||GENEVIVE SAVUNDRANAYAGAM, Contributor
Often overshadowed by its alluring sister Barcelona, many travelers willingly forgo a few days in Spain’s capital for a few extras days on the beach. Faced with a similar dilemma when planning my trip to Spain, Madrid never made it to the top of my travel destination list.
The buzzing streets of Madrid by night. Photo by Genevive Savundranayagam
Wanting to escape the craziness of city life, the beach was calling my name. Being confined to museums and art galleries didn’t seem as appealing. Thank goodness for a last minute change of plans — I soon realized that a trip to Spain would not be complete without a visit to Madrid.
A city that encourages freedom of expression and individuality, Madrid is home to some of the world’s greatest masterpieces. From the paintings that adorn the walls of Museo del Prado to the lavish rooms of Palacio Real, the genius of Spain’s masterminds shines through.
With only a few days in Madrid, my travel companion Kristen and I didn’t have enough time to visit every gallery, museum or monument. Luckily for us, we got some insider tips from a Madrid local who helped us narrow down our “must see” list to Museo del Prado (Prado Museum), Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and Retiro Park.
Designed by architect Juan de Villanueva in 1785, the museum itself is a sight to see. Large pillars and statues invite you in to view some of the greatest art collections in history, including the largest collection of Spanish paintings in the world.
A statue of Velazquez guarding Prado Museum. Photo by Genevive Savundranayagam
With artwork from the Romanesque period to the 19th century, tourists flock to get a glimpse of works by Velazquez, Goya, El Greco, Ribera and other internationally renowned Spanish artists of the Golden Age. Two of Spain’s greatest artists, Velazquez and Goya, are featured most prominently throughout the museum.
Prado is home to Velazquez’s Las Meninas, considered one of the best paintings in the world, and a collection of Goya’s Black Paintings — intriguing yet disturbing works showcasing his inner struggles. If you have no idea who these artists are, don’t worry. You don’t need to be a fine arts major to appreciate the detailed, striking and thought-provoking pieces created by these great masters.
You could easily spend days in the Prado Museum wandering past thousands of paintings and sculptures. But if you’re short on time, a couple of hours at Prado are all you need to get a sense of Spain’s contribution to the art world. If you have more time to spare, make sure to go on the great Art Walk (the Paseo del Arte), which takes you to the three best museums: Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, Reina Sofía Museum and Art Centre, and Prado Museum.
After exploring these museums, take a walk or hop in a cab and head to the Royal Palace.
Genevive and Kristen outside Madrid’s Royal Place. Photo by Genevive Savundranayagam
A visit to Madrid’s Royal Palace will leave you wishing you could meet Prince Charming and live happily ever after. With more than 2,000 rooms, the Royal Palace is the largest of its kind in Europe. Decorated to the tastes of Charles III, every room is unique. Although Spain’s King and Queen no longer reside in the Palace, it is still used for governmental business and state ceremonies.
Built during the 18th century on a fortress destroyed by fire, you’ll notice that the entire structure is made out of limestone and granite, ensuring it does not burn down again. As you walk up the staircase in the foyer, take a moment to view the incredible Italian frescos painted on the ceilings. Then prepare to soak in the extravagant decor and impressive art collections of the Royal Palace.
The detail and intricacy of design in each room is unbelievable. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Lush carpets hug the floors. Collections of tapestries, armour, clocks and musical instruments continue to wow visitors as they explore the palace. The oriental room, by far the most impressive room I’ve ever seen, is decorated in silk, with embroidered walls and mosaic floors. The Royal Palace is one sight you don’t want to miss.
If you get an early start, you can easily tour the Prado Museum and Royal Palace in one morning. Then head over to St. Miguel market, pick up some wine and fresh baguettes, and enjoy a picnic in Retiro Park.
Visitors relax by the pond outside the Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park. Photo by Genevive Savundranayagam
Families, friends, couples and tourists flock to this park to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Similar to New York’s Central Park, you’ll see runners, bikers, seniors playing chess and lots of romance.
Spanning several city blocks, Retiro Park features many stunning sculptures and monuments. The Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal), a glass pavilion in the park, is by far the most striking. Currently, Maja Bajevic’s unique installation, To Be Continued, is on exhibit. Bajevic takes a critical and witty approach to art, and invites visitors to become a part of her work. You can leave your mark on the dusty glass walls or climb up a large staircase and become a sculpture yourself, letting others below interpret who you are. Bajevic’s exhibit runs until Oct. 3.
Whether you’re going for an art walk or relaxing in the park, you’re bound to fall in love with Madrid’s art and cultural scene. I have no regrets giving up an extra day on the beach to be in the presence of excellence.
Kristen pauses to take in the spectacular sights. Photo by Genevive Savundranayagam
Velazquez’s Las Meninas — a must see!
The sheer size, complexity and mystery behind Las Meninas will make any passerby stop to take a second look. Velazquez himself stares right back at you with paint brush and easel in hand, challenging you to take a deeper look and unlock the mystery behind his masterpiece.
The oil painting not only depicts a self-portrait of the artist in the hall of Madrid’s Palace, but also a portrait of the Infanta Margarita, daughter of Felipe IV (1605-1665), surrounded by her ladies in waiting, the “meninas.” Las Meninas illustrates the social rank desired by Velazquez, placing himself prominently in the painting as though he were nobility and the king and queen a mere reflection in the background.
What’s most interesting about this painting is its complex composition. The lighting and angles make the image come alive. If you walk from one end of the image to the other, hidden features of the painting will emerge. Don’t be surprised to find visitors turning their backs to the painting and pulling out a mirror to view it from another perspective. The reflection brings Infanta Margarita to life, as though her dress is emerging from the canvas, creating a 3-D like effect.
Velazquez’s skill as an artist shines through in this painting, considered one of the best in the world. It is a work of art you can’t leave Spain without seeing. For more information and to view a complete list of collections at Prado visit museodelprado.es/en.
Genevive Savundranayagam is a communications professional based in Toronto. Genevive is convinced she was born to travel — with a camera in hand. She craves adventure, exploring different cultures, meeting interesting people and capturing every moment.
Date Added: July 22, 2011 | Comments (0)
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