Famous Madrid Guiris: Hans Christian Andersen


The other day I was walking through the Plaza del Sol when I noticed a plaque on a building commemorating the stay of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Intrigued, I went away and looked him up, discovering that as well as being famous for his fairy tales, he travelled widely and published his experiences in the form of travelogues. He visited Madrid at the end of a 4 month journey around Spain, from September to December 1862, at the age of 57.

Perhaps he was grumpy from his journey up from Córdoba, which in those days took over 24 hours, but he clearly wasn't too impressed with Madrid at first, saying it has "none of the characteristics of a Spanish town" much less a capital. He complains frequently about the "unspanish" weather, arriving as he did under a heavy snowfall, with "rain and sleet", the "whole promenade was a sea of mud".

But he singles out the Italian opera, and the Museo del Prado as the two things that made the journey worthwhile (although according to him there was nothing else of interest to visitors). Of the Prado, he calls it a "never ending pleasure".   He goes on to describe the Plaza Mayor as feeling like a "prisonyard". He does enjoy the view from the Plaza de Oriente however, and he was particularly enamoured of a statue to Cervantes, in the Plaza de las Cortes. It seems the city did grow on him after several weeks there, because he admits:

I had become quite attached to Madrid on account of the pleasant life I led here.

In particular he cites "the many amiable people with whom I had become acquainted..." Nevertheless he was back across the French border before the year was out.

As a fan of travel books about Spain, I would recommend it: it's a slim but interesting read, especially if you're familiar with the places he talks about, and you get a glimpse of what it was like to be a tourist in Spain 150 years ago.