pleasure in using a washroom I think of as my own.
  • Most importantly, I didn’t leave the Royal Tapestry Factory until a little after 1:30 p.m. and it was close to 2:00 when I got to the ClaxiaForum. That may be early for lunch for Madrileños, but it’s late for me. I was peckish, bordering on famished. Rick Steves’ Spain tour book said that CaixaForum’s two levels of galleries are topped by a nice restaurant with a fixed price menu. He suggested starting there and then working my way down to the two gallery levels after that. That sounded like a plan to me.
Under the floating CaixaForum

About the intriguing building, it seems to float a floor above the ground. There is a small central core and a couple of other small pieces moored to the ground, but they don’t seem anywhere near substantial enough to support the building above them.

As I walked under the building to get to the entrance in the central core I was very happy I wasn’t the sort of person who worries at all about such things. As if.

I walked very rapidly into the building, stopping only as briefly as possible to quickly snap the accompanying picture. My thinking was that I had a much better chance of survival if I was in the building as it crashed than if I was under it.

Green wall beside the entrance to the CaixaForum

The second intriguing thing about the building is not the building, but the building beside it. The wall of that building facing the entry plaza of the CaixaForum is a green wall. That is not to say that it’s painted green. In fact, it’s not universally green. It’s green in the sense that it’s completely covered with living plants. 

The restaurant was indeed nice. I lingered for an hour or so over a three-course fixed price lunch. (I typed on my iPhone some of the words for the preceding sections during breaks in my meal.) Even adding a glass of wine and an expresso brought the cost of lunch to still under €16.

The Galleries at CaixaForum

The upper of the two smallish gallery floors in the CaixaForum contained modern art. Pretty well all of it was abstract. One room contained only monochrome paintings. The painters of those used a very narrow range of hues of a single colour to subtly shift the tone of the paintings. Other rooms contained works that used many more colours.

There were a couple of three-dimensional, I’ll call them experiential, pieces. One included a bunch of small tables pushed together and a bunch of lamps. I am reasonably certain that one of those lamps is the same model of rice paper floor lamp that I bought at IKEA and still use in my condo. Although, the artist subtly painted the rice paper of his or hers (I didn’t look at the name of the artist) lamp.

The lower gallery floor was completely different. After I did my little rant yesterday about the museum versus art gallery taxonomy, today I saw a whole gallery of pieces that could appear in either based on my definitions of the two.

The lower gallery floor contained artistic relics from the first few hundred years BCE, back until about 900 BCE. They belong in what I call a museum because they were all ancient artifacts. But they also belong in my definition of an art gallery because all the pieces were intentionally designed with aesthetic qualities in mind. There were small sculptures, reliefs on portions of old walls, jewellery, plates and jugs with designs on them, and more that I’ve forgotten.

The CaixaForum did not allow photography in either of its galleries.


I don’t remember if I’ve always done it, but in the posts on this trip I generally tried to remember to use present tense when describing geographic features, buildings, and permanent collections of art galleries and museums. My thinking on that is that, yes, I saw them in the past, but they’re still there when I write the words and when you read them.

I used the past tense in this CaixaForum section because I believe it displays only temporary exhibits that they replace every few months. I know that is true for the artistic relics exhibit, but I think it’s true for the modern art one as well. So, not only did I see them in the past when I wrote these words, but if you visit the CaixaForum in the future, they may no longer be there. Hence, I used the past tense to describe them.

Not that you care, but I felt the need to justify my inconsistent tense because I fear you judge me. All the other times I’ve been inconsistent in my tense have been totally accidental and completely inexcusable. I apologize.

Sorolla Museum

Entrance to the Sorolla Museum

The Sorolla Museum (Museo Sorolla) is, mostly, an art gallery. Yes, another art gallery. I know that, after slighting so many major galleries, it seems like a weird way to end my trip to Spain, but I have a good reason. A friend recommended it in a comment on yesterday’s post.

By the time you reach 66, as I have, you learn a thing or two. One thing I’ve learned is that life is a little happier when you can choose activities—any activities; films to see, restaurants to go to, parks to walk in, tourist attractions to visit, or whatever—based on whether you have someone to blame if you don’t enjoy them. This places a burden on other people, but it’s their fault for suggesting activities to me.

