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    Spirit of the city: Madrid

    What to see

    Museo Nacional Del Prado 

    As the Louvre is to Paris, or the National Gallery is to London, so too is the Museo Nacional Del Prado to Madrid. It can take a whole day to discover all the treasures the Prado has to offer. Let the colors and brush strokes of world’s most famous painters take you on a fascinating journey, as you look through their windows into the secrets of history.  Housing thousands of pieces, you can see some of history’s most important works of art, and take the chance to get up close and really study them. Pieces like Velázquez’s Las Meninas, Goya’s Naked Maja and Third of April, Jun Garden Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, Rubens’ Three Graces and Caravaggio’s David and Goliath. There are many other famous works in the museum from artists like El Greco, Murillo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Dürer and Tiziano. The museum even has a copy of the Mona Lisa!

    Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

    It’s undoubtedly thanks to Picasso’s Guernica that visitors Madrid have flocked to museum since it was opened in 1992. Painted in 1937, the piece commemorates the Nazi bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica. While it may be hard to walk away from this breathtaking painting, don’t forget that the museum holds many other fantastic works of art in store. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía has works on display by Spanish artists such as Joan Miro, Eduardo Chillida, Juan Gris, Julio Gonzales, Pablo Serrano Antoni Tapies and Pablo Gargallo, as well as others from all over the world, including Max Ernst, Georges Braque Yves Tanguy, Man Ray, Jacques Lipchitz, Lucio Fontana, Robert Delaunay and Francis Bacon.  

    Plaza Mayor

    Captivating from the first glance, the Plaza Mayor is bustling at all hours of the day. Tourist groups, young people, photographers, travelers… everyone enjoys passing the time in the city’s largest square. Commissioned by King Philip III during his reign between 1598 and 1621, a statue of the ruler was erected in the center of the square in 1616.  With a large, enclosed courtyard and nine entrance gates, more than two hundred and thirty balconies from the surrounding buildings look over the square. Throughout history, the square itself has been used for many different purposes, including for public executions as well as bullfights. Today however, it’s used for markets, concerts and even football matches.  

    Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

    Opened in 1992, the museum exhibits an art collection, started in the early 20th century, of one of Spain’s most distinguished families. Handed down from generation to generation, the first part of the collection has been open to the public since 1993, with the second becoming available in 2004. Around a thousand pieces of European art are on display at the museum, most dating from the 13th century all the way through to the 20th. Just a stone’s throw from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, you’ll find paintings by the likes of Van Gogh, Duccio, Matisse, Picasso, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir, Van Eyck, Carpaccio, Lucas Cranach, Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Frans Hals, Kandinsky and Gauguin on display. 

    Museo Lázaro Galdiano 

    However much it seems as if the Museo Lázaro Galdiano stands in the shadow of the Prado, Reina Sofía and Thyssen museums, it still contains pieces from some of Europe’s most important artists. The writer and financier José Lázaro Galdiano left his house to be used as a museum after his death. As soon as you enter the museum, the high ceilings of the main hall give a sense of the beauty held within. Built in 1903 and paying homage to Italian architecture, both the interior and exterior of this magnificent building have been decorated with delightful little details, and it deserves appreciation in its own right. Among the most interesting works of the museum are pieces by Goya, items from Limoges and a portrait of Christ attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci. With paintings by Spanish artists such as Sanchez Coello, El Greco, Velazques, Zubaran, Murillo and Goya, you’ll also find works from painters from around the world, including Adriaen Isenbrandt, Memling, Francesco Guardi, Lorenzo Tiepolo, Lely, Reynolds, Constable and Romney.

    Museo Sorolla 

    The home of Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla is another one of Madrid’s many art galleries.  Built in 1910, the home was turned into a museum after the painter’s death in 1932, in accordance with his and his wife’s wishes.  Most of the works you’ll see on display here are by Joaquin Sorolla himself. Sorolla’s depictions of Mediterranean beaches are truly striking. But place in the gallery has also been given to other important artists. For example, paintings by Jose de Ribera, Aureliano de Beruete, Benlliure, Mariano Fortuny and John Singer Sargen are on display, as well as sculptures by Auguste Rodin, Pedro de Mena and Mariano Benlliure. Ceramic works from the artist Daniel Zuloaga can also be seen, along with pieces belonging to ancient Roman and Andalusian culture. Be sure to see the house’s Andalusian-style garden too. 

