Tourists gawked, VIPs arrived and the wedding party rehearsed Thursday as Spain prepared for this weekend’s nuptials between Crown Prince Felipe and former TV anchorwoman Letizia Ortiz.
Queen Sofia arrived at Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral with her princess daughters Elena and Cristina and five grandchildren – aged two to five – who are due to serve as flower-bearers.
Later, the future bride and groom joined them, practising their steps for Saturday’s ceremony.
Early wedding arrivals included the president of Ecuador, the first ladies of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and Cesar Gaviria of the Organisation of American States, who noted Prince Felipe’s many trips to Latin America representing the Spanish crown.
“He has paid a lot of visits and is perhaps the most beloved figure after crossing all the borders,” Gaviria said.
An estimated 30 heads of state or government, and members of royal houses from as distant as Japan, were to arrive by Friday.
Near the cathedral, red-and-yellow Spanish flags hung from balconies overlooking a plaza where clutches of tourists snapped photos of a slice of Spanish history, the site of the first royal wedding in Madrid in nearly 100 years, and the first ever – going back five centuries – to place a commoner in line to be queen.
Even the almost certain prospect of rain on Saturday didn’t dampen spirits.
Draconian security measures involve some 20,000 police, F-18 fighter jets and an AWACS surveillance plane. Authorities blocked off streets near the cathedral, located across a broad plaza from the Royal Palace where the wedding banquet will be held.
The prince, 36, and Ortiz, 31, met at a dinner party in late 2002 and started dating in earnest – and secretly – the following spring. They announced their engagement in November.
Polls indicate most Spaniards do not mind that Ortiz is a divorcée, or that fact that a commoner will one day be their queen.
Media coverage reached fever pitch as television channels ran all sorts of video footage of the couple: Felipe dressed as an old man in a high school play, Ortiz the reporter covering an oil spill in north-west Spain and interviewing Iraqis after last year’s US-led invasion.
State-run television is providing a six-hour broadcast of the wedding and banquet and says the coverage has a potential audience of 1.2 billion viewers around the world.