Madrid is located right in the centre of Spain, and has been capital for about 400 years after King Felipe 2 decided to relocate the capital from Toledo. The main sites that we saw were the Royal Palace, the Prado and Thyssen Museums and the ´downtown´ around Puerto de Sol.
The Prado is one of the finest museums in Europe, housing some of the best works by the Italian Renaissance masters Raphael and Titian as well as Works by El Greco, Velasquez, and Goya. Spain was the richest country in Europe during the Renaissance, and so many of the finest works by the great artists of the time were purchased by the Kings of Spain and are still in the Prado today. More information on the Prado can be found here . Our favourite work is the Garden of Delights by Bosch. This was a very different three paneled painting and depicted a rather free-loving society on its way to hell. A picture of it is shown here . The Prado also has its share of incredibly realistic Renaissance paintings to complement those seen in Italy.
The Thyssen museum is the collection of works donated by a wealthy Baron Thyssen (which was purchased by the Spanish Government) and housed in a refurbished palace. This shows art work from the 13th century to modern day, including pieces done recently that look like paint thrown on the canvas (the type of art seen most commonly in Art Galleries in North America, that I don´t get, and may explain why no one visits those galleries, but this purely speculation on my part).
The Royal Palace and nearby Plaza Mayor are huge complexes for Royality and the public respectively, with the former open for tours, and used by the King of Spain for formal occasions. The other two days we spent in Toledo and El Escorial.
Toledo was the former capital of Spain and has been a strategic city since Roman times as it is located on a hill on the Tejo River (which empties into the Atlantic at Lisbon). It is a walled city with the ramparts in very good condition and reminded my of Siena in Italy and Avignon in France. The main attraction in Toledo is the Cathedral, the Alcazar (fort) and the town inside the walls. The Cathedral is another colossal building with an interesting twist. A hole was cut into the ceiling to let more light in. A fresco was then around this hole which again makes use of perspective to render an incredible 3D effect of people floating above you. The Sacristy also houses a number of works by El Greco, Titian and Bellini as well as having a frescoed ceiling. Very impressive collection of art, and a must see if in the area.
The fort was interesting for its collection of weapons and infamous recording of a general, who son was captured by Franco´s men, and who when told that his son would be killed told the son to die as a Patriot for Spain, as he the General would not surrender the fort. Franco´s men stormed the Fort soon afterwards. Toledo is also know for its metal work inlaid with gold (damascene), as well as its steel swords and knives. This craft has been practiced since the Moors occupied Toldeo 1000 years ago. These goods seem to be available from every shop in town!
El Escorial, North of Madrid is home to the San Lorenzo Monastery (looks more like a Palace), which was home to the Spanish Inquisition. The most impressive part of the building was its chapel and library. The library had a frescoed ceiling that rivals the Sistine Chapel in Rome, for its detail and realism, and definitely must be seen to be believed.
As you can see we packed a lot in the past 10 days in Spain. I found a very readable book on the History of Spain that explains a lot of the history of the cities and buildings that we visited. The book is available at Amazon here. On a less touristy note, the food, wine and Sangria have been great, with the wine being exceptionally good value. Spain is a great destination for a Canadian as your money will go further here than anywhere else in Europe that I have been to on this trip.
Well off to Portugal tonight on the comfortable night train