Day 2 was our first full day in the city, and we tackled it with all the enthusiasm we could muster, which perhaps was a bit too much.
We started the day off with an early morning run through Retiro Park. As we were planning our trip, multiple people had told us to pack our running gear because Madrid is a great city for running. They certainly weren’t wrong. Retiro Park and the surrounding areas were full of runners of all sorts. Running in the Park had the exact ‘live-like-a-local’ feel that we’d been promised.
After our run, we headed home to shower and start our day. We had two rough goals in mind: visit the Museo del Prado, and explore the city. We spent 4 hours in the museum, and walked over 30km that day, so I think it’s safe to say that we accomplished both goals.
It took some time to get into the museum because we hadn’t bought our tickets in advance, but the line moved quickly and the weather was great, so the wait was no issue. Armed with our tickets, maps, and enthusiasm, we entered the Museo del Prado.
The Museo del Prado is the main event as far as Madrid museums go. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:
The Prado Museum (Spanish pronunciation: [muˈseo ðel ˈpɾaðo]) is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It features one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of Spanish art. Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture in 1819, it also contains important collections of other types of works. El Prado is one of the most visited sites in the world, and it is considered one of the greatest art museums in the world. The numerous works by Francisco de Goya, the single most extensively represented artist, as well as by Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, and Diego Velázquez, are some of the highlights of the collection.
The building that is now the home of the Museo Nacional del Prado was designed in 1785 by architect of the Enlightenment in SpainJuan de Villanueva on the orders of Charles III to house the Natural History Cabinet. Nonetheless, the building’s final function was not decided until the monarch’s grandson, Ferdinand VII, encouraged by his wife, Queen María Isabel de Braganza, decided to use it as a new Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures. The Royal Museum, which would soon become known as the National Museum of Painting and Sculpture, and subsequently the Museo Nacional del Prado, opened to the public for the first time in November 1819. It was created with the double aim of showing the works of art belonging to the Spanish Crown and to demonstrate to the rest of Europe that Spanish art was of equal merit to any other national school.
Because much of the art in the Museo del Prado was commission by the Spanish Royal family, it has two primary themes: paintings of the royal family, and religious art.
I know we were feeling optimistic about our museum adventure because we started in the religious art section and really took our time. The collection was impressive, with art from masters like Titian, El Greco, and Caravaggio. However, at the end of the day, we both found the religious art to be repetitive. The museum is roughly in order based on time period, and most of the paintings from the 1400s to 1600s were religious in theme. 200 years of religious paintings is a LOT of religious paintings, and eventually we had to skip through a few of these rooms
The other thing to note is that this museum is physically HUGE. We spent nearly 2 hours looking at religious art before we realized that we’d only covered a small amount of the museum. The Museo del Prado is currently 16000 square meters. According to this weird little website, 16000 square metres is 3x the size of a football field, and half the size of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. Suffice it to say, it’s a lot to take in.
Once we’d covered the bulk of the main floor, we had to break for lunch. We’d had only a small breakfast, and were beginning to wilt. We re-fuelled with a paella from the museum cafeteria, and then headed upstairs.
Beyond the Spanish royal family’s extensive collection of religious art, the collection has quite a few rather famous highlights. Spanish artists Velazquez and Goya are both showcased beautifully.
Goya is considered one of the last “Old Masters” of painting, and was a renowned portraitist in the 1800s, hence his relationship with the Royal family. Later on his work took on darker tones, particularly in response to war and conflict in the region. We were able to see a full range of his artistic span, including the famous “The Second of May 1808” and “The Third of May 1808“. We were also able to see his “Black Paintings”, which “originally were painted as murals on the walls of the house, later being “hacked off the walls and attached to canvas.” (Wikipedia).
Velazquez’s paintings formed the other main event. According to Wikipedia:
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was a Spanish painter, the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV, and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, important as a portrait artist. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family, other notable European figures, and commoners, culminating in the production of his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).
