MADRID, May 21 (UPI) -- Spanish Crown Prince Felipe's marriage Saturday to former TV newscaster Letizia Ortiz will be a blend of traditional ceremony, media adulation and very edgy security.
The marriage service in Madrid's Cathedral of Our Lady of Almudena has the full-scale panoply of a royal wedding. The cardinal archbishop of Madrid will officiate assisted by two other cardinals, plus at least five bishops, a prior and an abbot. Topping the guest list are members of virtually every royal house in Europe, Asia and the Arab world, including four reigning kings, two reigning queens and a cluster of crown princes.
After the ceremony, the royal couple will drive 4 miles to the Royal Basilica of Atocha where the bride will in accordance with tradition leave her bouquet at the high altar.
The route along Madrid's Gran Via and the Paseo del Prado, past the Prado museum has been virtually smothered in flower displays in red, yellow and saffron, the Spanish colors. A well-known Spanish jazz band will play on one corner, and a famous flamenco ensemble will perform a few blocks down the road.
But at Atocha the joy of the occasion comes into contact with harsh reminders of recent tragedy. On March 11, bombs planted by Islamist terrorists tore through commuter trains at Atocha railway station close to the basilica. This week, 192 full grown cypress and olive trees were planted outside the station, one for each victim in the simultaneous attacks on Atocha and two other stations.
Madrid's mayor, Luis Gallardon, has pinned his hopes on the wedding giving a lift to the low spirits of his citizens that still linger from the attack. Some celebrations, such as a massive fireworks display on Saturday night, were cancelled because of security fears, but in other respects the city has gone all out to make this a memorable occasion.
Flags festoon the procession route, and a leading Spanish interior designer was commissioned to spruce up the area's buildings. Historic archways and fountains are spectacularly illuminated -- causing late-night traffic jams as cars slow down to watch the colorful lighting effects transforming such familiar landmarks as the Neptune fountain in the city center.
The question is: Will it give the Spanish monarchy a boost as well? The marriage has the elements of a modern fairy tale. Or to use a more contemporary analogy, it is the stuff that romantic films are made off. Observers agree that it also plays right into the current Spanish perception of themselves as modern, sophisticated and hi-tech savvy.
Soon-to-be Princess Letizia of Asturias is somewhat typical of a contemporary Spanish woman -- elegant, educated, intelligent and divorced once with no children. (Spain has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe.) She comes from Spain's new professional meritocracy. As Letizia Ortiz, main anchor of the main evening news report on Spain's Channel 1, she was almost as well known as was the prince.
From Saturday she is Spain's future queen, the first commoner in Spanish history to be in that position.
Spanish media have understandably had a field day with the story since the surprise announcement that one of their own had become engaged to Felipe in November. Wedding coverage will be wall-to-wall in Spain. According to the city's information department, 5,700 journalists have been accredited to cover the wedding, more than two-thirds of them from Spanish media.
To remind the public of the princess's journalistic background her old channel Friday afternoon ran an hour's program consisting of clips from her old newscasts and reporting, including in Iraq last year, and in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, Twin Tower attacks.
The wedding also coincides with another major development in Spain, namely the emergence last March of a Socialist government with Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as prime minister.
His first foreign policy decision was to withdraw Spain's contingent from Iraq. This week, the last of the 1,300 soldiers left for Kuwait, and then home. Symbolically, some of the troops already home will form part of the honor guard in the wedding.
The pullout has soured the once warm relations between Madrid and Washington, and this may account for the fact that there are no high-level U.S. dignitaries on the published guest list.
But another reason for that may be security considerations rather than pique. Security is understandably very tight. An aerial reconnaissance AWAC plane, borrowed from NATO for the occasion, patrols the sky against attack from hijacked planes. For weeks, security policy have patrolled the warren of ancient tunnels and caves beneath the streets of the city.
What the immediate future holds for the new princess is not hard to fathom. Monarchies are notoriously unsentimental when it comes to marriage: The royal couple is expected to produce children to ensure the continuity of the dynasty. At one of their early conferences, Felipe said he wanted six children. Letizia looked startled and muttered, "anda," which roughly translated means "You're kidding."
He probably wasn't.