Madrid – Museo de Historia de Madrid

I may have mentioned, on occasion, that it’s very hot in Madrid. So, it seemed a sensible idea to go into a museum to avoid the mid-day sun. The city’s history museum is free of charge and is centrally located, as well as having lots of positive reviews.

The museum is located in what was formerly the Real Hospicio de San Fernando, a hospital building dating to 1673. One of the slight disappointments of this museum is that there was absolutely no evidence of this inside the building, as a modern refurbishment has made the interior look rather bland.

This is Charles II, of the Habsburg dynasty and who was the last Habsburg ruler of the Spanish Empire. It is thought that his distinctive chin, which was shared by other family members, was the result of many centuries of in-breeding. Charles II also had significant health problems throughout his life and he died at the age of 38 having had no children.

A model of a bull-fighting ring, which used to be very popular in Madrid, with numerous rings across the city. It’s not something that I’d ever want to go and watch though.

I’m not sure who wrote the English translations around the museum, but the quality of English was excellent. I did like the description of coffee houses as “spots where people gathered to share news and gossip”. They sound quite interesting places, not that I’m one for gossip.

The museum had an interesting collection of early photographs of the city, showing the evolution of Madrid from “a listless city at a standstill” (their words) to a modern capital. The photo is at an angle in an attempt not to get a reflection of me standing in front of it….

To put it politely, some of the museum’s paintings weren’t of the greatest standard. They had a reasonably large collection and I was pleased that they had put so many out on public display, but the quality wasn’t always breath-taking. This large painting was though much more interesting and is of the Dos de Mayo Uprising, which is when in May 1808 many of the city’s residents rose up against the French troops who were occupying Madrid.

An interesting advertising poster, and to pinch the museum’s text about it: “Advertising poster painted in oil on a type of beans sold in the Casa Díez Obeso of Hortaleza street in Madrid. It is a simple composition and somewhat naive and very explicit, accompanied by broad legends as befits the publicity of the time. The gentleman on the left chokes eating some beans of dubious quality until he acquires the celebrated beans and can enjoy a good dish, a circumstance that occurs in the vignette on the right. In the lower panel, a couple of farmers comment on the previous scene”.

The museum had a lot of maps on display, and I hadn’t realised how much of Madrid’s development and growth had been relatively recent. The museum explains how the city was rather hemmed in by its city walls, and Madrid hadn’t always been the country’s capital. This meant that it didn’t have its own cathedral and the infra-structure was also quite weak.

There were plans to make the city more modern in the early part of the twentieth century, which meant more housing, office and retail complexes being built outside of the city centre.

An omnibus, which the museum has dated from between 1800 to 1900, which is a little vaguer than I’d ideally like. However, it’s clear that they were common throughout the nineteenth century, before they were replaced by cars.

Overall, I thought that this was a really well put together museum, which was broadly in chronological order. There wasn’t much coverage of Madrid post Second World War, but there was a depth to the collection and it seemed well curated. As mentioned, the quality of the English translations was also excellent, perhaps the best I’ve seen in Spain.

Bearing in mind that the museum is free and covers four floors, it’s hard to complain about the value for money. Although, having said (written) that, I note that some people on review sites do still complain. Anyway, definitely recommend, and the air conditioning keeps the interior lovely and cool.