Madrid is famous for its world-class art museums, but residents to this city know of many more, smaller museums that are also worth a look. Some, like the Museo Cerralbo that I covered in a previous post, are private collections in mansions-turned museums. Another of these is the Museo Lazaro Galdiano, which is the product of a wealthy collector of that name from the turn of the last century. His mansion in central Madrid is filled with more than 12,600 works of art.
Mirror case, France, 1370-1400. Ivory. It depicts a love scene in a
garden where the happy couple hold a heart as cupids hover
overhead holding a shield and a hooded figure looks on.
One of Madrid’s leading private galleries is hosting a major exhibition on medieval art. The Pillars of Europe: Middle Ages in the British Museum brings together more than a hundred objects ranging from 400 to 1500 at CaixaForum’s Madrid branch.
The exhibition aims to show through objects and images how Europe transformed from the fragmentation after the fall of the Roman Empire through the Middle Ages and into the emerging nation states at the beginning of the Renaissance. An excellent map shows how borders shifted over the century, and a slideshow gives period depictions of Europe’s cities as they grew and became more prominent. The objects are grouped into four themes: Royal Power, Heavenly Treasures, Courtly Life, and Urban Life.
The Santa Cueva Oratory in Cádiz was finished in 1796
and is one of the best examples of its kind. It features some
unusually bright and cheery paintings by Francisco de Goya
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Phoenician and Roman Cádiz, the early history of one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Europe, on the southwestern coast of Spain near the Strait of Gibraltar. While Cádiz was important throughout its history, its sheltered harbor on the Atlantic made it a good spot for launching the many exploratory vessels that Spain sent out into the world starting in the late 15th century. Columbus made his second and fourth voyages to America from Cádiz, and some of the tropical plants growing in the city squares are said to be descendants of samples he brought home.
The Roman theater at Cádiz sez: “Ugh, I’ve eaten too much dormouse. BLAARGH!”
I’ve often heard an odd rumor about the ancient Romans. Supposedly they had a special room in their villas and public houses called a vomitorium so that after binging on food and wine they could purge themselves and start stuffing their gullets again. You’ve probably heard that rumor too.
I’ve never believed that story, but while exploring the Roman remains at Cádiz, Spain, I discovered that the vomitorium actually did exist, it just wasn’t what we’ve been told.
Phoenician bling.Jewelry found in the Phoenician cemetery dating from the 5th to 2nd centuries BC. The finds include many imports, even amulets of Horus and Sekhmet from as far away as Egypt
Europe is known for its ancient cities, with many dating to Roman or even pre-Roman times. One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Europe is Cádiz, on the southwestern coast of Spain near the Strait of Gibraltar. It has been a city since at least Phoenician times and has been of crucial importance to the region ever since.
El Castillo de Santa Barbara, built in the 15th century to protect
the port of Teguise from pirate attacks. It was extensively rebuilt in the 16th century and
now houses a piracy museum. Photo courtesy Almudena Alonso-Herrero
When I told Black Gate‘s editor, high guru, and overall generalissimo John O’Neill that I was headed to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands and would visit a castle that had a piracy museum, he was over the Moon. What fantasy blog wouldn’t want an article on that?
Unfortunately for him, I spent my week eating, swimming, and learning to play Grand Theft Auto 5 with my son and nephew. When I finally got around to driving out to the castle, it was closed. Yeah, I failed in my job as a travel writer because I enjoyed my vacation too much.
But the island itself is worth a look, and its history is fascinating. Lanzarote lies in the Canary Island chain just off the coast of Western Sahara. It’s volcanic in origin, with a dramatic coastline ringing an interior that looks like something from a post-apocalyptic movie.
Statue of a Lusitani warrior, 1st century AD.
Note the torc and arm bands, indicating high rank
It’s the start of the summer exhibition season here in Madrid, and the National Archaeological Museum is offering a free exhibition called Lusitania Romana, about the Roman province that took up much of what is now western Spain and Portugal.
The province got its name from the native Lusitani, who were either a Celtiberian people or an older ethnic group culturally influenced by the Celts, depending on which historian you read. The Romans fought these people from from 155 to 139 BC, eventually defeating them. The Lusitani continued a guerrilla war for another century.
When the province was created in 27 BC, the capital was set as Emerita Augusta, now the modern city of Mérida in Spain, which still retains some fascinating Roman ruins including a well-preserved theater, plus an excellent museum. With pacification came acculturation, and soon the region had several sizeable cities with all the usual Roman public works, and the countryside had numerous villas with some fine mosaics that have survived to this day.
The armory doubled as the reception room. The first thing visitors see
is the Marquis’ coat of arms flanked by these two fine suits of armor.
Madrid is filled with museums. While most visitors see the “Golden Triangle” of art museums consisting of El Prado, La Reina Sofia, and El Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, there are dozens of other museums, some big, some small, that are well worth a look.
One is the Museo Cerralbo, the former mansion of the Marquis de Cerralbo. Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa (1845-1922), 17th Marquis of Cerralbo, was an avid collector of art and antiquities and stuffed his grandiose city home with his purchases. The Marquis did more than simply collect, he was also an active archaeologist and did much to advance the study of prehistory in Spain. Of greatest interest to Black Gate readers is the impressive collection of medieval and Renaissance arms and armor.
An hour’s train ride from Madrid is a small medieval town that’s often overlooked by international visitors. Cuenca has been an important town since the 8th century and has heaps of historic sights as well as natural beauty.
Located in rough hills and on a spur between the deep valleys of the Júcar and Huécar rivers, it’s a naturally defensible position and was fortified by the conquering Moors in 714. There is little remaining from the Islamic era because after it was conquered in 1177 by King Alfonso VIII, the city was extensively remodeled by him and several later monarchs.
Morocco is a country of many parts. While most visitors go down the the Atlas Mountains and the important cities in the interior like Fez and Marrakesh, or strike out into the southern desert, the Moroccan coast is well worth a visit. The Atlantic coast in particular has some interesting historic ports.
Larache is an hour and a half drive along the coast from the Strait of Gibraltar and makes for a good day trip from Tangier. Nearby is the Roman city of Lixus, the main reason we went. Lixus used to be a harbor until the Oued Loukos estuary silted up, marooning it inland and forcing the residents to build the newer city of Larache around the 15th century AD.
For many years it was an important fishing port and was the main shipbuilding center for the Barbary corsairs. Local artisans used wood from the nearby Forest of Mamora, which still stands today and makes a good place for a peaceful stroll.