National Archaeology Museum

Lodged in an imposing Palace that took 30 years to build, the Madrid Archeological Museum is a marvel of contemporary architecture inside, contrasting with the artifacts it shows. The cases holding the unbelievably old pieces — some as old as 5-8 millions years old– are well-lighted and informative, the arrangements of artifacts is pleasing to the eye and dust-free, and the progression from room to room is smooth and logical. The museum has virtual reality stations dotted throughout its time periods, giving the visitor an idea of how people lived during a particular era. It also has tactile stations for the visually impaired –and the curious– to get an idea of what the artifacts “looked” like to the touch.

The museum was founded in 1867 by Queen Isabel II of Spain, to represent Spanish history from prehistory to today. The museum offers a panorama of all the ancient civilizations that, at one point, lived in the country. Almost all empires, from the Punic to the Norman and beyond have conquered Spain and lived in its varied regions.

The visit begins with prehistory where there are truly amazing pieces, including skulls and bones of pre- Homo Erectus. What surprised me was that, as soon as the early people were confident they could survive, they began to make art, drawing on tools, making toys, painting caves. This happened way before a religion was established. The need for expression has been a force from our own beginnings.

Moving on through time, the museum has an impressive collection of Roman mosaics, extracted from Roman villas established in Spain, sculptures such as the luminous Dama de Elche or the superb statue of the Roman Empress Livia, a magnificent crown from the Visigoth treasure of Guarrazar, perfect examples of Mozarabic and Arabic sculpting techniques shown in ivories, inlays,arches, windows and ceilings, all installed in the museum itself.

The museum is a delight that seemingly never ends. It’s also fairly empty of visitors, which is a shame in a way but does let you take your time. I would carve out a good two hours if you want to visit. It is, by far, the best museum I’ve ever seen. It’s a must.

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