After returning from El Escorial, we made plans with Little Nicky for our last evening in Madrid, and enjoyed a much needed rest. One of the wonderful things about Europe in June is that the days are long. Having lived in Brisbane, Australia for 4 years, I’d gotten used to the depressing fact that even in the height of summer it will be full dark by 7:30. In Madrid full dark only came after 10pm. It was glorious.
We decided to seek sustenance in Plaza Mayor, center of Old Madrid. Originally a farmers market, Phillip II commissioned a city square be built there when he decided to move the capital from Toledo to Madrid, though it actually wasn’t completed until 1619, which was already during Phillip III’s reign. The plaza has been rebuilt thrice due to fires, with the current look coming into being in 1854, when the 5 story buildings were reduced to 4, and all of the buildings were connected to make a complete rectangle, with the streets now going through archways.
A lot of people see Plaza Mayor as a tourist trap, which I guess it is, since the Madrid Tourism Center is currently housed in the former Casa de la Panaderia (House of Bread, which served as the town’s main bakery), built in 1674, and the only building to survive the 1790 fire. It is the only building in the plaza not painted red, but covered in elaborate frescoes depicting mythical figures. These frescoes date from 1992, as the previous ones needed to be replaced due to deterioration, which is apparently something they’ve had to do several times over the centuries.
The plaza is a cozy place on a summer evening, with twilight just starting to thicken, and a warm soft breeze blowing through the archways. We entered from the northeast corner and started perusing the various cafe menus posted next to the outdoor seating areas. One after another we discarded for various reasons… way too expensive, way to “niche,” way too boring… We finally settled on Eboli, a cafe whose name evoked images of a not too appetizing nature, but whose prices, while not cheap, fit well within our tourist budget. This was probably the worst meal we had in our entire time in Spain. Not because it was disgusting in any way, or tasteless… but because the food was not memorable. I vaguely recall some seafood pasta that was quite edible, but I’m not sure if Frank had it, or I, and Nicky’s steak and fries were “acceptable.” In other words, while not bad in the least, it didn’t measure up to the rest.
The atmosphere, the company, and the beer however, made up for the food, and we spent a very relaxed couple of hours enjoying everything. Eboli, by the way, is named for a town in Italy, not the pestilence, so that explains the vaguely Italian theme of the menu. Did I have a pizza? I really cannot recall, it was that just okay.
Sitting back, watching the buskers and the African knock-off sellers mix with locals and tourists, it’s time to think of the amount of history that has happened in this very spot. Besides celebrations for royal births, weddings, coronations, festivals, etc., etc., the plaza also could jam in 50,000 people to watch a bullfight, with people renting out the over 200 balconies that line the square for better views. The most interesting, and morbid, of course though, was that Plaza Mayor was where the Spanish Inquisition carried out auto-de-fés, (acts of faith) the trials and punishments of suspected heretics.
Despite the Black Legend spread by the English & other northern European nations who at the time were Spain’s enemies, the Spanish Inquisition did not burn 100s of thousands of Jews and witches. Some blowhards even claim millions were killed just by the Spanish branch, however, considering the population of Europe at the time, that would have been rather impossible, as there would have been no one left on much of the continent, much less Spain.
One of the most fascinating things about the Spanish Inquisition was that it had power only over Christians. Anyone openly practicing Judaism, Islam, etc were not touchable, and could only be tried by the King and his courts. Jews who had converted to Christianity to avoid taxes or expulsion and were suspected of still practicing their old beliefs could proclaim that they were once again practicing Jews, and the Inquisition would have to hand them over to civil authorities. Of course the authorities would often try them for lying about being Christian, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Another fascinating tidbit about the Spanish Inquisition is that they had very very specific rules about torture, and at least initially practiced it much less than most European courts, and followed a certain code of rules. Per Wikipedia:
- Confessions obtained through torture could not be used to convict or sentence anyone. The accusation had to have been already proven, and the accused has refused to admit culpability by any other means.
- Only specific forms of torture were to be used, and torturers could not “maim, mutilate, draw blood or cause any sort of permanent damage.”
- Sick, old, young, injured and pregnant people could not be tortured. Women were only tortured for the most extreme crimes, and had to be tortured by women.
- Different crimes called for different amount of times a person could be tortured, depending on how heinous it was. Counterfeiting currency would get you 2 sessions, while the most serious crimes could get you up to 8.
- Torture could only be for 15 minutes at a time.
- A doctor had to be present at all times to prevent serious harm, and a doctor had to certify that the prisoner was healthy enough to get through the torture without lasting injury.
The Spanish Inquisition apparently was so lily-white and fluffy that it was the preferred way of hungry people to get through a cold winter. Inquisitors complained during the reign of Philip IV that people “Blasphemated, mostly in winter, just to be detained and fed inside the prison.” During Philip III’s reign, he got pissed off that people would accuse themselves of heresy “just to be sent under the Inquisitorial jurisdiction instead of the King’s.”
So, while a lot of people were tortured and killed by various courts, and by various Inquisitions (Spain wasn’t the only one to have one), modern scholars estimate that of the approximately 150,000 people tried for various offenses by the Spanish Inquisition, 3,000-5,000 of them were executed between its inception in 1478 by Ferdinand & Isabella (yeah, those same dudes who funded Columbus), to its end in 1834 by the plump and feisty Isabella II. At the same time, it is estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people were burnt for witchcraft in the American colonies and other parts of Europe, not to mention lots of other nasty things done between various Christian groups in the name of the God, king and country.
Of those 3 to 5 thousand people executed though, I couldn’t find an exact number of how many of them died at Plaza Mayor. The auto-da-fe that took over a month to plan was an elaborate ceremony that was part mass, part trial, part sentencing, and was a popular draw for the city population, culminating by the always exciting burning, hanging, and or garrotting, at various times either in the plaza itself, or outside the city walls, depending on the event planner who organized the whole thing. That must have been a hell of a job.
1683 painting by Francisco Rizi depicting the auto-da-fé held in Plaza Mayor in 1680.
Admittedly, living in Spain during this period, particularly for Jews and Muslims, and even conversos and moriscos (converts to Christianity from Judaism and Islam respectively), during the time of the Inquisition rather sucked, however, it wasn’t nearly as bad apparently as we English speakers are taught in schools… the influence of Phillip II’s old enemies such as Queen Elizabeth I and other protestant monarchs is still upon us today, crazy, right? Can’t be too mad about it though, since it resulted in on of my favorite musical numbers, featuring Mel Brookes spoofing Tomas de Torquemada, the biggest baddest Grand Inquisitor to have ever been… The Inquisition, let’s begin! The Inquisition, look out sin! We’re on a mission… to convert… THE JEWS! Dang, now I’m gonna have the stuck in my head all day. Here, have an ear-worm:
After dinner we said good night to Little Nicky, and made our way back to Lavapies. On our last night we planned to visit Bodegas Lo Maximo. This is the bar kitty-corner from our apartment. Every evening since our arrival on Sunday, upon our return to the apartment we had been entertained by the antics of the patrons outside the bar, while marveling that none seemed obnoxiously drunk. Every evening we could hear patrons inside and out singing along with live bands well past midnight. I really wanted to see what it was all about, and figured our last night there would be a perfect night to check it out… However, on this particular Thursday night, for the first time since we were there, the bar was dark, the street silent.
Bodegas Lo Maximo on a Tuesday night.
So off we went to bed, our last night on our spiky, saggy mattress in Madrid. Tomorrow we venture south.