The Museo Sorolla’s website is a bit weird. If you go to its home page, it unsurprisingly starts out in Spanish. At the top-left of the screen are the words, “Bienvenido  Welcome.” If you click on “Welcome,” the title bar near the top of the screen turns to English, but the rest of the page remains in Spanish. I thought, “Well, that’s helpful. An English title bar, but no useful information in English.” However, if you click the subsidiary pages in the title bar, most, but not all of them are in English.

Qualities of a Great Art Gallery

The Sorolla Museum has at least three qualities that I consider essential for a great art gallery:

  1. It’s fairly small. I didn’t feel anywhere close to catatonic before finishing looking at all of the paintings. This was helped by the fact that the upstairs was closed. A sign blocking the staircase explained why, but it was only in Spanish and I didn’t bother pulling out Google Translate to tell me what it meant. From the outside, it looked like only half the building had an upper floor. So, even if it had been open the gallery still likely would have been sufficiently small.
  2. The flow through the gallery/museum is easy to follow. In fact, it’s next to impossible to not follow the intended flow. I’ve found that in most large galleries a logical flow either doesn’t exist or is far from obvious. I’m sure I unintentionally miss a number of rooms in them. And I know that I even more unintentionally pass through some rooms multiple times. This often greatly frustrates me in large art galleries.
  3. Seniors get in for free! Although, I did pay €2.50 to rent the audioguide.

The Sorolla Museum starts with a couple of calm, beautiful courtyards.

The Artwork at Sorolla Museum

In addition to the Sorolla Museum having the above winning conditions for an art gallery, another point in its favour is I liked the paintings.

All but one of the paintings in the Sorolla Museum are by Joaquín Sorolla. The one that isn’t is the only religious painting in the gallery. It was a gift to Sorolla. The audioguide told me the name of its artist, but I’ve totally forgotten who it was.

Because the gallery is dedicated to a single artist, the style of painting is similar for most of the paintings. Sorolla’s wife and children were his favourite subjects. So, they appear in many of his works.

As my friend mentioned in her comment yesterday, the Sorolla Museum is in what was the home Joaquín Sorolla and his wife, Clotilde García del Castillo. The walls of the various rooms of their home, including the workroom where he prepared canvases, his office, his studio and their dining room, display Joaquín Sorolla paintings.

In addition, the rooms hold some of the home’s original furnishings.

Trip’s End (almost and probably)

I head back home tomorrow. My flight is a little before 1:00 p.m, so I don’t have to rush to the airport early in the morning. But, barring Air Canada notifying me of a multi-hour delay before I leave for the airport, I won’t have time to do anything noteworthy in the morning. So, Air Canada willing, this will be my last post of this Spain trip.

See you next time.


A couples pedestrian signal.

Most of the pedestrian signals at the signalized intersections in Madrid look familiar to me. A single stick figure of green or red is lit to tell me whether to walk or wait.

But some intersections are different. Rather than solo stick figures, they display stick figure couples. Both stick figures are totally androgynous, so they aren’t making a statement about sexuality or gender issues. Still, what are these signals trying to tell me?

I’m single and travel alone. Am I allowed to cross these intersections? If not, can I do so if another single person crosses with me? And, if so, do I have to walk immediately beside that person or can I walk a little over and a few steps behind or in front of her or him?

If as hoc pairing is acceptable, what happens when there are an odd number of pedestrians at the intersection? Does someone have to wait for the next light? Traffic lights tend to be very long in Madrid. Being forced to miss one would be most aggravating.

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting. I’ll never get out of this place.
(Bonus points for getting the reference in the subhead above. Hint: The only relevance to the topic at hand is the waiting.)

And what about waiting? Am I allowed to wait for a walk signal if no one is there or do I have to leave the area of the intersection entirely? All of the above questions about walking apply to waiting too.

But maybe these signals aren’t saying that I have to walk or wait with someone else. Maybe they’re making a broader, derogatory statement about my single status. Maybe they’re saying I should find a mate because they look down on me for being solo.

I always assume everyone I meet judges me on every aspect of my being. But I never worried about traffic signals doing so. Until now. Do I now have to feel angst about them as well?

Madrid should provide single neurotics with a map of the location of these couples signals. A somewhat more direct route is not at all worth the anxiety they engender. 


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