Madrid, the capital of Spain, is a cosmopolitan city that combines the most modern infrastructures and the status as an economic, financial, administrative and service centre, with a large cultural and artistic heritage, a legacy of centuries of exciting history. Strategically located in the geographic centre of the Iberian Peninsula, Madrid has one of the most important historic centres of all the great European cities. Art and culture play a key role in Madrid's cultural life. The capital has over 60 museums which cover every field of human knowledge. Highlights include the Prado Museum, one of the world's most important art galleries, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, with over 800 paintings ranging from primitive Flemish artists through to the avant-garde movements and the Reina Sofía National Art Centre, dedicated to contemporary Spanish art and containing works by Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and Juan Gris, among others. We think the best way to get acquainted with Madrid is a walking tour through the Old District, also called the Austrias and Borbons (the dynasties who built it)
Madrid's Royal Palace was built in the 18th century by order of Philip V on the site of the old Alcázar fortress, a former Moorish castle. The Puerta del Príncipe gateway on the east side gives access to the central courtyard. The Sabatini and Campo del Moro Gardens are among the Palace's other attractions, as well as its several different façades. There is some debate as to its artistic style; it is thought by some experts to belong more to the Baroque, and by others to the Neo-classical style. Of particular note among its numerous rooms are the Royal Guards' Room, the Columns Room, the Hall of Mirrors and King Charles III's room. It also contains paintings by Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, El Greco and Caravaggio. Beside it is the Plaza de Oriente square, the Teatro Real opera house and the modern Cathedral of La Almudena. The Puerta del Sol square is surrounded by a varied and select area of shops and businesses, and the "Paseo del Arte" art route (whose name derives from its world-class museums, palaces and gardens) are further elements in an array of monuments which includes particularly the Palace of Telecommunications, and the fountains of Cibeles and Neptune.
Toledo is definitely a must: the city of the three cultures, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, who lied in peaceful coexistence for centuries until the expulsion by Christian around 1492. Picturesquely sited on a hill above the River Tagus is the historical centre of Toledo.
The Romans built a fortress on the site, today occupied by the Alcazar fortress. The Visigoths made Toledo their capital in the 6th century AD, and left behind several churches. In the Middle Ages, Toledo was a melting pot of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures and it was during this period the Cathedral was built. Toledo is known for its art and history and has a landscape that combines Arabic, Mudejar, Gothic, Medieval and Renaissance architecture. The atmospheric walled town is crammed with churches and museums. Must see sights include the Cathedral of Toledo, Santo Tomé church and Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue.
The Cathedral dates back many centuries but has only existed as a Christian church since the nineteenth century. The temple was actually built on top of a Muslim mosque, and before that it had been a church in the sixth century during the reign of the Visigoth King Recaredo. King San Fernando and the archbishop began building the new church in 1226. The fifteen chapels of the ambulatory were subsequently completed. In the year 1300 the transept nave was completed, although work continued on the church for the next two centuries. The church has five naves and measures 120 metres long and 59 metres wide. The roof is supported by 88 columns. The polychromatic stained glass windows date back to the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The altarpiece in the main chapel has five sections, depicting scenes from the New Testament, along with life-sized polychromatic sculptures made of gilded wood. The 15th century Santiago Chapel, has a flamboyant Gothic style and houses the sarcophagi of Alvaro de Luna and his wife Juana de Pimentel. The impressive choir is considered as one of the grandest in all Christendom. The lower choir stalls were begun in the fifteenth century depicting scenes of the surrender of cities and fortresses up until the conquest of Granada.
A highlight of any visit to Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with wonderful architecture, is seeing The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, the famous painting by 16th-century master El Greco, which is represented the miracle that takes place during D. Gonzalo´ s funeral rites, when S. Agustín and S. Esteban descends from heaven in order to bury him, as a reward for his faith. Toledo was the setting for many of El Greco's art, and you can see this painting at the Church of St Tomé. The church dates from the XII Century, although it was built at the beginning of the XIV Century ordered on the orders of Señor de Orgaz. It has a beautiful Mudejar tower which is one of the best examples of Mudejar art in Toledo. This temple has a square floor and was built with brick and masonry. Inside, we can find the altarpiece of the Major Chapel.
The Main Synagogue of the Toledo was built at the end of the 11th century by ibn Alfache, advisor and ambassador to Alfonso VIII, who was openly sympathetic toward Jews. After a fire in 1250, the synagogue was rebuilt. The building is considered to be an incomparable example of Mudejar art in Toledo. It is the symbiosis of techniques inherited by Muslim master builders. The architectural characteristics of what has been preserved, including the octagonal pillars, for many, belonging to Almohad art, are closer to Castilian buildings from the late Middle Ages. On the other hand, the complex decoration of the lower part with discs on the arch spandrels and pine cones on the chapiters separated by the basket lead researchers to associate the decorative style with Nazarite architecture of the kingdom of Granada and Merinite architecture from 14th century Morocco.
