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.
Spring has finally sprung here in Madrid. The sidewalk cafes are full, and those who can’t find a seat have set off to the countryside to go hiking. It’s a good time to leave the museums and galleries behind and take a look at what the surrounding area has to offer.
This past weekend my family and I visited Alcalá de Henares, a small city 40 minutes on the suburban train outside of Madrid. Its main claim to fame is being the birthplace of Cervantes, who has been in the news recently because Spanish archaeologists discovered his tomb.
Like many Spanish cities, it has its roots in prehistory and came to prominence in Roman times, when it was called Complutum. After the fall of the empire it was a Visigothic settlement and was later taken over by the Moors, who built a citadel (“al-qal’a” in Arabic, a common place name in Spain). During the Moorish period it was a thriving town with large Christian and Jewish quarters.
When the Egypt government began its massive Aswan Dam project in 1960, it realized that a large number of temples and archaeological sites would be submerged forever. Teaming up with UNESCO, it started an ambitious project of survey and excavation, as well as the relocation of several key monuments.
Europe is rich in collections of early arms and armor. Most major cities and many smaller towns have their local armories. Generally these collections span a broad range of time, but La Real Armería, the Royal Armory, in the Royal Palace in Madrid, is unusual in that most of the collection dates to the lives of Charles V (1500-1558) and Philip II (1527-1598). This makes it perhaps the best collection of high quality sixteenth-century arms and armor in the world.
This week I intended on doing part two of my history of Somalia, but I haven’t had time to do the research. I got bogged down in finishing an archaeology booklet I was contracted to write, as well as dealing with National Novel Writing Month (22,332 words and counting!). So we’ll talk about the medieval empires of Somalia next week. This week I want to share some photos I took at the Museo Naval here in Madrid.
In previous posts, I’ve been exploring the newly renovated Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid. We’ve looked at the museum’s Celtiberian and Roman collections, and now let’s see the museum’s other great collection, that of the medieval period.
Last week, I shared some of the Celtiberian artifacts at the newly remodeled Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid. The museum also has a strong collection of Roman artifacts, reflecting Spain’s longtime importance in the Roman Empire. Most gripping are the mosaics. Spain had numerous wealthy villas both in the cities and countryside, and thankfully many of these have been discovered and preserved.
Madrid is famous for its vast collection of art and antiquities, and the biggest museum news from Spain’s capital this year is the reopening of the Museo Arqueológico Nacional. It was closed for refurbishment for several years and madrileños were beginning to wonder if they were ever going to get their archaeological museum back.
Earlier this year, it finally reopened and having just moved back to Madrid I made a beeline to go see it.
It was worth the wait. The old museum, with its poor lighting and antiquated displays, is no more, replaced by a more open, modern floor plan that reminds me of the 2009 redesign of the Ashmolean in Oxford. The signage has improved, with detailed texts in both Spanish and English, and the arrangement of the artifacts is easier on the eye.