The Museo del Prado is intentionally a home for classic paintings and art, with more modern collections held in other museums. From religious art to the works of portraitists favoured by the royal family, the theme was really ‘the art of old Spanish power’. It was a lot to see, but definitely worth it.
After all that walking in the museum, we left to continue exploring the city. We walked through many beautiful old plazas, headed for the Royal Palace of Madrid, the original source of all the art we’d just seen.
The Royal Palace of Madrid has a long and complex history, much like Spain itself. Here’s a brief (seriously!) soundbite from Wikipedia:
The palace is located on the site of a 9th-century Alcázar (“Muslim-era fortress”), near the town of Magerit, constructed as an outpost by Muhammad I of Córdoba:7 and inherited after 1036 by the independent Moorish Taifa of Toledo. After Madrid fell to Alfonso VI of Castile in 1083, the edifice was only rarely used by the kings of Castile. In 1329, King Alfonso XI of Castile convened the cortes of Madrid for the first time. Philip II moved his court to Madrid in 1561.
The old Alcázar was built on the location in the 16th century. After it burned 24 December 1734, King Philip V ordered a new palace built on the same site. Construction spanned the years 1738 to 1755 and followed a Berniniesque design by Filippo Juvarra and Giovanni Battista Sacchetti in cooperation with Ventura Rodríguez, Francesco Sabatini, and Martín Sarmiento. Charles III first occupied the new palace in 1764.
The last monarch who lived continuously in the palace was Alfonso XIII, although Manuel Azaña, president of the Second Republic, also inhabited it, making him the last head of state to do so. During that period the palace was known as “Palacio Nacional”. There is still a room next to the Real Capilla, which is known by the name “Office of Azaña”.
The palace has 135,000 square metres (1,450,000 sq ft) of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms. It is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area. The interior of the palace is notable for its wealth of art and the use of many types of fine materials in the construction and the decoration of its rooms.
You can pay 11 euros to go inside the palace, but we were honestly tired of looking at paintings of rich Spaniards and Jesus Christ, so we decided to skip this one. Instead, we walked around the outside of the palace and explored the nearby gardens. The weather was beautiful, as were the architecture/gardens/fountains.
We then headed to a nearby park that Zoya had told us about. Oeste Park is apparently the go-to spot for watching sunsets in Madrid. We were a bit early for sunset, but we did enjoy the view, which overlooks the palace and the expansive green space behind it.
We then wandered through the park in search of the Temple of Debod. This was one of the more random things we saw in Madrid. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this attraction:
The shrine was originally erected 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) south of Aswan in Upper Egypt, very close to the first cataract of the Nile and to the great religious center in Philae dedicated to the goddess Isis. In the early 2nd century BC, Adikhalamani (Tabriqo), the Kushite king of Meroë, started its construction by building a small single-room chapel dedicated to the god Amun.
In 1960, due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the consequent threat posed by its reservoir to numerous monuments and archeological sites, UNESCO made an international call to save this rich historical legacy. As a sign of gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples, the Egyptian state donated the temple of Debod to Spain in 1968.
The temple was rebuilt in one of Madrid’s parks, the Parque del Oeste, near the Royal Palace of Madrid, and opened to the public in 1972. It constitutes one of the few works of ancient Egyptian architecture that can be seen outside Egypt and the only one of its kind in Spain.
So, yeah. We saw 2000ish year old Egyptian temple in Madrid. Not much to say other than it looked really cool, and was a unique thing to see.
From the park, we continued our walk. We stopped for lunch at Takos Al Pastor, recommended by Zoya as a great spot for cheap tacos. She was right. We tried all the tacos on the menu, and it was a delicious.
Eventually we made it back to our AirBnB. I have to assume that we napped, though I don’t remember.
That evening, we ate dinner at the Mercado de San Anton. We’re weren’t a huge fan of the set up, but they had a cool rooftop bar, where Zoya eventually joined us. When the party ended there, we headed to 1862 Dry Bar. After enjoying their spectacular cocktails and hospitality, we wrapped up the night and headed home (walking, of course).
All in all it was a great day, but we definitely slept in the next morning.