Driving the Prado

Prado is a blank in my camera. With its ban on photography, one of the world’s greatest museums of European art is that enigmatic. The Museo del Prado was the first stop in our visit to Spain, and the five hours we spent there was barely sufficient to get an overview of their collection of Spanish art.

If the Mona Lisa is the most visited painting in the Louvre, Las Meninas by Velazquez (below) is the single most visited painting in the Prado. I was with the majority. When The Family picked up a floor plan, I looked for the quickest route to Las Meninas. The huge painting dominates the gallery it is in, and has an enormous crowd which moves around it. The audio guide at the Prado is very informative, and a large number of people here were using it. One interesting fact, not mentioned by the guide, but visible in the statue of Velazquez outside the Prado (featured photo), is that Velazquez used special long-handled brushes for such large paintings. This made it possible for him to gauge the effect the painting would have for a viewer standing at a distance. Another wonderful painting by Velazquez in the Prado is The Fable of Arachne, perhaps one of his last paintings.

The Prado holds the Royal Collection of Spain. Although this is the nucleus, much has been added over the years. The original building, designed by Juan de Villanueva, has long been insufficient. New wings and galleries were added over the years, three independent buildings now hold gallery space for the Prado, and new space is currently being added. A day or two is not enough to see it all. It is best to buy a ticket on-line fairly far in advance. You are given a 15 minute slot for entry, but you can use the ticket for the full day, and even leave and come back in the same day. The cafeteria is very good and you do not need to leave if you don’t want to. We had a quick lunch in the museum’s cafeteria after taking in the extensive collection of paintings by Goya.

The paintings on display change, some come out of the holdings on to the walls, others circulate around the world. There is a limit to how much art you can absorb in a day. The Prado is immense, and one needs to visit it several times in order to take in all that it has.

Pleasant times in Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor today is a fun place: a large enclosed pedestrian square lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. We strolled through the surrounding arcades, window shopping, before we decided to eat at one of the restaurants around the plaza. The plaza was alive with people in the warm summer evening, as you can see in the video below. There was nothing to remind us of the public executions, beatifications, bullfights, or the burning of heretics by the Inquisition.

If you read the history of the plaza, you see an emperor’s desire to remake the city into a grand capital by removing what must have been a congested marketplace at the crossing of the roads to Atocha and Toledo. Juan de Herrera drew up the plans under Philip II but construction started only in 1617, during the reign of his son. This is why the equestrian statue of Philip III stands in the middle of the square, as it has, intermittently, over the last couple of centuries. The present look of the square dates from after the fires of 1790s, and is due to the appropriately named Juan de Villanueva. I did not take photos of the frescoes made in 1992 on the northern facade to celebrate Madrid’s year as Eucrope’s cultural capital.