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Published: March 9th 2011
We woke up early this morning to reach the Prado Museum for our imed entry... why why why didn't my brain function yesterday? The whole point of buying a timed ticket is surely to save having to get up early to beat the queues. We arrived at the Prado Museum disgusted to see the lack of queues, but had to admit it was still nice to saunter straight for the entrance and be waved through... until we had our bags searched and were refused entry. The reason? We were carrying around a framed photo in the backpack. Apparently we were not permitted to enter the museum with a pre-bought picture, I presume in case we tried to make a quick swap but seriously a framed photo was hardly going to be neatly switched with a huge moulded gold frame stretching floor to ceiling! Eventually we were allowed to leave the bag in the staff cloakroom and were able to enter the museum.
We spent a long time in the museum, in part because it is huge, and in part because there is no system or route to follow and we had to continually retrace our steps or run up a flight
of stairs only to call back down 'yup done this one already'. Still, the museum is impressive. The building was designed by the architect Juan de Villanueva for Charles III in 1785 in order to house the Natural History Cabinet. 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.
The Museo del Prado has the largest collection of Spanish painting in the world, numbering more than 4,800 paintings and dating from the Romanesque period to the 19th century. Best representare the artists, Velázquez and Goya. The are more than 50 works by Velazquez, including his most famous paintings, and more than 140 paintings by Goya. In addition there are numerous works by various artists stretching across centuries of art.
We walked through huge white rooms displaying medieval church altar pieces, a round room with impresisve greek sculpture and far more.
Eventually we returned to wander the streets and
walked past the dos de mayo monument, celebrating the day in 1808, when the people of Madrid rebelled against the occupation of the city by French troops, provoking a brutal repression by the French Imperial forces and triggering the Spanish War of Independence.
We continued our wander and reached a large impressive looking palace, which on consideration we decided must be the royal palace. El Palacio Real de Madrid is the official residence of the ing of Spain, although is actually only used for state ceremonies while King Juan Carlos and the Royal Family live in the smaller Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of the city.
Unfortunately, due to our lapse in judgement last night when we booked our tickets to the Prado, we'd already passed midday and the queues to get in meant we'd have limited time inside. We decided to content ourselves with wandering the gardens in front and admiring the impressive facade.
We walked on to a small plaza between the royal place and the Almudena Cathedral before locating the entrance to the impressive cathedral and exploring the interior. Like so many churches in Spain the cathedral stands on the site once occupied by a
mosque. Madrid's first mosque was replaced by a church dedicated to one of Madrid's patron saints, Santa María de la Almudena and later by the cathedral. Plans for a new church began in the 16th century after King Philip II made Madrid the capital of Spain, but were constantly postponed until finally, in 1868, Madrid received permission from Toledo to construct a new church dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena. Construction began in 1883 based on a Neo-Gothic design. A year later, in 1884, Pope Leo XIII created the Diocese of Madrid, giving Madrid a bishop and raising the status of the new Almudena church to a cathedral. The building plans were updated to reflect the elevated status of the building.
Construction on the cathedral progressed slowly and came to a complete halt during the civil war of the 1930s. The process began again in 1944, when the new architect introduced a Neoclassical style that would match the Royal Palace beside the cathedral. Almudena Cathedral was completed in 1993 and consecrated in person by Pope John Paul II that same year. More recently in 2004, it was the site of the royal wedding between Felipe, Prince of Asturias and Letizia
The interior is truly breathtaking and we must have picked the perfect moment to enter the cathedral as the sun was shining rays of light through the stained class windows. Although built in the gothic style the interior is rather modern-looking yet beautifully decorated in simple colours, neither the sombre dark arches of most gothic structures nor the overly ornate decoration of most catholic churches. There is one large altar piece typically comprised of beautiful old paintings and complicated gold designs, but the overall feel of the place is more simplistic. We spent some time sitting in the peaceful atmosphere, away from the noise and bustle of Madrid's streets outside.
We eventually took to the streets again and wandered without much direction. We passed the striking curved facade of the Pontifical Basilica of St. Michael, a baroque Roman Catholic church built in 1739 - 1745 and currently under the administration of Opus Dei. The doors were locked causing my friend to once again exclaim that churches in Mexico are always open to everyone and how can a church be closed.
Ultimately our wandering took us to the main plaza of Madrid. The Plaza Mayor was built during the
Habsburg periodand its rectangular shape mesures 129 by 94 metres. The plaza was originally the idea of Philip I who approached the classical architect, Juan de Herrera to redesign the busy area of the old Plaza del Arrabal. However the construction did not begin until 1620 during the reign of Philip III who comissioned Juan Gomez de Mora to continue with the project. The plaza as it is today is the work of the architect Juan de Villanueva who was entrusted with its reconstruction in 1790 after a several fires which destroyed much of the plaza.
The plaza today is a hubub of activity. People walked around, cafes and restuarants were overflowing, street performers were entaining families nd children ran around playing games. We paused a while to watch the chaos, then decided to find a quieter spot to sit and relax.
We walked on from the plaza and saw Plaza San Nicolas and the church which is the oldest in Madrid yet somehow looks more modern than most. In fact it dates from the 15th century while the bell tower is believed to date from the 12th century and possibly formed part of an Arab osque originally. Unfortunately there
was lots of scaffolding, the bane of all tourists with cameras, and I couldn't take a photo of the actual church.
We took the metro towards Retiro Prk and spent the last of our time sitting under a tree, lazily people-watching and taking a few photos from a firmly horizontal position. Eventually needing a change of scene we walked to the boating late and sat on the steps of the Monument of Alfonso XII and from there we sadly had to agree our sightseeing was over and we needed to return to the hostel for our bags and then go our serperate ways.
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