    Parque del Retiro 

    Owned by the Spanish royal family until the 19th century, today this park is one of the biggest draws for tourists visiting Madrid. Created in 1630, the park has expanded with the passing centuries. By the 20th century, it was the largest green space in the city. Along with fountains and sculptures, the park also contains a monument to King Alfonso XII. The park is ideal for taking a break while wandering around Madrid, or just for spending a pleasant day. Within the park you’ll find La Fuente del Ángel Caído (Fountain of the Fallen Angel, erected in 1922), a rose garden, the Palacio de Cristal (the Crystal Palace, built in 1887) which is still used for exhibitions to this day, and the Palacio de Velázquez (Palace of Velázquez, built in 1884). There’s also the Casón del Buen Retiro showing art exhibits, the Museo del Ejercito (the Army Museum) which has the sword of the Castilian commander El Cid in its collection, and the Paseo de las Estatuas (the Walkway of the Statues). 

    Palacio Real de Madrid

    It’s not only Madrid’s largest building, but its most magnificent  as well. The palace covers an area of 135,000 M2  and boasts almost three thousand rooms. The Royal Palace of Madrid has been declared Europe’s largest palace still in service. Only the finest materials were used in the palace’s decoration, and it is filled with amazing artwork. The frescoes of Giaquinto, De Flandes, Tiepolo, Mengs, Bayeu and Maella adorn the walls, with paintings from the likes of Caravaggio, Velázquez and Goya to see too.  Despite all its pomp and grandeur, the royal family don’t actually live here. They live in the smaller Palacio de la Zarzuela. 

    The Plaza de Oriente

    Located between the Teatro Real Opera House and the Palacio Real, the Plaza de Oriente takes its name from the fact that it is to the east of the royal palace and its development began at the beginning of the 19th century. While walking around the square, one of the six eye-catching sculptures is that of King Felipe IV upon his horse. As you look at it, you’ll wonder how on earth the large bronze statue is able to stand on just the two hind legs of the horse.  It was Galileo’s idea to leave the front legs hollow but make the rear legs from solid cast iron, and that’s how it’s able to stand. The three lush gardens around the square are like an oasis in the middle of the city. The sculptures in the gardens were actually made for the royal palace. However, they were too heavy to be placed on the palace roof, and so ended up here. After a busy day wandering the streets of Madrid, why not wander over to the garden known as the Jardines Cabo Naval as evening approaches, and watch the serene Madrid sunset.   

    The Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando

    Established in 1744 and with works by Goya, Zurbarán, Ribera, Leandro Bassano, Rubens, Mengs, Van Loo, Madrazo, Velázquez, Haes, Sorolla and Juan Gris on display, the academy focuses particularly on 16th to 19th century Spanish, Italian and Flemish art. You’ll also find pieces by leading Spanish artists such as Pablo Picasso. The most famous director of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando was probably Goya, while Picasso, Salvador Dali and Botero were among its most famous students students.

    What to eat

    Sopa de Ajo (Garlic Soup)

    Prepared using olive oil, garlic, salt, bread, parsley, red pepper and chicken stock,  once cooked it’s ladled into bowls and an egg or two is cracked into the soup and served. The soup is generally served during festivals and Spanish national holidays, and is even served as an invigorating breakfast. Served with toasted bread, the recipe will change slightly from place to place, with beef stock or ham also being used in some regions.

    Tapas

    These little tasting plates of hot and cold dishes can be eaten as a starter, meze or even as a whole meal. “Tapas bars” have become popular, especially among tourists, for place to go and try all varieties of Tapas food. Be sure to try one of the many wonderful Tapas restaurants on your trip to Madrid.

    Paella

    Described as a synthesis between the Roman civilization and the Arab world, the popularity of this dish only ever seems to grow. Along with the dish’s main component rice, and good paella will also contain generous amounts of olive oil and saffron. With so many possible ingredients, the three most well-known types of paella are Valencian paella, seafood paella and mixed paella. And of these, Valencian paella is the most common.  Valencian paella is made with green vegetables, chicken or rabbit, and saffron and it’s generally accepted to be the original paella. It’s up to you to choose the type of paella that’ll make your trip to Madrid complete.