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National Archaeological Museum
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday: 9:30 to 20:00 h; Sunday and holidays: 9:30 to 15:00 h.
Queen Isabel II founded the National Archaeological Museum in 1867. Its mission was to conserve, classify, and exhibit archaeological material, decorative arts, and coin collections that the kings of Spain had accumulated. In 1895 the museum moved to its present location beside the National Library. There are three floors of exhibits and 27 large rooms. Exhibits cover prehistoric remains and go to the modern age.
One of the big attractions in this museum is a recreation (found underground in the garden) of the cave of Altamira, with prehistoric cave paintings that show horses, bison, and boars. One cannot go to the original Altamira cave because few people are allowed to see it because the authorities fear it may deteriorate further. The original cave is in Cantabria.
The other famous exhibit is the beautiful bust of La Dama de Elche, a wealthy Iberian woman who lived in the 5th century BC. This is considered the jewel in the crown of Iberian art. She was found in a garden in Elche in Alicante in 1897. She wears large wheel shaped head pieces and very large jewelry. She is powerful, serene and hypnotic. Her gaze is enigmatic through her almond shaped eyes. The sculpture is 56 cm tall and is painted limestone. The man who found it was called Manuel Campello and he sold it to the Louvre for 40 dollars. In 1941 there was an exchange of cultural items with France and the statue went to the Prado and stayed there for 30 years before being brought to the National Archaeological Museum. Salvador Dali called her “the most beautiful woman of the world”.
Another similar statue is the Dama de Baza, found in an Iberian cemetery in Cerro de Sanctuario near Baza in 1971. This statue is 1.3 meters high and is made in soft limestone. There are also Visigothic gold crowns that were discovered in 1859 near Toledo, and these date back to the 8th century. There are many other Visigothic remains in the museum.
The Islamic collection is very good and they have 7 huge ceramic vases that came from Andalucia. Other collections are Celtic, Iberian, Greek, Roman, and Christian antiquities. The Roman collection includes sculpture and the Greek Collection has many beautiful vases. There is a beautiful church choir stall from a palace in Palencia from the 14th century. There are also collections of Talavera pottery, Retiro porcelain, and 16th and 17th century Andalusian glassware. It is also surprising to see an Egyptian collection, with mummies and sarcophagi.
The National Archaeological Museum reopened on April 1, 2014, after three years of being closed because of remodeling. The architect who remodeled the museum was Juan Pablo Rodríguez Frade. He has won prizes for remodeling other museums in Spain and has the most experience in this. One of his works is the new Medina Azahara Museum in Cordoba. The display area has been increased from 7000 to 9000 square meters. The entrance to the museum is now from the ground floor of the south wing. The museum is now a stunning new museum that is world-class.
Travertine stone has been used for the floors, which are now radiant. The display cabinets and false ceilings are made of a dark wood called Merbau, from New Guinea, which also absorb noise. There are excellent explanations for every cabinet in both Spanish and English. The ground floor is dedicated to Prehistory and has a recreation of the burial of a man. The first floor is dedicated to the Iberian world starting from the first historic age, continuing to the Roman age and medieval age that includes the Arab Kingdom of Al-Andalus. This includes two beautiful Mudejar ceilings. The second floor includes the medieval age of the Christian kingdoms with plenty of religious art, and the modern age. This floor also has the excellent Greek and Egyptian collections.
If one sees all the exhibits (there are 40 large salons), one will walk a distance of 3 kilometers and the visit will take about 3.5 hours! There are exhibits designed for the blind which one can touch. Sala 13 contains the sculptures of La Dama de Elche and La Dama de Baza. The Pozo Moro Sepulcher, the Crown of Recesvinto (pertaining to the Treasure of Guarrazar), the Bote de Zamora, the Toro de Osuna, the statue of Livia, and the Constanza de Castilla Sepulcher are other highlights of the museum. There is a new cafeteria and a new museum store. The patio has some exhibits and is full of light.
Sunday mornings are free at this museum, but it is recommended to go another day to avoid the very large crowds on that day.
Website: Archaeological Museum