Magnificent Madrid, the capital of Spain, is chock full of museums, art, history, parks, culture and life.
The city is located almost exactly in the center of the Iberian Peninsula and it surprised us to learn it lies further west than London or Edinburgh. At is highest peak Madrid is nearly 3000 feet (694 meters) above sea level and is surrounded on three sides by three mountain ranges, creating air that is noticeably sweet and fresh. The city has an estimated population of 3.3 million, but the population of the metropolitan area is estimated to be about 6.5 million. Clearly a big city but we feel very comfortable here.
The numbers of statues, art installations and fountains scattered throughout this city is astounding. Being surrounded by so much art and creativity instills a feeling of life and fulfillment and mankind’s better nature.
And look….we found two statues named Julia 😁 (Pronounced Hulia)
Museo Nacional del Prado
This prestigious museum is the largest and most popular art museum in Spain and for us, it topped our list of essential stops. The Prado has an amazing collection of masterpieces by renaissance and baroque painters. We saw paintings by Spanish artists Velázquez, Zurbarán, Murillo, Sorolla, Goya and El Greco. We saw the highly recommended work of Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, and Caravaggio’s, David with Head of Goliath and Velázquez’s, Las Meninas. There are so many other European master’s classical work represented at the Prado.
2019 celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Prado, however already into the second quarter of the year and the Prado is still undergoing a complete exterior restoration and face-lift. During the work the famous white exterior with all the statues is currently wrapped and hidden behind colorful fabric so the photo below is a temporary look.
Photos are prohibited in the Prado but the museum sells a couple of comprehensive art guidebook choices with pictures and information about each piece of art in the Prado. Catholic art, is sometimes referred to as art for the soul. For us, our 6-hour visit to Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado, filled our souls.
Madrid’s Alcázar palace, burned down in 1734 and, shortly after, the neoclassical style Royal Palace was built in its place. Today the royal family lives outside of the city but the Palacio Real continues to be the official venue for royal functions and celebrations. We chose to buy tickets at the Palace, not prior to our visit, so we stood in line for about 15 minutes.
Once inside we found art by Goya, Caravaggio and Velázquez, as well as stunning displays of tapestries, porcelain, furniture and more. In parts of the museum photos were allowed, in other parts no photos were permitted, but we were thrilled to at least view the only string quartet of Stradivarius instruments in the world. The decorations on the sides of the viola, the cello and both violins were exquisite.
This is a magnificent royal palace and we thought it was tastefully decorated; a simple and glamorous design without being ostentatious.
Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena Cathedral
Known simply as the Cathedral of Almudena, this graceful cathedral, perhaps the youngest we have come across, began to be built in 1885. It was not completed until 1993 and consecrated that same year by Pope John Paul II. The Cathedral lies directly across and in front of the Royal Palace and is the seat of the Archbishop of Madrid.
The most treasured possession is inside in the form of the Patroness of Madrid. The story is that in 1085 King Alfonso VI found an image of the Virgin inside a city wall in Madrid and named the devotional image Almudena (from the Arabic word almudaina, meaning city wall). We thought the unique ceilings and stained glass windows were striking.
At a separate entrance less than 170 feet (50 meters) away, but beneath the Cathedral, is a large, elegant and peaceful crypt. There are more than 400 columns, many stained glass windows and 20 chapels making you feel like you are almost walking into another church. Walking through these memories of families made us wonder how or if our future descendants will remember us.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art
The “Golden Triangle of Art” in Madrid is a group of museums located near the Prado. The three kingpins are the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofía. Each museum covers different styles and different time periods and they seem to generally complement each other well. While the Prado has European art from the 12th to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection and the Reina Sofía is dedicated to Spanish art and Spain’s 20th century masters, the Thyssen-Bornemisza generally fills the gaps between the other two museums in addition to focusing on Spanish 19th century art. We visited and enjoyed the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Málaga and knew we wanted to see her spouse’s larger Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in Madrid.
Click [here] if you want to see our photos of the Carmen Thyssen Museum.
Our interest, appreciation and education of art has increased by leaps and bounds this past year. We love both the renaissance and impressionist masters and every museum we visit we discover another dozen names to our favorites list. The Thyssen-Bornemisza has a number of English, Dutch and German artists. We enjoyed some American artists pieces by Edward Hopper and Roy Lichtenstein. We love peering into any Monet or Renoir. Edgar Degas is known for his paintings and sculptures of ballerinas, but we found something different in ‘Racehorses in a Landscape’ that he painted in 1894. Another favorite of ours is the abstract Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky and the Thyssen-Bornemisza had a handful of his works waiting for us to find.
The brochures suggested that we especially shouldn’t miss these next three. We stopped at each and admit they do leave a impression on you. 1) Vincent Van Gogh’s, 1890, Les Vessenots – a field on a summers day with cottages in the background. 2) Salvador Dalí’s, 1944, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening. It is colorful and strange and leaves us wanting to see more of his work. 3) Domenico Ghirlandaio’s 1488, Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, is absolutely beautiful, so still and compelling.
Asia y El museo Naval
At first we thought the Asian and Naval Museum sounded like an unusual combination, but as we have learned in our travels, a collection of almost anything can create a museum and this museum turned out to be really quite interesting.
Over the past 175 years the Spanish Navy and the Naval Museum acquired a wealth of information about science, diplomacy and art in Asia and brought it back to Spain. There are currently more than 150 objects and documents on display.
One exhibition was solely dedicated to espionage and diplomacy. The Spanish presence in the Philippines was considered far too small to defend militarily so spying and diplomacy was required to maintain the peace. A second exhibit we found absorbing was called the Chinesco Cabinet. Between 1840 and 1880, many sailors stationed in the Philippines would collect and send cultural objects back to the Naval Museum and the collection was named “Chinesco Cabinet”. In this case, the goal was to introduce the oriental culture to the Spanish people.
Puerta del Sol
This bustling large plaza meaning Gate of the Sun is one of the best known and busiest public squares in the city. It is next to the original Casa de Correos or Post Office, built in 1768, and now the office of the President of Madrid and serves as the symbolic center of Spain. Directly in front of the old post office is a plaque in the ground marking the spot as ‘kilometer zero’, or the center of all Spanish roads. The square also contains the famous clock whose bells marks the countdown of each New Year’s celebration.
On the Eastern corner of the square is the beautiful and symbolic ‘El Oso y el Madroño’ (the Bear and the Strawberry Tree) statue, the symbol of Madrid. Once bears populated many of Madrid’s forests and a favorite food was found on the Arbutus Unedo, called Madroño tree in Spanish. It produced a tasty fruit that looked like strawberries, hence they were nicknamed “strawberry trees”. The city’s flag also uses this symbol surrounded by the seven stars known as Ursa Major (“larger bear” in Latin).
Art lovers rejoice. Madrid has magnificent statues and fountains and amazing architecture in every direction you look, not to mention the dozens of outstanding art museums. This month is shaping up to be an incredible education in art. Can you tell? We are thoroughly enamored with this city!
Salud from these Madrileños,
Ted and Julia