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Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday in Madrid: History and Art in Spain

Yesterday Cody and I went to Madrid. Most museums offer free admission on Sundays so we planned to visit the Museum of Archaeology and the Prado. We entered Madrid by train then took the Metro to the Plaza de Colón, which is dedicated to Christopher Columbus (or Cristobal Colón in Spanish). There is normally a pillar in the center of the Plaza, but it was taken down for renovation. The Plaza is decorated with modernist sculptures which display engraved text concerning Columbus' voyages. Also visible from the Plaza are the Torres de Colón (often called "the plug" by Madrileños for obvious reasons).
Next to the Plaza was the Museum of Archaeology. It contained several of the most well-preserved artifacts from the ancient Iberian culture. The sculpture of the Iberians and their architecture reveal an advanced society, but we know very little about them (other than what the ancient Greeks and later the Romans wrote about them) as their language has yet to be decoded. They traded gold with the Greeks and were separated into several societies throughout Spain. The statue below is the most famous Iberian sculpture, the Dama de Elche, the clothing of which matches that described by the ancient Greek historian, Strabo. The statue comes from the fourth century BC and was found on the Mediterranean coast near Valencia:
There was also this statue believed to be part of the religion of the Iberians:
The museum also held objects from the Roman occupation of Spain (or Hispania as the Romans called it, giving the modern country its name) including this statue of Urania, the Muse of Astronomy. It was sculpted nearly two-hundred years after the Dama de Elche:
The museum also held a small collection of Visigothic items. The Visigoths were a Christian people who acted as stewards of Spain for the Romans during the collapse of the Roman Empire. After the Empire fell, the Visigoths controlled Spain until the Moors of North Africa conquered the peninsula. Here is a symbolic crown given to the church by the Visigoth King Recceswinth. It is believed to have been made around the year 655:
The museum contained some artifacts from the Muslim era. The Moors invaded Spain in 711 and slowly expanded their influence to control most of the southern peninsula. The Muslims of Spain had many scientists and philosophers and for a while lived in harmony with the Jews and Christians in what was known as the Kingdom of Al-Andalus (the province of southern Spain is now known as Andalusia). Here is an astronomical map dating from the period. It is inscribed with Arabic script:
As time progressed and a new, less tolerant dynasty took control of Al-Andalus, the relations between the Christians, Muslims, and Jews grew worse. The Reconquista (which had various and complex origins) saw the Christians take control of the Spanish kingdoms once again. In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, forced all the Jews and Muslims to either convert or leave Spain. The Inquisition followed. The museum had a number of artifacts from this era of medieval Spain, including this statue of a penitent nobleman:
The museum also had a small collection of royal trinkets from the early decades of the Spanish Empire.

From the Museum of Architecture, we walked down the Paseo de la Castellana, a tree-lined street which heads to the modern financial district of Madrid, known as AZCA. Along the way, I spotted this sculpture by the contemporary Colombian artist Fernando Botero:
A few miles down this street, we ented the AZCA district and saw the modern part of Madrid which includes the rounded Torre Europa (built in 1985) and the leaning towers of Puerta de Europa (finished in 1996):
From here, we took the subway back across the city to Gran Vía and walked to the Plaza de España, in the center of which stands a giant monument to Miguel de Cervantes:
From here was a short walk to the Temple of Debod. This is an Egyptian temple from the second century BC that was given to Spain as a gift for the Spanish government's aid in the preservation of several Egyptian monuments. The temple was reconstructed stone by stone on a hill overlooking the city. This creates an odd sensation at first as the last thing one expects to see when walking through a European capital is an authentic ancient Egyptian temple.
From here, I had this great view of the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and the Catedral de la Almudena:
We then headed to the Prado, one of Europe's largest art museums. We stopped at the adjacent Parque del Retiro and saw some musicians, then headed up the Paseo del Prado. Along the way, I saw this modern art museum, which I am assuming is "green":
We then came upon the Prado, which houses European art from the Renaissance to the 19th century. Most of the collection is Spanish art, focusing on El Greco, Diego Velazquez,

and Francisco de Goya.

The museum does not allow photography, but I would recommend everyone search for the paintings of these artists online if you have never seen them. Soon after entering the museum, we ran into Priscilla, a girl from New Jersey who lives in Alcalá de Henares whom we met through Kevin and Liz. The three of us toured some of the museum. The El Greco collection was relatively small as most of his paintings are located in a museum in Toledo.
I saw the museum's Velazquez (the great Spanish painter of the Renaissance) collection. This included his royal portraits and the painting of the royal dwarf (a court jester), Don Sebastián de Morra. The mythological-themed Los Borrachos was also there. The largest crowd in this wing of the museum surrounded his most famous painting, Las Meninas, a single painting on which entire books have been written. The painting has a mysterious quality. It was commissioned as a royal portrait of King Felipe IV and his wife. Velazquez decided to paint the portrait from the perspective of the royal couple (or some other figure) instead of his own. The result is a painting of the princess with her chaperones watching her parents as Velazquez stands at his canvas in the corner. In the distance a mirror reflects the royal couple.
I also saw a portion of the museum's Goya (my favorite artist) collection. I was able to see his royal portraits and the two sister paintings The Clothed Maja and The Naked Maja which were displayed side-by-side. By looking at his portraits up close, you can see how talented Goya was at differentiating between textures. Some of his smaller paintings of festivals were also on display on this floor. The lower floor contained his later paintings which took place after Napoleon's invasion and the resulting Spanish rebellion of 1808. We didn't get to this part of the museum however, as it was closing. We also saw paintings by the Dutch artist Rembrandt and the Flemish/Dutch Rubens' The Three Graces. We spent nearly three hours in the museum, but saw only a small part of it (only one of three floors). I plan on going back to see the rest of the Goya collection and The Garden of Earthly Delights by the odd Rennaisance-era Dutch painter, Heironymus Bosch.
After leaving the museum the three of us headed back to Alcalá on the train after eating at a sandwich shop. I was exhausted after the two days spent in Guadalajara and Madrid and went to sleep as soon as I returned to the apartment.

1 comment:

  1. The building with the grass on the side is very cool looking.