Zaragoza's Diverse Museums

An interesting and eclectic mix of museums were waiting for us to discover and savor in Zaragoza.

Zaragoza with approximately 700,000 residents, is ranked the 5th most populated city in Spain, after Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville. Each one of these cities seems to have produced at least one world-renowned artist. Spanish artist’s paintings and sketches can be found in museums throughout the world but we have also found concentrations of each artist’s work in their city of birth and/or where they created much of their work. We have studied the art of Diego Velásquez in Seville, El Greco in Toledo, Pablo Picasso in Malaga, Joaquín Sorolla in Madrid, Salvador Dalí in Barcelona and Francisco de Zurbarán in the Province of Castellón. Zaragoza has Francisco Goya.

Museo Goya

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) was born just a few miles southeast of Zaragoza and we were incredibly lucky to see a great many of his paintings during our stay. This was a wonderful museum to delve into the work produced by this Aragón-born painter. The old building, built in 1535-36, that houses the museum was originally a nobleman’s home. We occasionally have to pause to remind ourselves that these 500 year old buildings are the equivalent in age of 6-8 generations of human lives.

Goya began his career painting beautiful religious scenes in churches and we were delighted to be able to view his paintings in the cupola of the Basilica del Pilar. There are more Goya paintings in a Carthusian Monastery in Zaragoza, three nearby town’s churches as well as a Royal Chapel in Madrid, a Monastery in Valladolid and the Cathedral in Seville.

His talent was soon recognized by Charles IV when in 1789 the King appointed Francisco Goya the official painter of the court, along with a hefty salary and an allowance for his own coach. He was also chosen as a painter of tapestry cartoons (paintings made on canvas which were then woven, on a larger scale, into wool tapestries by the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Bárbara.) Goya painted 63 designs for tapestries for two royal palaces outside of Madrid.

Mariano Goya by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

In the final decade of the century, Goya’s art started to change and became more critical. He had been gravely ill which left him deaf. He was disillusioned with the rule of the Inquisition and the trauma and injustices he had witnessed during the Napoleonic Wars. He began to paint scenes of witchcraft, violence, political and religious corruption and massacres and atrocities of the Napoleonic Wars. The Goya Museum displayed many of his black and white etchings, along with clear explanations. Goya’s work during this time was unquestionably dark but he also created a visual commentary of life during this period in history.

Etching by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

The Museo Goya has a collection of more than 1,000 works with approximately half on display at any one time. In addition to Goya’s art we enjoyed paintings and sketches by a number of Spanish artists as well as Flemish artists, including Rubens and Van Dyck.

Museo del Fuego y de los Bomberos

The Museum of Fire and Firefighters is located in a historical Convent. Building began in the late 1500’s and the convent was completed early in the 17th century. Today the building has two uses: Zaragoza’s Fire Station No. 2 is located in the space previously occupied by the church and the Fire and Firefighters Museum is located in the former cloister. Needless to say, the setting is attractive.

Museo del Fuego y de los Bomberos

The museum and a large number of displays of rescue and tactical gear, vehicles, historical documentation and a plethora of objects related to the history and profession of the firefighter. The museum was incredibly well done and it was immaculate.

We spotted a large painting of a Fire Fighter in Rome on one wall and discovered that in 6 CE after a disastrous fire in Rome, Emperor Caesar Augustus established the first organized fire brigade known as the Vigiles. He is accredited as being the founder of the first fire department in history.

Fire Fighter in Rome

Fire Hydrants

While we are the subject of fire, we decided to share an album of fire hydrants. As we travel we find it interesting to see the variety of sizes and shapes and colors of fire hydrants in each town and city and country. Sometimes the fire hydrants were out visible on the street, other times hidden in the sidewalks or in walls. Searching for them has become an amusing pastime.

Fire Hydrants

Museo Pablo Gargallo

In 1985, a former mid-17th century palace, opened its doors to the public as the Pablo Gargallo museum. It is a monographic museum dedicated to the work of the Aragonese sculptor and painter Pablo Gargallo (1881-1934). Throughout his career he continuously created two seemingly different styles: a classic one and an avant-garde style. This collection has sculptures, works made in cardboard, drawings, prints and jewelry that represent each artistic period of Gargallo’s career. As much as we appreciated the elegant lines of his classical style sculptures like the two gigantic horses guarding the museum’s entrance, it was his modern pieces that sparked our imagination. Our header photo is Gargallo’s sculpture of a horse named Uranus and the sculpture below is his rendition of the 1920’s french artist’s model and muse, Kiki de Montparnasse.

