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Madrid Travel Guide - Sights and Museums
The Prado Museum: (Metro: Atocha) Tue-Sat 9-7, Sun 9-2 PM. Closed Monday. On Castellana called Paseo del Prado. This museum is the number one tourist attraction in Madrid and many say it's the finest collection in the world. Opened in 1823, it is smaller and better arranged than the Louvre, now has air conditioning and better lighting. Here, are a great concentration of masterpieces by Velasquez, Murillo, Zurbaran, El Greco, Ribera, Titian, Rubens, Raphael, Botticelli, Mantegna, Bosch, and Goya (largest in world). As museums go, the Prado is not huge, but the collection is so great, one should allow plenty of time.

Centro de Arte Reina Sofia: (Santa Isabel 52, corner of Atocha). Wed-Sat 10-9PM. Sun 10-2:30. This museum displays the art of Picasso, Dali, Miro and Gris. But the real reason to go is for Picasso's great masterpiece "Guernica" which was painted to represent the horrors of war. He would not allow it to be exhibited in Spain until after the death of Franco. It will be heavily guarded. See it!

El Retiro: Located 2 streets behind the prado, this is Madrid's most popular and beautiful park. Dating back to the 15th century, it was not opened to the public until 1876. Among the attractions are a dozen outdoor cafes, two nightclubs, a beautiful lake, children's playgrounds, shady pathways adorned with statues, monuments and fountains. In summer there are band concerts on Sunday morning.

Puerta de Alcala: This large arch on the Plaza de Independencia was built in 1778 during Carlos Il's reign and was formerly one of the gates to the city.

Plaza de Cibeles: Near the Puerta de Alcala. This fountain in this plaza is the most famous in Spain. It was named after the chariot-mounted Greek goddess of fertility, Cybele and has become the unofficial emblem of Madrid. This plaza is the crossroads of the city.

The Royal Palace: (Metro: Opera or Plaza de Espana). Mon-Sat 9-6:15, Sun 9-3:15 PM. The Royal Palace is one of the great sights of Madrid. Built on the site of the former Alcazar (fortress) which burned down in 1734. Philip V began the current construction in 1737... completed in 1764. It was the home of Spanish monarchs for almost 200 years until the coming of the Second Republic in 1931 when King Alfonso left for exile in Italy. General Franco used it for State Functions, as does the present King Juan Carlos. There are over 2800 rooms and the private apartments are as ornate as the palace proper. In the private chapel, a focal point is a glass case displaying what appears to be an over-sized doll. It's actually the bones of a Roman Martyr (St. Felix) wrapped in wax and silk and made to look like a small person... a gift to Queen Isabella from the Pope. One sees a lot of the interior of the palace and they are beautiful. Outside the palace is the spacious Plaza del Oriente, which is enhanced by statues of warriors and kings... 100 of them originally destined to adorn the palace's roof, but their weight was so great that it was safer to place them in the square. (To tour the Palace: Enter and buy a ticket. Wait in a large room until a guide announces "English Tour". Join the group for an excellent and informative tour.) On my last visit, individuals were allowed to walk thru without a guide.

Plaza de Espana: This large spacious plaza is flanked by skyscrapers, but is a delightful space for resting, or taking refreshment. Around the fountain in the middle of the park stands the famous statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panzo as well as a monument to the discovery of America.

Temple of Debod: From the Plaza de Espana, cross over Calle Ferraz and enter the gardens of the Cuartel del la Montans. This is an authentic Egyptian temple that formerly stood in the Aswaii area of the Nile. It was transported stone by stone from Egypt when the Aswan was flooded... not interesting enough to go out of your way. Hours Daily 10-1, 5-8. Sunday 10-3.

Plaza Mayor: This is the heart of Madrid and the city's most beautiful square. Begun in 1117 during Philip III's reign and completed in 1620. Fires gutted part of the structure in 1631, 1672, and 1790. In 1970 a large underground parking lot was built and the square was closed to traffic. A tour of Old Madrid is best started from the Plaza Mayor. This old section of the city was built during the rule of, the Hapsburg dynasty, prior to the 18th century. It is a maze of narrow streets, churches and small squares.

San Francisco El Grande: (Metro: La Latina). Daily 11-1, 4-7. The largest and most important church in Madrid... built between 1761 and 1784. Outstanding is the large dome measuring 96 feet, making it larger than St. Paul's in London. Paintings in the chapel include works by Goya and Jordan.

The Rastro (Flea Market): A must on Sunday morning! Some of the goods are vastly overpriced. Try to bargain... starting at ½ of the asking price. The Rastro is located on the steep hill of the Ribera de Curtidores.

Puerto del Sol: The "Gate of the Sun" is the major crossroads of Madrid, and of all of Spain. Distances in the country are measured from this "zero" point. Formerly, this gate was famous for its bustling all-night cafes and hectic traffic, which have now moved elsewhere. This area has been the scene of many stirring events... the most famous occurring in 1808... the uprising against the French which is depicted in Goya's paintings.

Contemporary Art Museum: Daily 10-6, Sun 10-2. Closed Monday. Located on Avenida Juan de Herrera in the University City. It is a new museum set in very pleasant gardens. Sculptures and paintings include works by Picasso and Miro. The museum is rather far out, but worth it, if you have the time.

