Spanish version

La Cibeles

La Cibeles is the most famous fountain of Madrid and has become a symbol of the city like the Puerta de Alcala or the bear and the strawberry tree.

It was built in the XVIII century.

The square where it is located was first called Plaza de Madrid because it was considered the most important one of the city. In 1900 it changed its name to Plaza de Castelar in order to honour the President of the First Republic. After the Civil War it got its current name, Plaza de La Cibeles, although this had always been the name given to it by the people of Madrid.

Cibeles fountainThe fountain was first located in calle Recoletos, in front of the gates of  Buenavista Palace surrounded by trees. It was placed on ground level with a basin around it that allowed the "aguadores" to get their water. Some years later it was taken to the square and placed on a higher level.

The design of the fountain was made by Ventura Rodriguez. It is made of marble of Montesclaros in Toledo. The sculpture of Cibeles and the chariot was made by Francisco Gutierrez and the lions by Roberto Michel. It was finished in 1782.

There used to be also a dragon and a bear with spouts which can be seen in  San Isidro Museum.

Almost a century later a group of cherubs was put in the back part of the fountain. It was made by Miguel Angel Trilles and Antonio Parera.

Cibeles fountainCibeles is sitting in a chariot surrounded by plants and flowers and also different kinds of animales like snakes or lizards. The image symbolizes the Asiatic continent where the goddess Cibeles was worshipped. Cibeles wears a  chiton, a Greek dress, covered by a himation, which is a type of cloak that was usually worn over the chiton. Cibeles is considered the Queen of Earth and therefore  she carries the scepter as ruling monarch in her right hand. In the left hand she carries a key which symbolizes her power as queen mother of all gods. Some say it is not a key, but a kind of whip which was used by the korybantes, worshippers of goddess Cibeles, to flagellate themselves.

The origin of this goddess is Phrygian and later identified with the Greek goddess Gaia. She represents the earth, nature and wild animals. Usually all stories about these gods and goddesses are a mixture of different cultures and so their stories vary. One story about Cibeles says that she fell in love with Attis and made him her priest. He was obliged to chastity, but was unfaithful  to the goddess with  the King of Pessinos´daughter. Just before they were getting married, Cibeles apperead at the celebration, Attis went mad and cut off his genitals. Cibeles turnt him into a pine tree.

Cibeles fountainFamous King Midas, who turnt everything he touched into gold, was Cibeles´son.

The two lions pulling the chariot are Hippomenes and Atalanta. Atalanta was Iassos´ daughter, who only wanted to have sons. When she was born he abandoned her in the mountains where she was first taken care of by a bear and later by some hunters. She became a hunteress. Some years later her father wanted her to marry but she refused. She would only marry the man who was capable of beating her in a race. Those who would compete and lose would be burnt.

Hippomenes had been told by goddess Afrodite to drop three golden apples to the ground while taking part in the race. He challenged Atalanta and during the race she always stopped to pick up the golden apples. Hippomenes won the race and they got married. But one night they made love in one of Cibeles´temples. The goddess punished them turning them into lions.

Atalanta and HippomenesAnother story says they were turned into lions by Zeus. Cibeles took pity on them and made them carry her chariot so that they could be together forever.

In any case the two lions pulling her chariot in the fountain are both male lions, so that Cibeles was probably not  very fond of them.

For a certain time women used to bath in the water of the fountain on St John´s eve (summer solstice) as they were believed to be miracle working.

@Copyright 2008, 2009 Mª Dolores Diehl Busch. All rights reserved.
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