Madrid walking tour
During your first weekend in Madrid, Syracuse University Madrid staff and professors offer a guided walking tour of select city neighborhoods.
The tour highlights some of Madrid’s most famous sites, such as Kilometer 0, the Royal Palace, La Latina, and more. Students will learn about Spanish traditions like the New Years’ celebration in Sol, see where some recommended tapas bars are located, and gain basic insights into local history and architecture. The tour ends in Plaza Santa Ana where all are invited to have a coffee or a soda and stay and chat.
Alcalá de Henares
Pay a visit to the Roman city of Complutum origin of Alcalá de Henares, birthplace of the writer Miguel de Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote”and home to one of the most prestigious universities in Spain. Alcalá will amaze you with its monumental churches, convents and picturesque streets.
Senate & Parliament: Political walking tour
Join our political science professor on a walking tour that explores Spain’s young democracy, how it works and what its challenges are. Students will visit Madrid’s Senate, Parliament, the place where the socialist party was founded, and the monuments in Retiro Park and Atocha that pay homage to victims of terrorism.
Upon glancing at the activities calendar, you’re probably wondering what 23F-11M means. This political walking tour will answer your questions. Throughout the four initial study tours, you will explore the history of Spain. The final study tour is dedicated to the Spain of today: how its young democracy was created, how it works and what problems it encounters.
The day will begin with a short introduction on how Spain has become what it is today politically, since the death of Franco in 1975 (the era of Spanish history that we explore on the study tour to Valley of the Fallen and the Pardo palace). In only three decades, Spain changed from an authoritarian regime into a democracy fully integrated into the international community.
On February 23, 1980 (23F), Spain experienced the most dramatic threat to its transition to democracy: A group of armed soldiers stormed the Parliament (Congreso de los Diputados) with the intention of establishing a military dictatorship. If this violent assault had triumphed, the transition would have ended there. However, the King, also the head of the armed forces, firmly maintained his stance on creating a democratic Spain. The coup failed and the process of constructing a democratic state in Spain continued.
Unfortunately, Spain continues to suffer from threats like the terrorism of E.T.A. and the Islamic fundamentalists. We’ll visit Atocha, the site of an Al-Qaeda bombing of a commuter train on March 11, 2004 (11M), an attack in which 191 people died and many others were injured. We’ll pay homage to victims of terrorism at the monuments in both Atocha and in the Retiro park.
You’ll also learn how traditional European political chambers are arranged when we visit the Senate or the Parliament (depending on availability). The majority of European chambers have been arranged in the same fashion since the French Revolution in 1879. This tradition is widely practiced throughout Europe and is bound to surprise you, as it’s quite different from the U.S. system.
Toledo has sometimes been called a “summary” of the history of Spain, and many Spaniards don’t hesitate to declare that if a tourist only had one day to visit our country, it should be spent nowhere other than in Toledo.
We offer our students the possibility to relive for a day the drama and excitement of some of the most amazing chapters in human history while enjoying this beautiful and historical city.
Perched high up on a hill and surrounded by the Tajo River on all but the north side, Toledo looks to the visitor more like a stone fortress than a city. Situated in the center of the peninsula, Toledo was an important Roman center.
In the Middle Ages, Muslim conquerors turned it into one of their most important outposts at the frontier with the Christian north.
After 1085 and the Christian reconquest, its privileged situation, high on a rough hill and with a wide river surrounding it on all but one side, turned it into a natural fortress. Humans did the rest, by raising stone walls that seem to grow out of the ground to protect the buildings that crowd the landscape.
In the past, and perhaps even more today, Toledo was known as “the city of the Three Cultures,” because after the Islamic invasion, under tolerant Muslim rulers, an important Jewish population and a Christian minority shared space and lifestyles with their Islamic lords. That “convivencia” (a word many historians often use today to describe the circumstances of that unique era) and which roughly means “being able to live together in peace,” has left amazing witnesses: beautiful synagogues, mosques, and churches.
In the 16th century, at the height of the Spanish Empire, Toledo became the “Imperial City” par excellence, with Spanish kings ruling often from the majestic castle that looms high above all on top of the highest hill of the town. El Greco, one of the greatest painters of that time, lived and worked there, and it is in Toledo that he left some of his most beautiful paintings.
With the rise of Madrid as formal capital of the kingdom, Toledo lost its luster and became a city anchored in time, a living museum of Spanish history. But with the growth of tourism in Spain, Toledo has now become not just a favorite, but a “must” for Madrid visitors.
Syracuse University in Madrid offers precisely that possibility, allowing its students to relive for one whole day the drama and excitement of some of the most amazing chapters in human history while enjoying this city full of beauty and history.