Goya Pantheon: (Metro: Norte) Tue-Fri 9-2 PM and 4-8 PM. In an isolated somewhat difficult to find spot (behind the North Station) on the Paseo de la Florida. The Pantheon is the tiny church Ermita San Antonio de la Florida, and is the burial place of Goya. There is a famous fresco ceiling here by Goya. (Another way to get there is by bus #46).

Cerralbo Museum: (Metro- Plaza de Espana). Daily, except Mon 10-2, 4-7. At #17 Ventura Rodriques, behind the Plaza de Espana. This mansion was built during the last half of the 19th century and the collection consists of some good paintings by El Greco, Ribera, Zurbaran, Veronese, Titian, and Tintoretto.

Mused Real Academia de Bellas: (Metro: Sol or Seville) Tue-Fri 9-7. Sat 9-2:30. . At #13 Alcala...a rather poorly lit museum containing Spanish artists from every era and other artists Zurbaran, Murillo, Ribera, Rubens, Van Dyck, Correggio, a room full of Goyas, and especially Rubens's "Susannah and the Elders."

Lazaro Galdiano Museum: Daily 10-2, Closed Monday. At #122 Calle de Serrano. From Puerto del Sol, take bus #51 (or #9,16,19,89). This museum is housed in a small mansion, very much out of the way. Includes a reputed portrait by Da Vinci, works by Bosch, Durer, Rembrandt, Breughel, Velasquez. The mansion may be more interesting than the collection.

Bullfights: Presented in the famous Plaza de Toros in the Ventas Bullring. (Metro: Ventas)... every Sunday and on holidays. Tickets can be obtained either through your hotel or by going to the mid-town ticket center at 3 Calle de la Victoria. If you purchase one of the cheaper seats, be sure and rent a cushion. Beware of the crowds... it is also difficult to get back to town.

Parque de Atraciones: (Metro: Batan, and a short walk). Known as Madrid's Tivoli... located in the Casa de Campo. This is a combination carnival, park, pleasure garden, world's fair, restaurant and dancehall complex. It is considered a nighttime must.

Royal Factory of Tapestries: (Metro: Menedez Pelayo) M-F 9-00-12:30. At #2 Fuenterrabia, the age-old process of making exquisite tapestries is still carried out. Nearly every tapestry seems to be based on Goya's designs... and that's because he used to work for the factory.

Convent of Las Descalzas Reales: (Metro: Plaza del Sol) ... on the plaza de las Descalzas Reales. Tue-Thu 10:30-12:30, 4-5:30. Fri 10:30-2:30, Sun 11-1:30. It was here that the "gentle ladies of the aristocracy" stole away in the 16th century to become nuns. Today a guide will show you through... portraits by El Greco, Velasquez, as well as a great Titian ("Caesar's Money"), and Breughel. An important relic is said to contain bits of wood from the Cross.

House of Lope de Vega: 11 Cervantes. Mon-Fri 9:30-1:30, Sat-10-1:30. (Metro: Anton Martin) De Vega is to the Spanish what Shakespeare is to the English, and he was one of the most prolific writers who ever lived. This reconstruction of his medieval house is within walking distance of the Prado. Knock on the door... a guide will show you through the house furnished with relics of the period. See the gardens out back.

Thyssen Bornemisza Museum: (Metro: Banco de Espana). Near the Prado, this new museum exhibits artworks collected by two generations of the Thyssen-Bornemisza family. The building itself was built at the end of the 18th century and is a fine example of Madrid's neoclassical architecture. The collection begins at the 13th century and continues through the 20th century. There are exquisite examples of Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Flemish, German, French and American. To see the collection in sequence, go to the 2nd floor first... and follow the gallery numbers. Tue-Sun 10-7 PM.

Museo de Artes Decorativas: (Metro: Banco de Espana) Tue-Fri 9-3, Say-Sun 10-2. Located just off Plaza de las Cibeles, this museum is stuffed with furniture, leatherwork, ceramics, glass, jewelry, toys, etc. The museum progresses in chronological order from the first floor. If you make it to the fifth floor you will be exhausted, but the variety of objects will intrigue and delight.

Museo Arqueologico Nacional: (Metro: Serrano or Retiro) Tue-Sat 9:30-8:30, Sun 9:30-2:30. Located at 13 Serrano in the same building as the National Library. Houses an impressive array of antiquities from prehistory to the middle Ages. As well as Spanish artifacts, there are Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities. Outside the entrance, the Caves of Altamira have been faithfully reproduced, and since tourists are no longer allowed into the real caves, this is your chance to marvel at the 15,000-year-old paintings.

Museo Municipal: Located at 78 Fuencarral. Tue-Fri 9:30-8, Sat-Sun 10-2PM. Here the history of Madrid is explained through paintings, documents, models, carriages, and costumes.

Mused Taurino (Bullfighting Museum): (Metro: Ventas) Tue-Fri 9:30-1:30, Sun 10-1. This museum is a must-see for the Bullfighting aficionado. Anything and every-thing to do with bullfighting is here - from busts of the famous to heads of famous bulls... swords, capes, and scale models.

Mused del Ejercito (Army Museum): (Metro: Banco de Espana) Tu-Su 10-2 PM. One of the two remaining buildings of the Buen Retiro Palace houses the Army Museum. Weaponry of every kind, from El Cid's sword to Civil War firearms, is displayed alongside armor, uniforms, flags, and bits of memorabilia.
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Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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