Madrid’s lions don reading glasses for Cervantes

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© Congreso de los Diputados.

APRIL 22 will mark the 400th anniversary of the death of one of Spain’s most renowned novelists, Miguel de Cervantes. In honour of this event, the two bronze lions flanking the Congress of Deputies in Madrid, have acquired reading glasses, a book stand and, most importantly, a copy of the ‘The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha’ , the authors most famous work.

Those unfamiliar with this literary classic will still certainly recognise its two main characters; the crazed idealistic knight, Don Quixote, who famously battled against windmills, and his long-suffering stocky squire, Sancho Panza.

It seems to be a mark of the most unintended irony, that this should happen outside the building where the 350 MPs are unable to form a stable government and seem intent at ‘tilting at windmills’ themselves whilst they all pretend to be trying to establish workable relationships with each other whilst in some cases they have to resign due to their financial misadventures!

The novel, the foremost literary work of the Spanish Golden Age, can be interpreted as a satire of the chivalric romance and coined the term ‘quixotic’: when a character’s exploits can be seen as idealistic to the point of impracticality. It can also denote the loss of distinction between reality and fantasy, a curse that befalls the poor knight after having read too many romances.

These two stock figures have long been recognised as central characters in the Spanish cultural tourism trade, with statues of the pair littered in parks and squares all over Spain and their visages appearing in most gift shops and museums.

The two bronze lions, which have become tame cats in the name of the great literary canon, also tell an interesting story of their own. Installed in 1872, they are known as Daoiz and Velarde, and are named after two prominent Spanish military men who became martyrs during the 1808 May 2 uprising in Madrid.

Daoiz and Velarde, two senior members of the Spanish army at the time, were killed defending their ammunition and barracks during a bloody rebellion against French Napoleonic Forces, who had occupied the capital.

The uprising later lead to the outbreak of the Peninsular War and Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother becoming crowned King of Spain, however the bravery of the heroes of resistance has not been forgotten and the lions proudly adorn the facade of one of Spain’s most important political hubs.

The Congress has additionally prepared an extensive programme of lectures, dramatically readings, an exhibition showcasing documents from Cervantes’ era, and a classical music concert to mark the death of the writer. Furthermore, one of Madrid’s central streets, Carrera de San Jeronimo, will be decorated with banners in tribute to the Madrid-born wordsmith.

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