Sizzling, landlocked Madrid gets cool new 'beach'
Madrid residents, who suffer searing summer heat in a city that is several hours from the coast, will be able to cool off at their own "beach" in a vast new park that opened to the public on Friday.
The Madrid Rio (Madrid River) project is a new green belt that runs eight kilometres (five miles) and covers 120 hectares (300 acres) along the banks of Manzanares River in the west of the city.
It includes sports and cultural facilities, shaded walks, 30 kilometres of bicycle paths, children's playgrounds, cafes and restaurants.
But the jewel in the crown is a "city beach", similar to the one that opened on the River Seine in Paris in 2002, and which features three large shallow pools with fountains and jets of vaporized water surrounded by grassy areas.
Hundreds of Madrid residents gathered Friday morning in warm sunshine as the last section of the park opened to the public, under a massive futuristic grey steel footbridge.
A spokeswoman at the city hall said the "beach" itself will not be open for several days as work has still to be completed.
The sprawling park offers a shady breath of fresh air in the Spanish capital, where summer temperatures often soar above 40 C (100 F) and which lies 350 kilometres from the coast, and the beaches that Spain is famed for.
"It's a wonderful place of tranquility," said Fernando Lopez, an unemployed 38-year-old who had come to see the park open. "All Madrilenos can enjoy it."
"It's great as there were no public play areas here before," said Marta Sanz, 40, a local resident, as she watched her five-year-old son use one of the eight huge slides that cover a rock garden by the beach. "When the beach is finished we'll be there."
More than 25,000 trees and thousands of shrubs were planted and 11 new footbridges constructed to connect the working-class districts of Carabanchal and Latina with the city centre. Some of the historic old bridges on the Manzanares were also restored.
The river iteself -- a target of derision by residents for decades -- has also had its water quality improved, and the flow increased from what was previously just a trickle through a muddy riverbed in parts. Swimming however is not permitted.
© 2011 AFP