Just a leap away from Africa, between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the Iberian Peninsula has been the gateway to Europe for centuries. It has witnessed the passage of Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Goths and Islam and their trail can be followed by the works of art and the tools which they left behind. The National Archaeological Museum contains a large collection of pieces which enable us to study the history of the Peninsula.
Founded in 1867 by Isabel II, the Archaeological Museum is located in the same building as the National Library. Its stock mainly comprises the royal archaeology collections. It also preserves important prehistoric, Egyptian, Etruscan and Phoenician pieces, but the museum’s most significant treasures are the Iberian, Roman, Hispano-Muslim and Visigoth works.
The delicacy of this sculpture is so striking that it has caused its origin to be questioned. On several occasions, experts have considered that the Lady of Elche was a contemporary forgery but, recently, the analysis of pigment traces on the stone has shown that this is an authentic piece from the 4th or 5th century B.C.
When comparing it with other Iberian works, the proportion and balance of the face are surprising, indicating a strong influence of Greek art. However, the beads and tunic are clearly local and provide a perfect example of Iberian outfit. Contrary to prior opinion, some historians suggest that it was a full-body sculpture which was subsequently converted into a bust. Like many sculptures of the time, the Lady of Elche has a cavity in the back which, it is thought, was used to store relics. Some theories suggest that the Lady of Elche is a goddess and others consider it represents a queen or a dead woman.
Visigoth gold work reached heights of refinement and splendour which still continue to surprise us. Light, reflected by gold and precious stones, represents divine medieval imaginary. The Treasure of Guarrazar is one of the most significant examples of sumptuary art in the Middle Ages.
The treasure consists of a set of votive crowns and crucifixes which kings Suintila and Recesvinto offered the Cathedral of Toledo in the 7th century. It was found buried in the Garden of Guarrazar, where, according to historians, it was hid when Muslims invaded the peninsula.
The way of mounting sapphires, emeralds or pearls in gold leaf is typical of Germanic craftsmanship, while the decorative and iconographic motifs link the crowns to Byzantine art.
National Archaeological Museum
Address: Serrano, 13
Metro: Serrano (L4)
Cercanías train station: Recoletos
Public car park: Plaza del Descubrimiento - Centro Colón
Telephone: (+34) 91 577 79 12
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm. Sundays and public holidays, from 9:30 am to 3 pm. Monday, closed.
Price: Free admission