Postcard from... Madrid


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The Independent Online


This Saturday, a seven-metre-high elephant weighing several tons will be let loose on the streets of Rivas Vaciamadrid, a small commuter town near Madrid, but there is no sign of anyone panicking yet.

The elephant, a life-size, wheel-propelled, wicker model called Solomon, is the star of an stage adaption of a novel, The Elephant’s Journey, by Portuguese author José Saramago. The novel and play recount the sad – and true – tale of how in the fifteenth century King John III of Portugal gave an Indian elephant to his cousin, the Archduke Maximilian of Austria as a wedding present and the elephant’s subsequent travels halfway across Europe from Lisbon to Vienna – only to die less than two years later, of neglect.

The play has already been performed in several Portuguese towns, including Lisbon, but Solomon’s last public appearance this year will be in Rivas Vaciamadrid’s main square. Up to 70 actors from the Portuguese theatre company Trigo Limpo Teatro Alert will also take part, with another 75 local volunteers also needed for each performance.

The wicker elephant’s final destination will be Vienna, just as it was for the real Suleiman (as the elephant was known) six centuries ago, before being converted into trophies and relics: the real Suleiman’s bones were made into an abbey chair, his feet used as umbrella holders and his hide stuffed and put on exhibition in Bavaria’s National Museum, only to be blown to bits in a Second World War bombing raid.