Prado Museum – This museum, together with Louvre (Paris), Vatican (Rome), Uffizi (Florence), British Museum (London) and Hermitage (St. Petersburg) the “must see” museums in Europe. The museum was an idea of Carlos III, but it came out with Fernando VII in 1819 when a wide range of artworks from the most important artist of that time was exhibited. Currently, the museum is a worldwide reference and it is a "must attend" visit in Madrid. It possesses more than 8.000 paintings, 5.000 drawings, 2.000 engravings, 700 sculptures and many more items of great value.
It contains collections that go through the history of paintings, from Romanic murals from the 12th century to artworks from the ending of 19th century. The most remarkable collections are great expositions of Spanish painters like Ribera, Zurbaran, Velázquez or Goya, among others, and the collections of European artists like El Greco, Tiziano, Rubens and El Bosco. Some of the most important pieces are “The Cricifixion" of Juan de Flandes, "Gentleman with his Hand on his Breast " of El Greco, "Las Meninas" of Velázquez, "Los fusilamientos del 3 de Mayo" of Goya or "La Anunciación" of Fra. Angelico.
The Rastro Market is located along the street La Ribera de Curtidores and its adjacent lanes. Ribera de Curtidores is a steep hill with hundreds of stands selling extremely varied objects, from kitchen utensils, clothes, furniture, accessories, jewellery and comic books. The name of the flea market “El Rastro” meaning “the trail” comes from the tanneries that used to exist in the area. When the animals were transported from the slaughterhouses to the tanneries, they would leave a trail of blood and hence the name of "El Rastro".
Reina Sofía Museum: opened its doors to the public in 1990 with a major collection of Spanish and international art covering the period between the late 19th century to the present day. Two years later Pablo Picasso's Guernica was installed, a key work that plays a fundamental role in the museum's discourse and activities. Located in an old hospital building dating from the late 18th century by the architect Francesco Sabatini, the growth of its collection created a need for an extension, and 2005 saw the inauguration of a new building designed by Jean Nouvel. The 18,000 items in the museum's collection have in recent years been rearranged to create an itinerary that explores its most distinctive features, such as Surrealism, the pavilion of the 1937 Republic, and Spanish Informalism of the 1950s in an international context. It currently revolves around three major sections: '1900-1945: The irruption of the 20th century. Utopias and conflicts', '1945-1968: is the war over? Art in a divided world', and '1962-1982: From revolt to post-modernity'
The Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum collection has its strong points in the areas which are underrepresented in other Spanish museums. Paintings of the Trecento (Italian 14th century), with the work of Duccio di Buoninsegna, Christ and the Samaritan Woman, and the Flemish Primitives with The Annunciation Diptych, a grisaille (painting imitating a sculpture) by Jan Van Eyck, are some of the key works of late medieval art. The museum also houses an exquisite collection of 15th century portraits. Continuing with the works of Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Frans Hals and Canaletto, they provide us with further insight into the trajectory of European art between the 16th and 18th centuries. The museum offers a superb opportunity to study the landscapes and genre works that were particularly prevalent in the Dutch school of the 17th century and amongst 19th century North American painters. These same works were also studied by painters like Friedrich, Monet, Degas, Gauguin and Van Gogh, all of whom are represented in the museum’s collection.
Gothic Quarter and El Born area. You will discover the roots of this bi-millennial city, from the Romans to today. It is a nice and easy that will transport you to an ancient medieval European city. The Gothic Quarter is one of the most famous landmarks in Barcelona. Located in the heart of the old city, this neighborhood features a fusion of buildings dating from Roman times to the 20th century. The main attribute of the Gothic Quarter is the antique aspect of its buildings, narrow streets and the near absence of traffic. In fact, many areas are for pedestrians only and built like a labyrinth of winding streets and hidden squares. One of the most popular elements is the Cathedral, but there are a lot of places to discover, as Sant Felip Neri square, Sant Jaume square or the Sant Just i Pastor church.
El Born quarter was the place where medieval tournaments were made and many festivals and popular processions were held, between the XIII and XVII centuries. Historically it was an old district of merchants, marines and fishermen, artisans, and labor unions, during the powerful medieval times that lived Barcelona. So many of the names of its streets still remind those old trades, streets such as dels Sombrerers (hatters) dels Mirallers (glaziers) or dels Argenters (silversmiths). The whole quarter took its current shape around the ancient church of Santa Maria del Mar.
