Madrid – An attractive blend of tradition and modernity
Madrid has many artistic attractions, thanks to the different styles that have left their imprint in the city over the centuries.
From the remains of the old Arab wall, to small Gothic churches and early Renaissance works, Madrid boasts a multitude of rich and varied works of art. Madrid comes from the Arabic word Magerit (“mother of waters”), which was the name that was given to the fortress built on the banks of the Manzanares River by the Umayyad of Cordoba, Muhammed (823-886). Although the city grew under the Arabs for two hundred years, the only remains still standing from that period are the wall and a few towers, which were turned into bell towers. The arrival of Los Austrias –as the Hapsburg dynasty was known– in the 16th century, and at the period of maximum splendor in the 17th century, brought about the monuments that today make up one of the most famous parts of the city – the area of “Los Austrias”–, along with the Plaza Mayor square, and a number of beautiful sites churches and convents. The austere Baroque facades contrast with the luxurious interiors of the palaces. The 18th century left a Neoclassical imprint, with the Royal Palace, Sabatini Gardens, and Campo del Moro gardens, which are in the city center. The church of San Francisco El Grande, the fountains in the Paseo del Prado, the Puente de Toledo bridge, the Prado Museum and the Puerta de Alcalá arch are also in the Neoclassical style. Madrid’s more modern and avant-garde areas are the two avenues in the new urban expansion area –the Gran Vía and Paseo de la Castellana. The Gran Vía, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century, is a place for shopping, leisure and hotels. The Paseo de La Castellana crosses the city from north to south, and has some of the most elegant hotels in the city, as well as corporate offices in modern and avant-garde buildings. And although Madrid is home to a truly outstanding architectural heritage, there is no question that its greatest artistic wealth is to be found in its art galleries.
Three nearby museums, located a stone’s throw away from each other, make what is known as the Paseo del Arte art route. These are the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Reina Sofía National Art Center. The Prado Museum is considered by many experts to be the world’s most important art gallery, thanks to its vast and comprehensive collection of 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century art featuring some of the greatest works of the Italian, Flemish and Spanish schools. The Prado is home to works by artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, Rubens, Goya, Velazquez, Murillo, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, Watteau, Tintoretto, El Greco, Ribera, Zurbarán, and a very long etcetera, in addition to a magnificent collection of classical sculpture. The Prado Museum offers private guided tours for groups, outside opening hours, to make this encounter with art an unforgettable experience. The Thyssen Bornemisza Museum is home to a private collection that was definitively bequeathed to the capital in 1993. It is regarded as outstanding because it contains a highly representative selection of art from a broad period of time, featuring primitive works of 13th-century painting through to the 20th-century avant-garde movements. Dürer, Tintoretto, Degas, Kandinsky, Goya, Cezanne, Matisse, Dalí, Miró, Picasso and Renoir are just some of the artists in this collection. The Paseo del Arte ends at the Reina Sofía National Art Center, famous for housing Picasso’s Guernica and for its collection of mainly Spanish contemporary painting.
The importance of these three great art museums has unjustly eclipsed all the wealth and variety of the other museums to be found in Madrid. If time allows, visitors can choose from dozens of options, including such worthwhile art galleries as the San Fernando Royal Academy, through to the municipal museums and museums dedicated to particular themes such as the Romantic Museum, the Railway Museum, the Naval Museum, the Army Museum, the Museum of the Americas, the National Archaeological Museum, the National Museum of Natural Sciences, etc. Madrid is also the site of a series of palaces and monuments that together comprise one of the most important heritages in Western history. The National Heritage organisation is responsible for safeguarding these national assets subject to the use and service of the Crown, in addition to the administration of the convents and monasteries founded by the monarchs over the centuries. These institutions contain a great wealth of artworks, and for centuries served as a driving force for Spain’s culture. This group of monuments, open to the public, includes the Royal Palace in Madrid, the Pantheon of Illustrious Men, the Descalzas Reales Monastery, the Royal Monastery of La Encarnación, the El Pardo Royal Palace, the Aranjuez Royal Palace, the Royal Monastery of El Escorial, the Casita del Príncipe in El Escorial, the Casita del Infante in El Escorial and the Benedictine abbey of Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos. One of the simplest and most convenient ways to discover the broad range of cultural attractions on offer in the Spanish capital is using the Madrid Card. It includes entrance to emblematic monuments and to more than 40 museums in Madrid and the surrounding area. It also offers the chance to take all the guided visits in the “Discover Madrid” program offered by the City Tourist Board. It is on sale at tourist offices or online at www.madridcard.com.
Natural surroundings to be discovered
In Madrid there are many natural spaces with varied landscapes – from the Sierra de Madrid mountains, which is full of beautiful locations for practicing snow and mountain sports, to the Aranjuez plain or the landscape of La Mancha in the area surrounding Alcalá de Henares.
Golf, sailing, windsurfing, horse riding, hot-air balloon trips and hiking are some of the possible activities. The people from Madrid also like to look after their many urban parks and gardens, some of them well-known historically like the Royal Residence of Aranjuez gardens, the Retiro Park in Madrid or the Casa de Campo park. Others were created recently, like the Juan Carlos I Park or the Tierno Galván Park. They can be found in different urban areas and are very beautiful green spaces.
Madrid, a showcase for Spanish cuisine
Madrid’s tapas represent almost all the Spanish gastronomy.
Thanks to the excellent seafood, Iberian ham and cold meat, a variety of pickled vegetables, typical dishes such as prawns in batter, tripe or snails, excellent cheese, “pinchos” and casseroles, and all types of wine from all over the country, Madrid is the capital of tapas.
Madrid comes alive at night, especially at the weekend. Discos, bars, cafés and fashionable clubs in different leisure areas and districts offer the best nightlife. And when the weather starts to get hot, the best thing is to hang out at one of the numerous and lively summer terraces that appear in such profusion on the streets and avenues. Here are a few ideas to guide you when you set out to enjoy a night out on the town, from the early evening until the sun come up.
Early evening (between about 8 and 11 pm) Musicals and theater: Madrid offers the chance to spend an unforgettable evening in the theater with a whole range of musical shows every season. Some are completely original, and you’ll only find them in Spain. Others are adapted classics not to be missed, and which in Madrid can be enjoyed in unique style. To get an idea of the wide offer of musicals you’ll find, just take a stroll down the Gran Vía avenue and see the theaters on both sides of the streets. Going out for tapas: Madrid is the ideal city for enjoying the popular custom of “going out for tapas”: moving from one bar to another with your friends and enjoying delicious bite-sized portions of typical local specialties (potato omelette, spicy fried potatoes in sauce, croquettes, squid, cod, bull’s tail…) accompanied by a refreshing glass of beer or a good wine, and interesting conversation. In the historic centro (mainly in the neighborhoods of Huertas and La Latina, near the Plaza Mayor) you’ll find classic taverns (with their unmistakable tile-covered facades) and modern venues where in addition to tapas you can order “raciones” (more plentiful dishes to share).
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