I have a new favourite place in Madrid. And, remarkably, it is in no way related to food, drink or consumable substances of any kind.
For months I had been hearing stories of a hillside temple hidden away in the city, a place where lovers go to watch the sunset and gaze at the city from above. When I had inquired after the location of this mythical setting, people had pointed vaguely into the distance, a profoundly unhelpful gesture, which only served to heighten the elusiveness of this mysterious building.
It wasn’t until I returned to Spain after a couple of weeks in the UK over Christmas that I finally sought the temple out, and even then it wasn’t by my own initiative. A couple of friends of mine were staying in Madrid, and mentioned that they had read about a temple in a park, nestled somewhere in the city centre. Reprimanding myself for my prior laziness, I hopped onto Google maps and realised, to my embarrassment, that I had been living no more than five minutes from the temple for the last four months (a discovery made even more humiliating by the fact that, ever since moving to Madrid, I have been complaining to anyone who will listen about the lack of decent places to go for a walk near my flat). The temple is on the Paseo del Pintor Rosales, just above the Parque del Oeste and round the corner (literally) from Plaza de España.
My first visit to the temple was an hour into 2013; I strolled around the temple buildings at one in the morning with a group of friends, welcoming in the New Year with our own, semi-improvised ritual (which, aided somewhat by the surroundings, felt rather sacred at the time, and thus shall remain so). The next time I walked to the temple I was alone, and so had a little more time to peruse the buildings and their immediate environment. The temple is actually an ancient Egyptian temple, which was donated to Spain in 1968 as a thank-you for their help in saving the temples of Abu Simbel. The building was flown to Spain and rebuilt in its current position, between the Parque del Oeste and the Palacio Real, before being opened to the public in 1972. According to information at the temple, it is one of the only examples of ancient Egyptian architecture that is outside of Egypt itself.
Of course, the temple’s backstory is really quite remarkable; but, as I said, I was not privy to any of this information during my initial visit, and still came away with a burning desire to visit it again. There is something about it, a stillness, which makes it the perfect place to go for a stroll, either alone or with company, a sort of haven of tranquillity away from the noise of the city, where you can clear your head or just enjoy some fresh air. In my opinion – and that of the majority of the locals, judging by the crowds – the best time to visit the temple is at sunrise or sunset. On clear days, as the sun begins to sink beneath the Spanish horizon, the viewing points in front of the temple will be lined with people watching the snowy mountain peaks, just visible behind the rooftops of Madrid, turn rosy pink and then dissolve into the dusk.
So popular are these elusive moments of natural beauty that typing in ‘sunset temple de debod’ into google allows you to ascertain the time, to the minute, when the sun disappears behind the Sierra de Guadarrama. Thus far, I have only been privy to sunsets at the temple, but I plan to witness at least one sunrise there before I leave Madrid (a goal which will be aided by the gradually lengthening days). But whilst the early mornings are still alluding me, I will continue to coincide my visits with the setting sun; the darkening silhouettes of the temple arches imprinted against a burning orange sky provide this quintessentially country girl with a tantalising glimpse of nature not often found in this – predominantly concrete – cosmopolitan wilderness.