Traditionally at the start of each year King Juan Carlos I, with Queen Sofía, receives the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to Spain in a solemn act at the Royal Palace to wish everyone “happiness, peace and progress” for the New Year as he said at one of the more recent receptions: “Quiero expresarles, en nombre de mi familia y en el mío propio, los mejores deseos de felicidad, paz y progreso . . . que ruego hagan llegar a sus respectivos Jefes de Estado, Gobiernos, pueblos y Organismos Internacionales.”
Despite the fact that the Royal Palace, on Bailen Street, remains the official residence of the Royal Family, they in fact have chosen to make the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela in the outskirts of Madrid their home. With the King presiding, the Royal Palace is now used only for the most important of State functions. The first to live in the palace, which was constructed between 1738 and 1755, was King Carlos III (reign: 1759-1788). The last was King Alfonso XIII who fled the country in 1931 when the Second Republic was proclaimed. He was the grandfather of King Juan Carlos I whose reign has been made possible by the restoration of the monarchy in 1975.
Protocol requires that the Head/President of the Government be on hand to greet King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía when they arrive at the Royal Palace for the New Year reception. The President, with his Foreign Affairs minister, waits in the Saleta de Gasparini, so called because this intricate Rococo masterpiece of a room was created by artist Matteo Gasparini.
This done, the members of the diplomatic corps go into the Saleta to greet the King and Queen who, for some years now, are accompanied by Crown Prince Felipe of Asturias and Princess Letizia.
The Apostolic Nuncio is first in the line as he is the dean of the diplomatic corps in Spain (he has the rank of an ambassador but diplomatic protocol in Catholic countries makes him primus inter pares).
After the Nuncio the members of the corps take their turn according to seniority; those who have been longest in their post as attested to by the date of their presentation of credentials get to shake the hand of the Royal Family ahead of the newcomers.
When the handshakes and curtsies are over Their Majesties and the eminent assembly will move to the Throne Room where the Apostolic Nuncio and the King will deliver their speeches, the high point of the event being the King’s.
The Throne Room is majestic, as it should be. There are two thrones on a dais guarded by four bronze lions. The frescoes, done by the great Venetian painter Gian Battista Tiepolo, are magnificent. Tiepolo’s “The Greatness of the Spanish Monarchy” on the ceiling was one of his finest works. The walls are covered with red velvet, priceless tapestries and mirrors. The furniture are impressive, so are the glittering chandeliers.
The year 2011 commemorated the tenth anniversary of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States. Accordingly King Juan Carlos made a special mention of the struggle against terrorism. He said, “The memory of the attacks makes us doubly determined to end this unacceptable blight that affects us all and against which Spain will go on exerting its best efforts.”
These “best efforts” have paid off; in the autumn of 2011 the terrorist group ETA who has been murdering innocent people, on the grounds that the end (the independence of the Basque Country from Spain) justified the means, announced that it was quitting its sanguinary activities.
The King had warm words for earthquake-devastated Haiti; for the Middle East that it may find peace, and specially Israel with whom Spain was commemorating its 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations without forgetting about a Palestinian state for which there must be a “solución negociada”.
At the end of his speech His Majesty told the diplomats: “We [himself and his family] wish you success and happiness in this year that has just begun.”
That then is how an important date, like the New Year, is celebrated at the Royal Palace.
Photos: Lola H. Robles