The “Landscape of Light”: the route through the most cinematographic Madrid

What do you think “The Fabulous World of the Circus” (1964), The Bourne Ultimatum” (2008) and “The Ministry of Time” (2015) have in common? Much more than it seems, as they all shot some of their most iconic scenes in the Landscape of Light, a 190-hectare urban space in the heart of Madrid made up of the Paseo del Prado, the Jerónimos neighbourhood and the Retiro Park which, for its exquisite fusion of culture, science and nature, was recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2021. 

The artistic, natural and human value of this space, an essential part of life in Madrid today, has not gone unnoticed by a multitude of audiovisual authors and filmmakers who, over the last century, have recreated all kinds of scenes in it. Madrid Film Office has collected them in the route “El Paisaje de la Luz en la pantalla”, thanks to which we can get to know them first hand and walk through the three main areas where their stories took place.


Film scenes at the Art Station

The “Landscape of Light on the Screen” runs along the Paseo del Prado from Plaza de Cibeles in the north to Atocha station in the south. This is where the former metro station was renamed Estación del Arte, to pay homage to the concentration of artistic and cultural centres that gather around it. This is the start of the route, as it has been the scene of memorable moments in cinema, such as the tumultuous entry into the city, via the Atocha train station, in “La ciudad no es para mí(1965). The most iconic elements of the building, the great hypostyle hall and the glass façade of the station, now a symbol of the city, have also appeared in international films such as “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2008).

Paco Martínez Soria during his difficult journey to Madrid from Plaza Carlos V in “La ciudad no es para mí” / Video Mercury Films. Madrid Film Office

On the other side of the Plaza del Emperador Carlos V, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a benchmark in contemporary art, was one of the settings for the series “El Ministerio del Tiempo(2015), where the main characters fight to ensure that Picasso’s “Guernicareturns to Spain. In the cinema we have seen actors of the stature of José Sacristán and Isaach de Bankolé stroll through its galleries in films such as “El diputado” (1978) and “Los límites del control(2009), respectively.

Next to the Botanical Garden, the slope of Moyano and its row of 30 bookshop stalls, open every day of the year, has been a perfect place for films with nostalgic characters, such as “La buena vida (1996) and “Soldados de Salamina” (2003), both directed by David Trueba.

Paseo del Prado, the city’s cultural and cinematographic hub

The route through the Landscape of Light continues along the Paseo del Prado, no less than the world’s first tree-lined promenade and also the first to be opened for public use, in 1761! This iconic boulevard, which stretches from the diaphanous Plaza del Emperador Carlos V (also known as Plaza de Atocha) to the majestic Cibeles, is home to Madrid’s most emblematic institutions, whose cultural and scientific treasures have served as a historical backdrop for numerous films.

Film buffs should not miss a visit to the Prado Museum, whose paintings, especially those by Goya, were featured in “La culpa fue de Eva” (1959) and “Último chantaje” (1961). Did you know that during the Civil War the museum’s paintings had to be protected and moved? This exciting story served as the plot for an episode of the fourth season of “El ministerio del tiempo” (2015).

The painter and time traveller Diego de Velázquez observes “Las Meninas” in a room of the present-day Prado Museum / HBO. Madrid Film Office

We leave the Museum to stop at Plaza Cánovas del Castillo, commonly known as Neptuno and the setting for the films “El último caballo(1950) and “El cochecito” (1960). The unmistakable façades of its two classic luxury hotels, the Palace and the Ritz, have served as a backdrop for “La vida en un hilo(1945) and “El tiempo entre costuras(2013-2014).

Behind the current Mandarin Oriental Ritz hotel, the imposing architecture and glamour of the Salón de Reinos, the last vestige of the Palacio del Buen Retiro, makes its surroundings an ideal filming location for the period series “Velvet” (2014-2016), “Las chicas del cable(2017-2020) and “El tiempo entre costuras(2013-2014). The streets surrounding the old palace have also been the setting for contemporary films, such as “El otro lado de la cama(2002) and “Carne trémula” (1997), where the character played by Penélope Cruz will give birth with the help of Pilar Bardem and Álex Angulo, in one of the most iconic scenes of Spanish cinema.

Arriving at the end of the Paseo del Prado, Cibeles with its iconic fountain is a point of tourist interest in itself, and that is why it often appears in all kinds of filming to quickly set the action in Madrid. It is in this square that the most remembered policeman of our cinema ordered the traffic in “Manolo, guardia urbano” (1956). Recently, he has participated in the series “La Fortuna(2021) and in the robbery film “Way Down” (2021), for which the traffic was closed in the square to recreate a fictitious bank robbery, which required more than 1,000 extras!

Manolo Martínez, in front of the Cibeles fountain in the 1950s / Video Mercury Films. Madrid Film Office

The route leads to the Plaza de la Independencia and its Puerta de Alcalá, one of the five ancient royal gates that gave access to the city, whose monumental character has made it the backdrop and protagonist of countless works, such as “El crack II(1981) or the fifth season of “Las chicas del cable” (2017-2020).

Books, romanticism and circus in the Retreat

The screen route through the “Landscape of Light” could not fail to include the Retiro, the natural lung and favourite meeting place of many Madrilenians. Its pond, with the monument to Alfonso XII in the background, has been the setting for several film productions. The most impressive was “The Fabulous World of the Circus(1964), the filming of which required draining the pond and closing it to the public for six months to turn it into the Vienna amusement park where we would see John Wayne, Rita Hayworth and Claudia Cardinale.

The Paseo de Coches, officially Fernán Núñez, is known because every year the Book Fair is held here, as can be seen in “El crimen de la calle Bordadores” (1946) and “El último caballo(1950). Another memorable moment of this promenade was when it became a competition circuit for the film “El cochecito” (1960).

Designed as a greenhouse for the General Exhibition of the Philippine Islands in 1887, the Palacio de Cristal is now one of the exhibition venues of the Reina Sofía Museum and holds one of the most romantic views of the Retiro. The small pond in front of the glass and iron structure has been the scene of lovers’ meetings in many films: in “Amantes(1991), “Taxi” (1996), “Historia de un beso” (2002) and “Valeria” (2021).

Young Jorge Sanz and Maribel Verdú meet at the Retiro in the film “Amantes” / Video Mercury Films. Madrid Film Office

Perhaps the most cinematographic way to end this route is in front of the fountain of the Fallen Angel, a peculiar sculpture dedicated to Lucifer, where Álex de la Iglesia also wanted his film “The Day of the Beast(1995) to end. 

Thanks to the Madrid Film Office‘s “El Paisaje de la Luz en la pantalla” route, you will be able to discover, in a very short time, many of the legendary film locations in Spain, as well as visiting some of Madrid’s must-see tourist sites. Don’t forget to download the Madrid Film Office brochure directly from this website

It is difficult to know if the light was already special when Philip IV decided to establish his palace in this area, but we can say that today, the Landscape of Light shines with its own light. Let yourself be impressed by its legacy and relive in every step, what you see on the screen!

By Jordi Ponti

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