A trip to Spain and little-known museums of Madrid

At last I can return to this blog! Yes, after another intense semester of work, finally all assignments have been handed in. Now I’m just waiting for the very last result for my last piece of work (fingers crossed!) which will finally draw the first year of my masters to a close. I’ll blog about that very interesting module specifically, and also my experiences and thoughts on the year, in a future post. For now it’s time to relax and unwind – which is exactly what I did on a short holiday in a country that I have grown to love very much. Here are a couple of selected images and thoughts on a couple of the less well-known museums which I visited there.

madrid
Madrid, yet to be defined by any of its landmarks.

The destination was Madrid initially, followed by a trip up to another town in the north of Spain to visit some relatives. Madrid is a city which not a lot of British people think of visiting, many preferring Barcelona or the more southerly ‘Costas’ area of Spain where it’s much hotter, particularly in the summer. Personally, I think Madrid is one of the most interesting European capitals to visit, but suffers from a lack of a defining monument. It has many fine and impressive buildings, but none which represent it in the same way as the Eiffel Tower represents Paris, or the Colosseum represents Rome, for example. I’ve visited it many times over the years, each time taking in a little bit more of something different. One of my favourite places is of course the famous Museo del Prado (of which, more later) but this time around we opted firstly for a visit to the Museo Cerralbo.

cerralbo
He was certainly a fan. The Marquis proclaims his allegiance, behind a bust of Carlos VII.

This is actually a mansion house which once belonged to Spanish aristocrat and politician Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, Marquis of Cerralbo. It’s nestled in a normal-looking street in the middle of Madrid, and you could so easily walk past it without realising it, which may explain why it was not attacked during the Spanish civil war. The Marquis was a Carlist – a proponent and supporter of the Bourbon line of the Spanish monarchy – and as could be expected, gave particular support to the contemporary leader of the Carlist cause in the late 1800s, Carlos VII. As you can imagine, it was a very conservative, traditionalist and militarist movement dedicated to vigorously fighting those it perceived as its opponents. The conflicts known as the Carlist Wars dominated late-19th Century Spain as different factions fought over claims to the throne. Not too long after the Marquis died in 1922, the Carlists were to become an important force in the civil war, joining Franco’s right-wing forces. It’s a fascinating facet of Spanish history, and one which I’m only just scratching the surface of. It was really interesting to see a small snapshot of a political and ideological movement (albeit one which I have no personal affinity with) encapsulated and frozen in time within this small museum. The interiors were sumptuous, as you’d expect, and it’s always fun to imagine the people who lived in the mansion going about their lives within these rooms.

Amongst all the coffee drinking and pastry eating (palmeras glaseadas being my personal favourite!), we also found time to stop off at the Naval Museum. Huge and sprawling, it opens with an enormous painting of Christopher Columbus (known as Colón in Spanish, which can be a source of amusement for English speakers) and goes on to document many of the battles and wars fought on the high seas throughout Spain’s naval history – many of them, of course, against Britain.

A mini admiral Blas de Lezo, looking dashing, in the Naval Museum. There are similar, full size statues of him in the Plaza de Colón, Madrid and in Cartagena, Colombia.
A mini admiral Blas de Lezo, looking dashing, in the Naval Museum. There are similar, full size statues of him in the Plaza de Colón, Madrid and in Cartagena, Colombia.

This is 18th Century Spanish admiral Blas de Lezo.* He was instrumental in one of the largest conflagrations in British history, yet few British people have heard of him. Why? Well, de Lezo defeated the British at the Battle of Cartagena de Indias in 1741, thus allowing Spain to preserve its South American territories and preventing the British from trading with them. Incidentally, he also did it all with only one arm, one leg and one eye!** You can see paintings of and artefacts from the battle at the museum. Most strangely of all, you can see the British medals minted at the time under the instructions of King George… commemorating the defeat of the Spanish! It seems that British admiral Edward Vernon was a bit too enthusiastic and had sent a message declaring victory to the King a little prematurely. All talk of the incident was subsequently banned in Britain, which is perhaps why such a huge and important battle is little-taught in British history. Hubris is a dish best served cold… or something…! It was fascinating to have this window into history from a previously unknown angle. To bring the topic back to information science for a brief moment, I would add that, whilst it has some excellent displays, the museum itself could do with the application of a little knowledge organisation! It doesn’t seem to have been reorganised for quite some time, and tends to present things to the visitor en masse which can be confusing and overwhelming. As we know, it’s important to take into account the level of knowledge of potential visitors and try to present information in as accessible a way as possible. This is where the museum could really improve and consequently attract more visitors. Potential work for some information professional somewhere, maybe!

I’ll perhaps save more of my encounters and activities during my short break for another blog post. Hopefully I may be able to update more often during the summer, as I don’t have any studying to do. Let me know if you find all this interesting, or would like to know more on a particular topic. ¡Hasta luego!

 


*OK, it’s actually a small statue of 18th Century Spanish admiral Blas de Lezo, if we’re being very Rene Magritte about it. Ceci n’est pas une pipe and all that…

** This particular combination of injuries caused many of his detractors to name him rather uncharitably as “mediohombre” or “halfman”.

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