In the footsteps of the young Simón Bolívar in Madrid
It could be said that the first and only piece of advice suggested to the attendees by Manuel Rodríguez, the Venezuelan creator of the Simon Bolivar in Madrid, is that they travel in time and are located in the year 1799, just when the young Simon embarks on the ship Ildefonso and go to Spain. At just 16 years old, Bolívar arrived on the Peninsula through the port of La Coruña and rode with his servants to Madrid, where he stayed until 1802.
About this first trip, which has been difficult to document, the legends have tried to fill in the historical gaps. It’s part of the memory that Rodríguez wants to reconstruct, for those like him who try to follow the trail left by the ‘Liberator of America’ during his short stay in the old continent.
The sky is clear and passers-by take advantage of the sun’s rays to warm up. It’s Saturday and it’s four in the afternoon, the tour is about to start at the meeting point: Bilbao’s hectic roundabout. Manuel Rodríguez has been living in Spain for 18 years and comments that he started this project in 2016 after having a bad work experience. «I started reading the life of Bolívar in Madrid and decided to do this route for all people from Latin America who were interested», he says and immediately clarifies that to his surprise the Spanish and Portuguese have also attended.
plaques and statues
This time the attendees are a small group of Venezuelans. In the midst of a wave of upticks due to Omicrón, Rodríguez prefers to lead small groups to avoid contagion. Following his recommendation, people they show him to be located in the eighteenth century and it is there when he begins to tell the unknown story of Simón Bolívar in the city of Madrid. “He was not Spanish, his great-great-grandfather was», points out Rodríguez, who had chosen the starting point very well. According to history, the future military man entered Madrid through the door of ‘The snow pits‘, located right where the fountain of the Bilbao roundabout is, on June 12, 1799 at mid-morning.
El tour it is not chronological and after walking along Fuencarral street and making a few turns to the left, on the calle Gravina is the mansion where Bolívar married a Madrilenian, daughter of the Marquis of Toro. On the side facade, a plaque reads: «On May 26, 1802 in the Saint Joseph Parish that stood on the lot that occupies this house Simón Bolívar married Maria Teresa del Toro Alayza».
All the plaques or statues of Simón Bolívar and other national heroes of Latin America were built during the Franco dictatorship. According to several authors, the reason was «extol Hispanidad and show respect to the national heroestional of the countries of Ibero-America. At the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando he studied the Creole boy with the help of the Kings. “Only the children of the aristocrats could study there,” Rodríguez points out.
An ABC publication of July 30, 1970 points out that «Bolívar knew many things, but they had been learned without order or method, according to the bad pedagogical system of his teacher Simón Rodríguez». He adds that it was in the house of the Marquis of Ustariz that he came into contact with the encyclopedists. “It is Madrid that puts the young Venezuelan in contact with classical culture and European humanistics.
Going up Gran Vía, we come across Calle Fuencarral again. On the corner, a large building that was renovated when the center was built has a plaque that recalls that the Bolivar’s wife’s house referred to as “the genius of the race”, an adjective that Rodríguez confesses that he does not understand and therefore shows his disagreement.
The visit continues through the current Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Palace of Santa Cruz, where 200 years ago there was a headquarters of the Royal Guard. there was imprisoned the future caudillo for five days. The lack of information has caused two legends about his time in prison: for a mess of skirts or for being a messenger for spies, in his case for his uncles close to the French.
Finally the ride ends in front of the equestrian statue of Bolívar– controversy for many – due to the hatred aroused years later against Spain. In any case, for the curious, the route is a way of seeing the city from another perspective.