It is not every day that people are surrounded by exquisitely manicured stone archways, ancient European brick facades, and weathered cobblestone streets. Living in Madrid, Spain, I am blessed with the opportunity to sample the finest of Spanish history and culture minutes from my door. The short walk from my quaint apartment to Puerta del Sol (the center of Madrid) is filled with authentic and locally-owned tapas bars, cervecerias and famous historical landmarks. Not far from the very center of the city, a peculiar site, much different than Plaza Mayor or Palacio Real, transports tourists to the farthest reaches of the Middle Eastern world.
Amongst the narrow café lined streets and crammed between smoky tavernas and endless tapas bars lies the most unique and eclectic monument in this vibrant city. Climbing the steep muddy steps to Parque del Cuartel de la Montaña, I notice the trees thinning and a wide, dusty space emerges trampled with footprints. Just beyond the twisted tree limbs a grand unexpected structure rises from the sandy gravel floor. Temple De Debod presents itself in the form of two massive stone arches and an even larger traditional Egyptian temple paying homage to traditional Egyptian architecture. A most unlikely piece of Spanish history, Temple De Debod is situated at the highest point of a city overlook surrounded by modest apartment buildings and nearby Plaza de España. A long rectangular pool of water acts as a moat for the large structures, allowing the arches to stand brilliantly in front of the temple. The front façade of the temple displays a larger doorway and four beautifully carved columns. The interior of the sanctuary features the same traditional Egyptian architecture as the exterior.
Originally constructed and housed near the banks of the Nile River, this monument dates back to 2000 B.C. when the cult of Ammon and Isis ruled the Egyptian desert. Built with the intention of god/ goddess worship, Temple De Debod’s temple centerpiece, appropriately named the “Chapel of Reliefs,” depicts intricate ritual sketches dedicated to the Egyptian gods. Throughout time as new Pharaohs occupied the land, each added their own special touch to the chapel giving its mystical and mysterious allure. Though the temple is obviously uncharacteristic of typical Spanish architecture, the monument does claim a notable spot in Spain’s history. Transferred stone by stone to Spain, the legend of Spain’s ultimate claim of the monument is still controversial. Locals claim that the monument was given as a gift to Spain to forge a friendly alliance with the Egyptians while rumors circulate that the temple was actually stolen from the Egyptians. The most credible explanation describes the monument being transported to Spain in order to preserve it from potential destruction from the building of the Aswan High Dam. Perhaps some of its mystery lies in its unknown purpose in this Spanish city.
Although the buildings themselves draw thousands to the site daily, it is the stunning sunset that truly brings the crowds. Set to the back drop of the Palacio Real, electrifying bands of orange and yellow fill the sky illuminating the Madrid skyline. As the sun descends, sharp rays of red blend with the mellowed citrus hues, warming the stark white buildings in the distance. The only way to describe it: breathtaking. I have spent many evenings pressed against the wrought-iron railings, craning my neck to get the full panoramic view of the city. Romantic, mesmerizing, enchanting, and jaw-dropping are only a few words to capture the grandeur of the most incredible sunset Madrid has to offer.
The monument is free for visitors Tuesday thru Sunday. Best time to go: sunset. Temple De Debod is located on Calle Ferraz 1 in Parque del Cuartel de la Montaña. Metro station: Plaza de España.