Museo Pablo Gargallo

Escuela Museo Origami Zaragoza – EMOZ

What a delightful surprise to discover this outstanding Origami Museum in Zaragoza. The museum is located on the top floor of the History Center, formerly an old convent church. Although this museum opened less than a decade ago, the existence of origami or ‘paper-folders’ has been in Zaragoza since 1944.

The collection on display reflects the relationships local origami member and artists have developed in many parts of the world over the past 75 years. Filling the gallery are quality acquisitions from both local and international artists and the result is a top-notch show of an astonishing variety of origami styles.

Escuela Museo Origami Zaragoza – EMOZ

Vida y Muerte

In the same building, on a lower floor, we came across an unusual temporary exhibition called Vida y Muerte (Life and Death). The exhibition is the vision of 4 local artists that combine tattoo work, urban art, lettering and architecture to demonstrate the continuity between life and death and attempting to show how life and death accompanies us and conditions us. It was quite interesting.

We found the art colorful and not nearly as somber as one might expect.

Vida y Muerte

Museo de Zaragoza

Zaragoza Museum opened in 1908, making it the oldest museum in the city and showcases both archaeology and fine arts. It’s archaeological artifacts range from the Lower Palaeolithic to the modern era.

The fine art collection was very good as well. We saw paintings by early Aragonese artists and we especially enjoy the two dimensional style of 14th and 15th century religious art. There was a good size collection of canvases by the Spanish masters El Greco, Ribera, Goya, Velazquez and Sorolla as well as pieces by European artists Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Renoir and Manet.

Museo de Zaragoza

We were pleased to discover that the museum had a temporary Oriental art exhibition entitled: “The elegance of tradition. The legacy of Japanese potter Tanzan Kotoge.” Kotoge donated several of his pieces to the museum so the institution dedicated the exhibition to the famous potter. The exhibition is separated into three sections.

The first section is exclusively the ceramic work of Tanzan Kotoge (1946-). The second section focuses on the mystery, art and traditions of the Tea Ceremony. More of Tanzan Kotoge’s pieces were included here as well as various instruments, utensils and tools used in the tea ceremony, along with several beautiful Japanese prints illustrating the stages of the age-old ceremony. The third section had ceramics from China and Japan from the 7th to the 20th century, showcasing different ceramic styles developed in each of the countries.

Museo de Zaragoza

Rosario de Cristal de Zaragoza

Unlike anything else we have seen, the Crystal Rosary in Zaragoza is a completely unique art, cultural and religious museum. It consists of nearly 300 hand-made pieces, floats and illuminations or gigantic ‘lanterns’. This magnificent exhibit has 15 monumental floats each 14 feet tall (4.25 meters) and represent the Joyous, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the Catholic religion. Each features specific decorative elements, one predominant color and a pentagon shape that contains images and scenes of the lighted mystery. As we entered the dark museum an overhead pre-recorded soundtrack described what we were seeing and one-by-one the large crystal monuments were illuminated and began to glow. It is a spectacular display! Unfortunately we were not able to understand enough of the Spanish narration.

The wonderful replica of Zaragoza’s Basilica of Pilar is nearly 14 feet in length and has 30,000 transparent stained glass pieces and is truly inspiring when it lights up.

Rosario de Cristal de Zaragoza

Another favorite was the float entitled Spanish Culture Float. It is made of stained glass and bronze and is the Christopher Columbus ship, the Santa Maria with it’s sails unfurled, gloriously lit and a shining reminder of the discovery of the Americas.

Rosario de Cristal de Zaragoza

In the 20 months we have been full time travelers we have visited more than 150 museums. It may be easy to understand how we reached that total when in Zaragoza alone, in less than 3 weeks, we visited 7 completely different and interesting museums. Included in that total was the museum in La Seo Church showing precious ancient tapestries, the origami museum, the Zaragoza museum, Pablo Gargallos sculpture museum, Fire and Firefighting Museum, Francisco Goya Museum and the amazing Crystal Rosary Museum.

There were of course quite a number of other museums in the city we did not stop by. We find museums are such sources of information and knowledge and we are enriched each time we exit one.

Salud from these Zaragozano,

Ted and Julia

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