Friday, July 13, 2018

Nothing but praise for Madrid's Museo Arqueológico Nacional

Valuable ancient artifacts on display at Spain's 
The over 2,300 year old Lady of Elche may well be 
the best known object in the museum's collection
The museum has substantial collections of Ancient Greek artefacts
along with ones from Egypt and the Near East as well as Spain
The first place (besides my hotel!) that I spent a considerable amount of time in after arriving in Spain was a museum: to be precise, Madrid's Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza).  And the first place in Madrid that I made for after returning from my week-long Andalucian sojourn (which included visits to Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada) and re-checking into our hotel in the Spanish capital was the Museo Arqueológico Nacional.
Much less of a popular tourist attraction than the fine arts trio of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Museo del Prado and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the archaeology museum with the wonderfully apt acronym of MAN was not at all crowded on the day that I visited it despite my doing so during a Saturday and entry to the museum being free from 2pm to 8pm.  To those who opted to exclude it from their list of sights to see when in Madrid, I'll say that it's very much your loss; this not least since this particular museological establishment actually turned out to be my favorite of all the ones I visited in the country!    
Founded in 1867 by Queen Isabella II, the Museo Arqueológico Nacional was envisioned to be one of those great national museums which would exhibit the nation's past (and connect it to ancient settlements that go back thousands of years).  Over the past 150 years or so of its existence, it has utilized a number of distinct exhibition designs; with the latest redesign having been completed as recently as 2013.

As would be expected of an educational institution whose most recent remodelling took place in the 21st century, this Madrid establishment incorporates user-friendly multimedia technology.  In view of its visitors appearing to be predominantly Spanish (and probably local Madrileños and Madrileñas at that), I was pleasantly to also see that both the more conventional and multimedia displays were accessible for speakers of English as well as  Spanish. 
Of course all this wouldn't count for all that much if the museum didn't also have some pretty historically interesting and visually impressive artefacts on display in its spacious exhibit rooms and halls.  Those for whom old is gold should note that the Museo Arqueológico Nacional's collection includes items that date back many thousands of years to prehistorical times.  And for those who are keen on checking out items made of gold and other precious metals (and/or studded with precious stones): suffice to say that the museum has plenty of those too (and not just restricted to gold coins too though the museum does indeed have quite the sizeable numismatic collection)!
Still, what actually bowled me over the most about this particular museological establishment is the sensitivity and intelligence of its curatorship as evidenced by the way in which it chose to intepret and present the country's past and, also, itself and its collections.  Among other things, I found it really insightful of the Museo Arqueológico Nacional to actually have exhibits explaining its history along with the history of the various peoples whose objects are on display in the museum as well as certain individuals who had prominent roles in acquiring certain collections for the museum (including Spaniards who conducted excavations in Egypt and other places outside their home country).
Something else I found interesting -- and on the unconventional side -- was that this archaeology museum had in its collections and displays not only items associated with pagan peoples and others who would consitute "The Other" in the eyes of many Spaniards but also Christian artefacts.  On a related note: I thought it rather bold and admirable that mention was made of the impact of the Spanish Civil War on the Spanish physical and cultural landscape, and the subsequent necessity for salvage archaeology to be undertaken in various parts of the country. 
In sum: I found the Museo Arqueológico Nacional to be a remarkably enlightened institution; one which is admirably contemporary and even forward thinking in terms of such as the methods it utilizes to educate its visitors about various ancient peoples and Spain's past, and also thoroughly humanistic in its philosophical outlook.


Paul said...

From your description and pics it really looks like a first rate museum in the same class as British Museum!

In retrospect, Madrid is probably worth a whole week ... to which most first time visitors to Spain won't be able to devote :-|


YTSL said...

Hi Paul --

The Museo Arqueológico Nacional is not as massive in size as the British Museum but I really do wholeheartedly approve of the Madrid museum's curatorial approach. And visitors who do spend a week in Madrid (like my German friend and I did) really could do much worse than check out certain of its museums (as well as make day trips out to the likes of El Escorial and Segovia -- which, thanks to my reading your enthusiastic blog write-ups, I also did!). :)