Every space in the world could be proud of something that makes it distinctive from the rest. Our cultural heritage represents what we were and it can give us clues on what we want to be.
Madrid is a cosmopolitan city in the south of Western Europe. Until the 19th Century it was regarded as an international key player in all aspects. Now London, Paris and Berlin are the European leaders, while Madrid has really become a secondary city. Nevertheless, Madrid remains as a cultural reference and our visiting peers are….. culturally thirsty!
Many people know that Madrid hosts unique art venues like El Prado, Thyssen-Bornemitzsa, Reina Sofia and so many more. Not that many people know that we host hundreds of others around the whole city, and all of them inspire us things on a daily basis. Let us see three of them.
1. San Antonio de los Alemanes
San Antonio de los Alemanes is dedicated to the Portuguese St Antony of Padua, patron saint of the poor.
This Baroque little church was built in the 1620s. It was originally a refuge for Portuguese visitors and immigrants coming to Madrid, when Portugal was part of Spain. It houses frescos by Luca Giordano, court painter to Charles II of Spain from 1692 to 1702. Parts of the building were commissioned by the last Habsburg kings of Spain in the 18th century. It became a refuge for German immigrants when Portugal became independent from Spain. As Portugal was not any more in the scope of the Spanish Habsburg family, Phillip IV preferred to provide refuge to his Habsburg cousins’ citizens coming from Germany and not nationals ruled by other unfriendly families.
It is inspiring because it is a very creative solution to lack of financial resources. The only reason frescos cover all the church is because they did not have the money to invest in marbles, sculptors, heavy structures, millions of workers and all the necessary infrastructure plus all the technology. Frescos were much cheaper, quicker and the space is dedicated to the poor, so lack of gold and marble sounds reasonable. It was painted by the hyperactive Luca Giordano, who had the talent to paint faster than speak. It was finished in a record time, with a very low budget and 400 years later it still services its original objetive: provide peace to immigrants and refugees who go there to pray for their hopes. Four centuries later, hundreds of poor citizens and refugees still queue up on a daily basis for food and free assistance. The only difference is that today they are no longer German or Austrian.
San Antonio de los Alemanes is regarded as Madrid’s Sixtine Chapel and it is completely unknown to locals. It is 7 minutes walking from VillaJardines.
2. Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
This convent was the former palace in Madrid of Emperor Charles I of Spain and V of Germany, and this is where his daughter Joanna of Austria was born in 1535. In 1559 she founded in the building a convent of cloistered nuns, when she was the sister of the King of Sapin and mother of the future king of Portugal.
Since the 16th century, the convent has been the natural destiny of young widowed European noblewomen and each brought with her a dowry. The riches quickly piled up, and the convent became one of the richest convents in all of Europe. Among the many relics on display are pieces from Christ‘s cross and bones of Saint Sebastian. Among the priceless art masterpieces are Titian‘s Caesar’s Money, tapestries designs by Rubens, and works by Hans de Beken and Brueghel the Elder. Spain’s finest Renaissance composer, Tomás Luis de Victoria, worked at the convent from 1587 to the end of his life in 1611.
It is inspiring because this time capsule proves you that fear really blocks everything. The Habsburgs were horrified with death. Being Heaven super cool and Hell not that cool, but still ok, the idea of going to the Purgatory was completely dismaying for them. I guess they felt that good attention was fine, and that it was better bad attention than no attention at all. They created congregations of nuns and monks who would specifically pray for them, until the end of time, to make sure they would end up in Heaven. Yes, in 2017 nuns are still praying for Joanna of Austria. They have been praying for her for 458 years. There is no way to check if Joanna of Austria got into Heaven in the 1790s, for instance, after some 200 years of solitude, prayer and repentance. Maybe she is still repenting. We can only know that her fear has been the main energy for not changing anything in centuries.
Visitors are limited in numbers and you do not get the professional tour someone would expect from a National Museum. If you are lucky, you will hear the nuns singing, though you will not be able to see them. It is 7 minutes walking from VillaJardines.
3. Cerralbo Museum
The Cerralbo Palace was built in the 1880s, and it is an essential reference to know the lifestyle of the 19th Century aristocracy in Madrid. It retains the original atmosphere of the residence of the Marquis of Cerralbo and his family and hosts a unique art collection.
The museum reflects the artistic taste of that period of time in Madrid, showing the most complete private collection of its time in Spain. Highlights include paintings by different Spanish and European artists dating from the 16th-19th centuries, sculptures, drawings, prints, coins, medals, weapons and armours, watches, lamps, jewels, ceramics, furniture, carpets, books, toys…and all kinds of everyday objects set in their original rooms, all collected by this intellectual who was a passionate patron of the arts and humanities.
It is inspiring because it shows the end of a period of time in Spain. It was the end of the end. After some 400 years as a powerful country, the slow deterioration of the old Spanish influence was definitely lost in 1898, when Spain lost the war against United States and its last colonies (Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines) became independent. After 400 years with something to say around the world, Spain found itself at the end of the 19th Century limited to a very impoverished Spanish territory. No more colonies. No more power. Not welcome in any clubs anymore. An illiterate society historically ruled by an intolerant Church was culturally underprivileged and was not able to react to the crisis. At the beginning of the 20th Century, when some new countries were blossoming, the old Spain suffered a long social depression that later on had a direct impact on political changes. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Spanish society felt that they would never live in the future how they lived in the past. The whole country was depressed.
The museum has established a maximum capacity of 60 people. Beautiful building, lots of interesting objets d’art and a magnificent frescoed ceiling in a grand ballroom. It is 15 minutes walking from VillaJardines.