The Royal Botanical Gardens – Madrid Spain

This time on the History Cafe, I have an experiment in field recording.  About a month ago, I went to Spain for a couple of weeks and while there I recorded a few sets of thoughts about Spain’s history in a couple of locations.  I’ll be editing a few of them as History Cafe broadcasts over the coming couple of months.  These recordings attempt to capture some sense of the sound of the place I’m talking about, while discussing a broader historical idea.  I’ve tried to describe the location as well as the historical significance so that you can imagine both.  The locations are all quite different, but to look forward to them, I have three good ones from the Valley of the Fallen, the Royal Palace, and the Mezquita-Cathedral in Cordoba.  For a couple of these, it was my first experiment with recording outside, and sometimes the wind got the better of me, but generally they sound alright and the background noise worked out nicely.

For this first Audio History Tour, I’m walking around the Royal Botanical Gardens in Madrid.  I discuss the history of the botanical garden in Europe and the early connections between Botany and imperialism.  I was inspired for this idea by a couple of people who were with me who made comments about how the garden is still arranged in pathways with clearly laid out plant beds; they noted just how unnatural and structured it seemed, and I commented on how the history of Botany has inspired a number of different garden structures and formats and many of the assumptions of previous centuries were quite a bit more questionable than the current “unnatural” garden look.  So this is brief set of comments on the origins of Botany, the teaching garden (which the royal gardens still are today), and some questions about how we might think about what goes in our garden today.

While this podcast is technically a coffee/pastry sized item, in Madrid there are plenty of tapas which are certainly small enough to count for this size podcast.  So today I’m going to for one of my favorites that is a food import from the new world to fit the theme of botanical collectors returning with all manner of new plants: Pimientos de Padron.  They are technically a chili pepper, so although they’re usually not at all spicy, they are a variety that originated somewhere in central America.  Today, you can get them as tapas in Spain in many places, although they’re actually associated with the North West, especially Asturias and Galicia.  They take the little peppers and basically deep fry they in olive oil and salt them heavily.  You pick them up (when they’re not too hot) by the stem and eat them whole – it is a little like pulling a raspberry off its core with your teeth in terms of difficulty.  Anyway, if you’re a fan of roasted peppers, eat a little plate of these with some bread for mopping up the oil and a little wine and they’re delicious.


Daniela Bleichmar, Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment (Chicago University Press, 2012).

Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Nature, Empire, and Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World (Stanford University Press, 2006).

Oliver Impey and Arthur Macgregor, The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Europe (House of Stratus, 2001).


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