Boasting a total of fifteen cities graded as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and third in total number of national properties behind only Italy and China, the depth and breadth of Spain’s cultural wealth is astonishing. And across the country you’ll find over forty-four separate cultural, natural or “mixed” properties inscribed on UNESCO’s list.
So whether you’re into architecture, history or art, the issue is not where to find it all but where to start on your city breaks. Madrid, Spain’s majestic capital, is a treasure trove of cultural wonders.
There’s nowhere better to start than a visit to one of Spain’s most famous works of art. Guernica, at the Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, takes its name from the Basque Country town in northern Spain bombed during the Spanish Civil War at the behest of Franco’s nationalists by Italian and German forces. It is Pablo Picasso’s best known canvas and is not only a potent reminder of the destruction of war — its vast size, at 3.5 meters high and almost 8 meters wide, forms only a part of its striking impression — but it’s also an insightful window into the psyche of modern-day Spain.
Just a short hop north of the city is Madrid’s best known UNESCO World Heritage site, the El Escorial complex. Commissioned by King Philip IIand built in the 1500s, it comprises a royal palace, library, church, monastery, college and royal burial site, and is perhaps the single most important treasure of Spanish Renaissance architecture and construction.
Medieval to 19th century treasures
Within the city centre itself, and in striking distance of Atocha station, you’ll find the Museo Nacional del Prado. The museum has a world-beating collection of 12 to 19thcentury European art, including important works by Goya, Velazquez and Bosch.
Medieval architecture and modern literature
The neo-classical Puerta De Alcalá represents a gateway to the city and sits at the start of the old path from the city center to the largely medieval town of Alcalá de Henares, another UNESCO World Heritage site and birthplace of Spain’s most famous writer, Miguel de Cervantes. It hosts the annual award of the Cervantes Prize, the most important, prestigious and valuable gong for Spanish language literature. The list of previous winners reads like a Who’s Whoof world literature and includes luminaries such as Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, Spain’s own Miguel Delibes and Argentine poet and essayist Jorge Luis Borges.
Green tranquil space at the end of the day
Just a step away from the Puerta de Alcalá you’ll discover the tranquil formal gardens of the Buen Retiro park. There you can enjoy some much-needed time to digest this cultural wealth. You’ll need it, but don’t linger for long — your next treasure is only just around the corner.
Images by jazzlah and miamism, used under Creative Commons license
About the Author: Janey Berry is an art aficionado and cultural traveller. Her favourite artist is Rembrandt.