hidden europe 3

The Ile des Faisans

by Nicky Gardner


the little island that swaps hands: for six months French, then for six months Spanish

There are few visitors to Madrid who do not sometime during their stay make their way to the Calle de Serrano in the ultra chic Salamanca district of the Spanish capital. Stroll north along Serrano to catch an eyeful of up-market fashion with price tags to match. Yves Saint Laurent, Georgio Armani and Loewe rub shoulders on this promenade that promises to make a big dent in your bank balance. But head on further north past the glitzy shops, cross the Calle de María de Molina and on the right is the French ambassador's elegant residence, all shuttered windows and delicate pale pinks. The new ambassador, Monsieur Claude Blanchemaison, who only moved to Madrid to take up his appointment earlier this year, has probably not yet had a chance to fully acquaint himself with all the bits and pieces of fine art that embellish his new home. When he does, he will find a faded tapestry in the drawing room that looks quite unexceptional. It is one of a pair that hang together, both fine pieces produced by Flemish weavers at the Gobelins tapestry factory in Paris in the late seventeenth century.

The tapestry records a moment that led to one of Europe's more bizarre geopolitical curiosities. On 7 June 1660, Louis XIV, King of France, met with Philippe IV, King of Spain, on the Île des Faisans, that the two monarchs might put their names to a contract that approved the marriage of Louis XIV to Philippe IV's daughter, a nuptial union that was enacted just two days later.

Related article

Cardinal points

One travel guide claims that Finisterre is the most westerly point on the European mainland. This is in fact wrong, just as other points that lay claim to special status as geographical extremities are often spurious. We map Europe's extremities.