The centre of Madrid was ancient and impassable for modern 20th-century motor traffic, so the authorities decided to demolish houses, to restructure streets and to open an avenue of fresh air crossing the heart of the city: the Gran Vía thus became the new heart of Madrid.
Today it is full of clothes shops, bars and above all people of all kinds and condition. The street is 102 years old and has always been a scenario of intrigue and memorable episodes. Many great writers have walked this kilometre and a half from calle Alcalá to Plaza de España, and amongst them the winner of the Nobel prize for literature Ernest Hemingway. Let's follow his tracks.
Ernest Hemingway met his third wife, Martha Gellhorn in the Hotel Florida in Callao Square, at the top of the Gran Vía. The writer had been in love with Spain since his earliest infancy, when he signed his chronicles in the school newspaper as Ernest of la Mancha, and always enjoyed the picturesque cheekiness of Madrid walking up calle Preciados (connecting the famous Puerta del Sol with Callao) like a salmon that has found a thin current to climb.
His health would deteriorate until he went mad and his fear of death was constant in Madrid. However, the Gran Vía was one of his predilections, surely because he found relief from his panic in the conversations and the whisky. Anyone can find company for a drink on the Gran Vía in Madrid, an artery that never rests.
It was common to see him in bars still open today, which now show photographs of the literary genius with the Spanish writer Pío Baroja. Meanwhile, his alcoholic panic spread over the wooden coloured surface of whisky to delirium tremens: he who had unwittingly lived with a spy feared that the FBI were after him and that death was on his heels.
The Gran Vía in Madrid was one of his escape routes.
Image 1: ©Madrid Visitors & Convention Bureau