Take on Nature: A “landscape of light” to appreciate where humanity is in balance with nature in Madrid
SURROUNDED by trees and birds fluttering in the air, it’s a place where I come to take some time, sit and watch the world go by. It’s an idyllic scene, but only a 10 minute walk away. I am back in the heart of one of the most dynamic cities in Europe.
Retiro Park is a huge area of sprawling greenery, with trees, shrubs, and an artificial lake in the center of it. On a hot October afternoon, it gets crowded, taking a walk, running, doing tai chi or yoga, rollerblading, sipping a beer or eating an ice cream while reading a book or newspaper.
Mid-week mornings are the best time to come and savor El Retiro and get a feel for the tranquility it offers to Madrilleños and visitors to the city.
The significance of the park and the nearby Paseo del Prado, along which four of Madrid’s most important museums are located, has been recognized as a World Heritage Site. The Landscape of Light has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in the category of cultural landscapes.
The award recognizes the importance of the union of nature, culture and science in an urban setting and it is fitting that Madrid strives to become an environmentally sustainable city.
Both Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado predate the 21st century sustainability agenda by four centuries, but this historic relationship between man and nature in urban settings is the basis of the Landscape of Light initiative. .
The Prado is Madrid’s most iconic museum with its superb collection of paintings by Goya, El Greco and Velasquez among hundreds of others.
At the end of the Paseo, near Atocha Station, is the Reina Sofia Museum with Picasso’s large-scale and disturbing Guernica. It also houses paintings by Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró.
Another surreal experience awaits visitors to the Thyssen Bornemisza, also located on Paseo del Prado. The permanent exhibition presents a combination of classical and contemporary artists.
However, if you visit by the end of January next year, there is an impressive collection of Belgian surrealist René Magritte. He is an artist who takes the landscape, nature and everyday objects to question our idea of perception, of what is real and of what we project as real.
Less well known is the CaixaForum, with its distinctive vertical garden on an exterior wall on which nearly 300 species of plants grow. The living wall is green all year round because the species have been specially chosen to adapt to the scorching heat of Madrid in summer and the plunging winter temperatures.
The exhibitions currently taking place at CaixaForum require participation rather than passive observation. Homo Ludens (Man Playing), despite its Latin title, is a very modern interactive study of the gaming world and how for many people it shapes reality, allows them to develop an online personality and live in a virtual world.
Upstairs is La Imagen Humana (The Human Image) which explores how humans have represented themselves in art and symbolism over five millennia.
Madrid has grown rapidly over the past decades, which has brought huge challenges in the race for sustainability. But it has risen to these challenges and other cities could learn a lot.
Rio Madrid has been allowed to go wild again to create an area of rich biodiversity along the Manzanares River in the city. This environmental initiative created an ecological corridor for many species but also means that landlocked Madrid now has a beach in the form of three aquatic enclosures with water jets.