• 2021.09.06
  • Landscape of Light
Now what would that be? This summer, while the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were soaking up the world’s attention, UNESCO quietly held its Extended 44th Session of the World Heritage Committee on world heritage, which everyone loves. The session was scheduled to be held in Fuzhou City, Fujian, China last year, but it was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and was held this year as an online meeting from July 16 to July 31. It added 34 new heritage properties to the list, bringing the total to 1,154.

Japan’s center of government moved from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo) in 1603, and similarly in Spain, the capital was transferred in 1561 from Toledo, which had been the imperial capital of the empire until then, to Madrid. Madrid being a newer city than the ancient Roman cities you find throughout Spain, it has fewer historical buildings, is called the capital without a Middle Ages, and hasn’t had any properties that might be candidates for cultural heritage listing. But now, Madrid’s central district has finally been registered as Spain’s 43rd cultural heritage property. That also brought the total number of World Heritage properties in Spain to 49, including 4 natural sites and 2 mixed sites.

In French and English, the official languages of UNESCO, the registered names are
“Paseo del Prado et Buen Retiro, un paysage des arts et des sciences, and
“Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro, a landscape of Arts and Sciences”.
The relevant Spanish body gave it the title Landscape of Light, a name reflecting integration of the civilization and the light of nature in that area.

The word “prado,” now known as the name of the art museum, is a common noun in Spanish that means “field” or “meadow.” Before Madrid became the capital, standing on that ground was the monastery of San Jerónimo el Real (Order of St. Jerome), which has been closely linked with the Spanish royal family over the generations, and there was an extensive grass field in the area, which was called Prado de los Jerónimos (Field of the Hieronymites).

King Felipe II, who had transferred the capital to Madrid, created a space for prayers and penitence beside the Iglesia de San Jerónimo El Real (Church of St. Jerome the Royal) (25 on the map) and made a tree-lined promenade, said to be the first in Europe, to become a place where the people of Madrid could relax in natural surroundings. The name of the neighboring field was borrowed for the name of the promenade, Prado Promenade. This is about 50 years prior to 1616, the year the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris was planned. The Museum of Natural Sciences, which had been built beside the promenade, was later changed over to an art museum, and given the name Prado. If I had to translate the name into Japanese, I guess it would be the Sogen Bijutsukan (“Grassland Art Museum”).

Incidentally, while King Felipe II was advancing this project, a party from the Tensho Embassy to Europe arrived in Madrid from Japan, and on November 14, 1584, attended a ceremony held in this church to pledge loyalty to the then Crown Prince, who would later become King Felipe III. The party were granted an audience with His Majesty and were warmly received. I digress slightly, but His Majesty, who at the time was ruler over a vast empire, an empire on which the sun never set, was endowed with power comparable to His Holiness the Pope and made every exertion to enable the Embassy to carry out its mission in Europe without mishap.

Over subsequent generations, the areas along the Prado Promenade came to be filled with institutions closely related to the arts and the sciences, for example, the Museum of Natural Sciences, which later became the Prado Museum (24 on the map), the Royal Botanic Gardens (31), the Royal Observatory of Madrid (36), the Royal Spanish Academy (17), the Naval Museum (8), and then in modern times, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Queen Sofia National Center for Fine Arts, [38]), and the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum (11), and now this landscape, which blended in with nature, has been recognized as a World Cultural Heritage site.

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows some of the numerous monuments that form the basis for the area’s recognition. Occupying the right hand side of the Landscape of Light, Retiro Park covers an area of 118 hectares, which is about 2.6 times the total area of Universal Studios Japan (USJ) after adding Super Nintendo WorldTM, which opened in March this year.

Another point is that in English, “retiro” means “retire,” “retirement,” “to live apart from the world,” or even “to be confined (to your home).” During the forty days before Easter (Lent), it is customary to abstain from meat, lead a life of purification and penitence, and contemplate Christ’s suffering, practices that even royalty follow, yet it was King Felipe IV of the Siglo de Oro (Golden Age), when the literary arts blossomed Spain, who built on this land a vast palace and gardens, which is anything but a “retiro” (“retreat”). Remnants of that “retiro” now form the Retiro Park.

Image 2

Image 2: This is King Felipe IV’s Palacio del Buen Retiro (Buen Retiro Palace). I guess that would be something like “Good Retire Palace” in English. Excepting the park, it was destroyed in Spanish War of Independence. Barely surviving to this day is the Casón del Buen Retiro (18 on the map), which was originally built as a ballroom and is now the Prado Museum’s center for research.
Another of the buildings in the Landscape of Light is part of the Salón de Reinos (Hall of Realms), which I wrote about in my “Prado Newsletter – Extra) from February 13, 2018 ( https://kc-i.jp/activity/kwn/yamada_s/20180213/). It is now a branch of the Prado Museum and is currently undergoing restoration and renovation.

The temperature in Madrid sometimes exceeds 50 degrees Celsius during the day in the middle of summer, so it is refreshing to take your mask off and sit on a shaded bench in a promenade or park newly designated as a World Heritage site in the center of Madrid for a short breather while watching a sparkling fountain and listening to the sound of the water. But, when you go back home, you won’t be allowed on the city bus without wearing a mask.

These two sites in Japan were also newly inscribed on the World Heritage List at this year's World Heritage Committee session.
Natural Heritage Sites
Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, Northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island
Cultural Sites
Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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