The Royal Palace of Madrid, considered one of the most impressive in Europe, is a towering structure that has over 250 years of history. It’s the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family in the city of Madrid, but it’s only used for state ceremonies.
Home to the Kings of Spain from Carlos III to Alfonso XIII, Madrid’s Royal Palace is now open to the public.
Long before Madrid became the capital of Spain, Emir Mohamed I chose Magerit (the city’s Arabic name) as the site for a fortress to protect Toledo from the advancing Christians. The building was eventually used by the Kings of Castille until finally becoming what would be known as the Antiguo Alcázar (Old Fortress) in the 14th century. Carlos I and his son Felipe II turned the building into a permanent residence for the Spanish royal family. However, in 1734 a fire burnt the Palace of the Austrias to the ground, and Felipe V ordered the construction of the palace that stands today.
Following the untimely death of Filippo Juvara, the architect originally commissioned to design the palace, it was his pupil Juan Bautista Sachetti who eventually drew up the final plans. However, it was Carlos III who became the first monarch to occupy the new building. His successors Carlos IV and Fernando VII added many decorative details and furnishings, such as clocks, items of furniture, and chandeliers.
The palace, inspired by sketches made by Bernini for the construction of the Louvre in Paris, is built in the form of a square and looks out over a large courtyard with galleries and a parade ground. The decoration of the palace’s rooms and their layout has gradually changed over the years as the building has been adapted to suit the needs of its residents.
Particularly noteworthy rooms include: the Main Staircase, designed by Sabatini with over 70 steps; the Throne Hall, featuring a ceiling painted by Tiepolo; the Hall of Halberdiers, Carlos III’s own room; Gasparini Room, with its grand 18th century decoration on a floral theme; the Royal Chemist’s, with ceramic pots made by the La Granja factory; and the Royal Chapel, which houses a collection of string instruments made by the legendary Antonio Stradivari.
Segovia is a quaint medieval town built around a beautiful castle, a magnificent Gothic cathedral, and an impressive Roman aqueduct. There we will see life as it existed before Spain became a world power.
Segovia is a World Heritage City, with unique monuments which alone make a visit well worthwhile. However, once in Segovia you will find the city offers much, much more. An old Jewish quarter, stately homes, outstanding views, and a green belt which is ideal for a pleasant stroll in the sunshine.
We will understand the importance of water and of fortifications for the Middle Ages; how after bloody civil conflicts between factious kingdoms, Spain became a single country under Ferdinand and Isabella; the importance of Segovia to Queen Isabella, and the conditions that moved Spain from its sideline position as a fledgling nation on the outskirts of Europe, to the center stage of world history with the conquest of Granada from Islam, the creation of a strong unified monarchy, a series of dynastic marriages with the most important royal houses of Europe, and last but not least, the dispatching of Cristopher Columbus into the Atlantic in search of a shorter route to the kingdom of the spices in India but which resulted in the discovery of the American continent to Europeans.
In Segovia you will feel and taste Spain’s very essence.
El Escorial is an awe-inspiring palace-monastery complex just outside Madrid which served as the residence of King Philip II and his court. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984, the Monastery and Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial is the soul of this mountain town, which attracts thousands of visitors every year.
El Escorial is one of the most amazing buildings, not just in Spain, but in Europe. From a series of small kingdoms lying on the outskirts of Europe (15th c.), under king Ferdinand of Aragon and queen Isabella of Castile, Spain went on to become the ruler of the mightiest empire the world had ever seen. First came the unification of Castile and Aragon into one single nation – what we now know as Spain.
Since the late Middle Ages, Aragon had built up a considerable empire of its own in the Mediterranean, with the conquest of Mallorca, Menorca, Sardinia, Sicily, and southern Italy. Those territories became part of the newly unified crown. Through dynastic marriages, the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, Charles V, inherited also the Low Countries (today’s Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg), and after Columbus’s venture and the quick conquest of the Caribbean, Mexico, and Peru, he added to the crown a whole new continent whose discovery changed the world. It was under Charles’s rule that the modern era was born.
That enormous empire was inherited by Phillip II, grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, and he ruled it from his palace-monastery of El Escorial. In that huge complex, decisions were made that affected millions of people: the conquest of the Philippines (named after the Spanish king); the wars against the independence of Holland; the Armada that went to fight against the British; the secular enmity with France; the wars of religion against the Protestant north; the Holy League that defeated the Turks in the waters of Lepanto; the creation of urban centers in the New World such as Mexico City or Lima, Peru; the inroads of the Conquistadors into Florida, Texas, and eventually California…
But the Escorial is also a compendium of the Renaissance: that rebirth of learning, of Humanism and of Roman Antiquity that serves as guidelines for a new understanding of reality, and which became visually embodied in this palace’s awesome architecture, full of classical reminiscences and symbolism.