The Estanque Del Retiro
Fill'd up with luscious wine,
For only from seeing the snow
My limbs are shaking with cold."
- "De La Nieve", Juan Meléndez Valdés
There is absolutely no question that Javier Fernández has put Spanish figure skating on the map. After becoming his country's first European and World Champion, he added first Olympic Medallist in figure skating to the list two months ago in Pyeongchang. Though these accomplishments are certainly historic, they aren't the only milestones in Spanish skating history worth celebrating.
The Buen Retiro Park in Madrid has long played host to the Estanque Del Retiro, a 280 X 140 meter artificial lake that still exists close to the park's northern entrance. Throughout the middle of the nineteenth century, the winters in the Madrid were so unseasonable that the Buen Retiro froze and played host to what was perceived as an incredible novelty to the Spanish novelty: ice skating.
British accounts of skating at the Estanque Del Retiro persisted throughout the mid-Victorian era. On December 23, 1865, the journal "Once A Week: An Illustrated Miscellany Of Literature, Art, Science And Popular Information" noted, "As soon as the snow-storm ceased, and the hardy barrenderos, or scavengers, had, with the aid of spades, and carts... begun to clear its effects away, every inch of skating ground was crowded with patinadors, female as well as male. The available area, however,
is sadly limited. It was almost laughable to see crowds of anxious experts (and inexperts) waiting for their turn round the Estanque, in the Retiro Gardens, calling up the image of the borders of the Pool of Bethesda, while its dimensions would invoke the nickname of a basin from any genuine northern votary of the skates." Early in the Edwardian era, L. Higgins' book "Spanish Life And Country" noted, "I have seen the Estanque Grande in the Retiro covered with ice several inches thick... All Madrid turned out to see the wonder and watch the foreigners skate." Both the 1836 account and Higgins' 1902 book note that the majority of the skaters who took to the ice at the Estanque Del Retiro during this era were not Spaniards, but visitors to the area, who had been presumably been exposed to skating elsewhere. This makes a lot of sense, as it is highly unlikely that many of Madrid's residents would have even have access to ice skates at that time.
At any rate, it's fascinating to think about the fact that the seeds of skating were sown in Spain so early. Winter temperatures in Madrid these days average out around six degrees Celsius, so it's highly unlikely you would have the chance to go skating on the Estanque Del Retiro anytime soon. However, tales like this one only go to show you that what may seem improbable is certainly not impossible.
Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.