The Picasso Museum shows the solid bond between the Malaga-born genius and the city of Barcelona. The permanent collection comprises over 3,800 works from different periods, but with particular emphasis on works from his formative years and youth. The Museum Picasso also features the extraordinary Las Meninas series, works from the Blue Period, as well as an extensive programme of exhibitions which complement the permanent collections. The museum is embarking on a new phase of expansion with the launch of new programmes and activities designed to make it a key centre for fostering knowledge and education, encouraging visitor participation and a critical approach. The museum seeks to provide a space for dialogue, offering new perspectives on Picasso and the collection as a whole.
Park Güell is one of the masterpieces of Gaudí. Mr. Güell was a noble, resident in Barcelona and devoted to his plenty of industrial businesses. He was the main sponsor of Gaudí, and he asked the architect to build plenty of different buildings in the city and around. Finally, Mr. Güell asked Gaudí to build his summer house on the hills surrounding Barcelona (today part of the city). In this summer house (not preserved) Gaudí designed and built what we call today Park Güell. The architecture inside the park is inspired by nature and this is immediately apparent in the sinuous, colourful forms of its different elements. You’ll also find widespread use of the trencadís mosaic technique, made with broken pieces of pottery and tile, in almost all its decorative features. Columns in the shape of trees, animal figures and places steeped in magic and political and religious symbolism. Since the park opened in 1922, it has received the constant admiration of its visitors. It should come as no surprise that it has become one of the city’s most iconic spaces and was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1984
Sagrada Familia is the jewel in the crown of Gaudí’s works. This temple is a synthesis of his overall conception of architecture. The richness of detail and its significance need explaining in order to appreciate this fascinating and extraordinary building in full. Frightening from outside, but a magic of color inside. Gaudí's design consisted of a large church with a basilican floor-plan consisting of five naves and three transepts, in the shape of a Latin cross. It has bell towers, the tallest of them will be dedicated to Jesus Christ. There will be four shorter towers built around it which will symbolise the four Evangelists, and another one will be built behind it, above the apse, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Four more towers will be built over the Glory, Nativity and Passion façades which will symbolise the 12 apostles.
Actually, two of the three façades are open to visitors, as well the apse and museum, which provides an insight into the past, present and future of the church with models, photographs, plans, decorative objects and audiovisual exhibit. Gaudí wanted the temple to be financed voluntarily by the people, not by taxes or public funding, and that’s just what your entrance fees do (included in our tour price): finance the completion of the building started in 1882. This temple is scheduled to be completed by 2026.
Casa Batlló or Casa Milá (la Pedrera) Gaudí undertook a radical refurbishment of a building in Barcelona's Passeig de Gràcia dating from 1875 to create one of his boldest works, Casa Batlló. Gaudí's imaginative efforts were key to the development of the project, as was the decorative work of the artisans who collaborated with him between 1904 and 1906. A simple glance gives rise to myriad interpretations. The discs of multicoloured glazed-ceramics and broken shards of stained glass, placed with precision, depict flowers and water lilies and play with the reflections of the sunlight. This vast impressionist painting is often interpreted as the surface of the rolling sea in the heart of Passeig de Gràcia. The colour and fantasy of the Casa Batlló captivates passers-by on the Passeig de Gràcia. Standing halfway up this elegant boulevard and in a strongly contrasting style to the neighbouring houses, the Casa Amatller and Casa Lleó Morera, Gaudí's building reveals the splendour of an architect who was able to work on this project with total creative freedom, Antoni Gaudí. In addition to Casa Batlló and at the same time and side by side, prominent architects were also reforming other houses, as Casa Amatller (by the architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch), Casa Lleó Morera (by Lluís Domènech i Montaner), Casa Mulleras (Enric Sagnier) and Casa Josefina Bonet (Marcel·lí Coquillat). At present, Casa Batlló is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an icon in Barcelona.
In the central Barcelona's Passeig de Gràcia, we find the Casa Milà or La Pedrera (the stone quarry, an ironic allusion to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry). It is a blend of fantasy and functionality make this architectural landmark a must-see visitor attraction. This is the culmination of Antoni Gaudí's career, designed as a modernista building tailored to the new social needs, without forgetting his main source of inspiration: nature and organic forms. When Pere Milà commissioned Antoni Gaudí to build a residential block, it gave the architect the perfect opportunity to bring to fruition one of his most complete works. Built between 1906 and 1912, the Casa Milà occupies an entire corner of the Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona's Eixample.
The architect created an astonishing modernista style building, set out around two interior courtyards which provide the flats with ventilation and light. Curved, sinuous forms are the main elements inside and outside La Pedrera. The Casa Milà's façade resembles the moving sea, the waves interacting with the seaweed-motifs on the wrought-iron balcony railings. The large stone blocks are a type of skin that covers the skeleton of a building free of load-bearing walls. The Casa Milà was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
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