Established by Queen Maria Isabel of the House of Braganza in 1819, the museum is housed in a neoclassical building designed in 1785 by architect Juan de Villanueva to accommodate the Natural History Department. It displays the fantastic royal collection of art, which comprises works from the Spanish, Flemish and Italian schools. Some of the greatest masterpieces you can view at the Prado Museum are Las Meninas by Velázquez, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch or Goya’s Black Paintings. Designed by contemporary architect Rafael Moneo, the adjoining building stages temporary exhibitions.
Housed in the Villahermosa Palace, across the street from the Prado Museum, is the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, started by Heinrich Thyssen in the 1920s and enlarged by his son Hans Heinrich. Opening in October 1992, the museum reviews the evolution of European painting from the Middle Ages to the late twentieth century with works by Canaletto, Gauguin, Kandinsky and Hopper, among many others. Currently, it also exhibits part of the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, which contains an interesting selection of Impressionist art.
The Reina Sofía first opened its doors to the public in 1990 as a continuation of the Prado Museum, displaying artworks from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Housed in the former Madrid General Hospital built by Francisco Sabatini and later extended by architect Jean Nouvel, it contains works by masters like Dalí, Miró and Juan Gris. But the highlight of the collection is, without a doubt, Picasso’s Guernica
Paseo del Arte runs along the wide, tree-lined boulevard of Paseo del Prado and some of the streets that come out onto it. Together with Paseo de Recoletos and Paseo de la Castellana, Paseo del Prado forms a long line that flows north to south through the city.
Once an open green space close to the San Jerónimo el Real monastery – ‘prado’ means ‘meadow’ in Spanish –, the area of the long avenue that we can see today witnessed the construction of the Buen Retiro Palace, commissioned by King Philip IV.
Well into the eighteenth century, Paseo del Prado was a leafy area surrounded by gardens and orchards, with the Fuente Castellana spring running through it. Urban development came with the accession of Charles III to the throne of Spain. In the spirit of the Enlightenment, the King endowed the area with monuments and buildings devoted to science and knowledge. It was under Charles III’s reign that the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Natural History Department – which would later become the Prado Museum – and the Royal Observatory of Madrid were erected. To embellish the Salón del Prado boulevard, Ventura Rodríguez designed several fountains that have become the symbols of local football clubs. The supporters of Real Madrid and of Atlético de Madrid gather round the Cibeles and Neptuno Fountains, depicting goddess Cybele and god Neptune, to celebrate their teams’ victories. Together with the fountains of Apolo (Apollo), Cuatro Fuentes (Four Fountains) and Alcachofa (Artichoke), they make an exceptional sculpture ensemble.
OTHER MUSEUMS AND CULTURAL CENTRES
In addition to the three major art galleries – Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía –, the Art Walk has other interesting cultural centres and museums.
Since it first opened in 1843, this museum has exhibited historical items such as paintings, weapons, nautical instruments, maps and charts, and historic model ships, displayed in chronological order to help visitors understand the history of the Spanish Navy.
Hosted in the Serrería Belga building, Medialab-Prado is a laboratory for the development, research and dissemination of cultural projects.
Housed in the Linares Palace, Casa América is aimed at exploring and strengthening the cultural ties between Spain and the Americas.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY
This museum has an impressive collection of objects from almost every corner of the world – Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
On the Art Walk stand two of the most iconic hotels in Madrid. Established over a hundred years ago, the Hotel Ritz Madrid and The Westin Palace Madrid have been awarded five stars, and both have played an important role in the history of the capital of Spain.
HOTEL RITZ MADRID
The hotel was inaugurated on 2 October 1910 by King Alfonso XIII, who wanted to offer luxury accommodation to the illustrious guests to his royal wedding. Since then, it’s been the meeting place for the rich and the famous. Some of the hotel’s best-known guests have been Alexander Fleming, Grace of Monaco, Cary Grant, Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner.
THE WESTIN PALACE MADRID
Inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII on 12 October 1912, The Westin Palace had been the palace of the Dukes of Medinaceli. Designated an Asset of Cultural Interest, the building has kept the remarkable fine style that was dominant in the Belle Époque. Since it opened, it’s been witness to Madrid’s leading cultural and political developments. Mata Hari, Picasso, Dalí and Hemingway have been some of The Westin Palace’s renowned guests
The Art Walk provides much more than visual pleasures, since it has countless restaurants to delighteverybody’s taste buds
Following your tour of the three major museums in the area (Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía), you’ll want to take a break to recharge and talk about the works of art you’ve just seen. The Prado Museum features the Prado Café, with a terrace in the courtyard next to Los Jerónimos Entrance, open March through October. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum has a café open all year round on the ground floor. And El Mirador del Thyssen is a great spot to have dinner al fresco and enjoy the views of Paseo del Prado. Finally, the Reina Sofía Museum has a café and restaurant on the ground floor of the Nouvel building.
The two exclusive, historic hotels in the heart of the Art Walk also boast fine dining options. The Goya Restaurant in the Ritz serves traditional Spanish recipes with a modern twist, designed by chef Jorge González, while La Rotonda, under the spectacular stained glass dome of The Westin Palace, offers a range of menus with tempting flavours and textures.
Lastly, there’re the Colección Cibeles café and the Palacio de Cibeles Resturant, both in the eponymous building.