MADRID’S Retiro Park and El Prado boulevard are now officially UNESCO heritage sites – the first-ever for Spain’s capital.
Although Spain has the second-most UNESCO heritage sites in Europe and the third-most on earth – beaten only by Italy and China – its biggest city has never before been home to any.
Now, two of its attractions have jointly become one of these.
At first, it did not look as though the Paseo del Prado, where the art museum of the same name is located, and the massive green Retiro Park which eventually joins it would be accepted as one single site, given that they are not from the same era, but in the end, all 21 countries on the committee voted in favour.
These are Australia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Russia, Saint Kitts & Nevis, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, and Spain itself.
UNESCO committee countries take it in turns, rotating every three years to ensure every member of the organisation is represented.
The El Prado boulevard and Parque Retiro combined, known in Spain as the Paisaje de la Luz (‘Landscape of Light’), fall within UNESCO’s category of ‘Heritage Landscape’, and is only the second city in the world to appear in it.
Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro is the other, for its backdrop of mountains and sea, from ground level with the Sugar Loaf, or Pão de Açúcar, always in sight and, from above, as seen from the Pão de Açúcar itself and from the Cristo do Corcovado, or Christ the Redeemer statue.
For Madrid to join these spectacular views in the same category is a huge boost for the city’s morale and its international profile.
According to the UNESCO committee, Madrid was Europe’s first ‘sustainable capital’ as far back as the 16th century, right in Spain’s ‘Golden Age’ or Siglo de Oro, as it managed to combine culture, science, and nature in one city centre.
Madrid’s key attractions, including the new heritage sites, are within reasonable walking distance of each other and largely within a central hub radiating off the Puerta del Sol square, historically considered to be Spain’s ‘Kilometre Zero’ and, centuries ago, thought to be the dead centre of the mainland.
In practice, it is not, since it is too far north, and where the centre of Spain has long been subject to dispute.
Whilst Madrid city has never before been home to UNESCO heritage sites, the wider Madrid region already had four, making the Paseo del Prado and Retiro the fifth.
The others are the Montejo beech wood, the monastery at El Escorial, the landscape in Aranjuez, and the entire town of Alcalá de Henares.
Published thinkspain.com 25 July 2021