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From Madrid hopeful lessons of Guernica and Europe’s peaceful union

We are in Madrid, and it is cold. There has even been a snow shower today. So instead of wandering the streets, we decided to visit another art museum.

Not Museo del Prado, one of the world’s greatest art museums, but Spain’s leading centre for modern art, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, home to a collection of work by geniuses such as Dali, Miro and Bacon, and of course where Picasso’s most famous painting Guernica hangs.

The mural, executed in stark black, white and grey house paint, tells the terrible story of the bombing of Guernica, a town in the Basque Country, during the Spanish Civil War.

It was destroyed 80 years ago by Nazi German and Fascist Italian war planes, at the request of the Spanish Nationalists. The attack quickly gained a terrible notoriety because it was the deliberate targeting of civilians by a military force.

Most of the town’s men were away fighting, so the majority of the victims were women and children.

The painting is as powerful as its reputation. Its stark imagery of the horrors of war has become an anti-war symbol, an icon for peace and hope in a world where conflict is all too commonplace.

We have seen a lot of art in the last six moths of this journey, and no doubt we will see more.

Sometimes it all gets too much. Our eyes hurt, our feet ache and our heads throb trying to make sense of each canvas or sculpture.

But Guernica is easy to understand. War is evil. Peace can – and must – prevail.

Sadly, as we learned only yesterday when innocent people were slaughtered on the streets of London by a man driven mad by a twisted ideology, it is hard to be optimistic about the world.

Mainland Europe is littered with reminders of a terrible past, of wars and invasions, of cruel empires and evil dictators.

Some are thousands of years old, others are from only a few decades ago.

Some, like Guernica, are iconic; others, like the modest memorial to an Italian man shot by Nazis we saw on a mountain road in Liguria, are quietly unknown.

And only yards from Reina Sofia is the memorial to the 192 people killed in a terrible terrorist attack in Madrid in March 2004.

But everywhere we go there is also the blue and gold flag of the European Union – a symbol of how people, and their governments, can unite in peace and for progress.

Sixty years ago this week, on 25th March 1957, six countries – Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, West Germany and the Netherlands, signed the Treaty of Rome to form the European Economic Community, and so began the journey towards the peaceful union of 28 countries.

Except it will soon be 27. But Brexit is for another day.

Now I just want to enjoy Madrid, and everything the Spanish capital has to offer. Squid sandwiches are a thing apparently.

  • Time Out’s guide to the best things to do in Madrid, including those sandwiches.
  • Find out more about the EU’s 60th anniversary celebrations here
  • We are staying Camping Osuna a fabulous city centre campsite, with only a 10-minute walk to the nearest metro station

2 Responses

  1. Garry

    Find a small bar in the Old city and drink some vermouth. I never knew that was the popular working class drink until I was there a few years ago. Often sold on draft.
    Apparently it’s only the old men that drink it now the young folk turning to beer and branded spirits. Maybe that is why I enjoyed it so much.

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