If you are a connoisseur of art, sculpture, and creativity, then Madrid is the perfect place for you. Very few cities have as many museums devoted to art and celebrating its culture. You could spend your entire time in Spain’s capital wandering around the extensive halls, but knowing which museums to hit up when you’re there can be more of a challenge. Here is a list of some of Madrid’s best spots to be inspired and to learn something new.
The National Archaeological Museum was founded by a royal decree issued by Queen Isabella II. This Neoclassical museum has an impressive collection of archeological and ethnographical pieces, including pre-historic collections from the Iberian peninsula, displays dedicated to ancient Greek and Roman life, and an interior courtyard awash in natural light. Check out the Mudejar ceilings in the Andalusian collection and “La Dama de Elche,” a famous bust of a prehistoric Iberian woman that many believe to have been a funerary urn.
This museum houses one of the most stellar collections of pre-Columbian American art and artifacts in Europe. Most of them were brought back from the conquest and during the centuries of Spanish rule over Central and South America. Later acquisitions were donated by Latin American governments. Notable pieces include Madrid Codex, one of only four surviving Mayan-illustrated glyph manuscripts in the world, Tudela Codex and illustrated manuscripts from central Mexico, and Gold of the Quimbayas, a series of exquisite gold figures from the Quimbaya culture of Colombia. Don’t miss out the comical and sometimes highly-sexual figurines from the Chibcha culture of Colombia, well-known for their exquisite modeling technique. Other highlights are the Inca stone sculptures and funeral offerings from Peru and Aztec obsidian masks from Mexico.
The Prado is definitely one of the most popular attractions in Madrid and part of the Golden Triangle of Art. It is located in an enormous Neoclassical building begun by Juan de Villanueva for King Carlos III in 1785. Although the original plan was to establish a museum of natural sciences, he changed his mind when the museum opened in 1819. It was one of the world’s first public art museums and it was home to the royal art collection. In recent years, the Prado has undergone a highly-ambitious expansion program, which includes the remodeling of the Casón del Buen Retiro, an annex opposite El Retiro park. Behind the main museum, near the site of the San Jerónimo cloisters, the new cube-shaped edifice designed by Rafael Moneo was also recently unveiled. As for the collection itself, the main exhibits are still the royal paintings. A stroll through the Prado is a perfect way to get a taste of political alliances and royal attitudes from the 15th to the 17th centuries: court painters Diego de Velázquez and Francisco de Goya are well-represented.
This museum is the second point in the Golden Triangle of Art in Madrid. Opened in 1992, the private collection of the late Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is widely considered one of the most important in the world. It consists of more than 750 paintings, which were actually on loan to Madrid. A purchase agreement was signed with the Spanish state in the year 1993, allowing the museum to open. The Baron chose to sell these precious works because he couldn’t pass up the chance for the collection to be housed in the then-empty Palacio de Villahermosa, an early 19th-century building renovated by architect Rafael Moneo. The terracotta-pink walls, marble floors, and skylights provide a fantastic view for visitors. Some pieces from Carmen ‘Tita’ Cervera’s (the Baron’s wife) personal collection of over 200 paintings and sculptures are housed in the new wing of the museum, opened in 2004.
Located just across the street from the Prado, this former electric factory is now a cultural exhibition center. Designed in a modern space complete with a shiny steel stairway and reflective elements, it has rotating exhibitions and the privilege of being Madrid’s very first vertical garden. The exhibitions here run the gamut from traditional painters to more polemic topics such as the story of refugees in Spain. The latest exhibitions include a series of Toulouse-Lautrec paintings outlining his experiences in the Paris Montmartre neighborhood.
Art fans can’t give the Reina Sofía a miss–it’s an important part of Madrid’s Art Triangle. It occupies a massive, slab-sided building with an impressive façade made of glass and steel lift-shafts designed by British architect Ian Ritchie. French architect Jean Nouvel has improved the overall look with new three buildings arranged around the main courtyard and covered by a triangular roof. The crown jewel of this museum is definitely “La Guernica,” Picasso’s impassioned denunciation of war and Fascism. It commemorates the destruction of the Basque town of Guernica by German bombers in support of the Francoist forces in the Spanish Civil War.
This museum is located in the current Spanish Army Headquarters, but if you are planning a trip that includes this museum, you might want to hold off until 2020 since it is currently closed for renovations. Well-known for holding an amazing mix of artifacts and historic items from Spain’s maritime pursuits, the highlight is the carefully-restored stained glass with naval decoration. The map of Juan de la Cosa, considered to be the earliest-preserved map of the Americas, is not to be missed, along with an impressive collection of coins, weapons, and jewelry.
Where are your favorite destinations for amazing museums?