Cibeles and the Cathedral of Communications

On Saturday, I decided to explore the area of Madrid surrounding the Cibeles fountain.

Here she is, in all her glory.

The statue is not fully accessible because it’s at the center of one of the busiest roundabouts in Madrid, so the best spot to get a photo is from the bus stop on the southern side. The four corners surrounding the fountain is known as the Plaza de la Cibeles, which was mistakenly marked as “Plaza de Cibeles” for a while until the Spanish uproar about the purity of their language. Now the signs properly read “Plaza de la Cibeles”.

Cybele is the Goddess of Nature in Greek mythology, and her chariot is drawn by two male lions who have a mythology of their own… An infant girl, Atalanta, was abandoned by her father and left in a basket that floated down the river. The girl was taken in by wild bears who raised her as their own. As she grew older, she reluctantly went to the town to reunite with her father, who subsequently demanded that she marry. However, an oracle had once told Atalanta that she shouldn’t marry, because if she did she would be turned into an animal. Needless to say, she really didn’t want to get married. Since no one could run faster than her, she decided to require her potential suitor to beat her in a footrace in order to win her hand in marriage. One young man, Hippomenes, fell madly in love with her and decided to enlist the help of the Goddess Aphrodite to win the race. Aphrodite gave him three golden apples to drop on the track during the race. Atalanta couldn’t resist the gorgeous apples and, although she was winning the race, she would stop to eat each of the apples as he placed them down. Hippomenes won the race, and they married. It became a passionate and loving marriage, and Atalanta started to think that the oracle’s prophesy wouldn’t come true. However, one day the couple were out hunting and decided to stop and rest – and make love – in the temple of Zeus. Zeus saw their sacreligous deed and punished them by turning the lovers into lions on the spot. After some time, the Goddess Cybele came upon the lions, and feeling pity for them, hitched them to her chariot so they would always be together.

…The strangest thing about the statue, however, is that the two lions are male. Was it purely an aesthetic decison, or does this maybe give us some insight about the sculptor… ?

At Cybele’s feet is a man’s face – actually part man, part vegetable – spouting water. Oh, this guy was just Cybele’s grandson, Attis, who she fell in love with (not knowing that he was her grandson of course). He was in love with someone else so Cybele vowed to drive him mad. In frustration he fled to the mountains and castrated himself, and died from loss of blood. Cybele felt terrible and resurrected Attis as a pine tree, and he became the God of vegetation, in control of the death and rebirth of plant life. The sculptor Ventura Rodríguez created many pine cone details on the statue, as a reminder of this struggle and resurrection.

When Real Madrid wins a championship, this area is completely blocked off to traffic and the players and fans celebrate here. People used to be able to climb to the top of the statue but because of vandalism, no more. The fans of Atlético de Madrid actually celebrate at another fountain four blocks south of this one.

View of the fountain and La Gran Via from the observation deck

One building looms over the plaza more majestically than the rest. In the JUST recently completed centrocentro, which was converted from the early 20th century Cathedral of Communications into a cultural hub for the city, there are a wide variety of exhibitions from urban planning studies to 9/11 photography. The architecture studio Arquimática did an amazing job of renovating the building with an open, spacious update and maintaining it’s historical soul.

So, in 1905 they called it the Palace of Communications but it was actually just the city post office. Apparently the magnificent Renaissance architecture demanded more monumental naming.

One strategic note: if you want to go up to the observation deck, it’s necessary to get a ticket on the 2nd floor, and you can only go up at specific times. We had to wait 45 minutes to go up so the best strategy would be to buy the ticket, then walk through the exhibitions, and afterwards head to the 8th floor for your time on the deck. It’s worth it, btw.

Palacio de Comunicaciones de Madrid, 1920. Photo from this blog

And today.

A view of the funky glass elevators inside.

And lastly, from the architecture studio responsible for the renovation, this is their creative interpretation of the building tower and it’s surroundings.

La Torre. Exposición El Palacio de Cibeles. Arquimática

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

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