Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Days 3 & 4: Madrid

Yes, I'm still here. The last two days have been less picturesque as I have been holed up at the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Very nice (nicer than last time I was there) and welcoming. They have a wonderful library covering Spanish archaeology, which is the reason I am working there. Their space is a bit cramped; they've already moved to contractible shelving for much of their collection -- I don't know what they'll do in the future. It would be really nice for the Americans to have a similar facility -- a dream for the future. Now, on to more interesting stuff!

I took some time this afternoon to visit the National Archaeological Museum. This is the premier museum in the country, and it is right next to the National Library. To get there from my hotel, you walk past the giant fountain with the statue of the Anatolian goddess Cybele:

I have been by the fountain twice, on different days, and at different times. Both times I snapped pictures. And both times I failed to notice that there was a bird on her head! Probably the same bird. Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue....

The museum itself can be found near the Jardines de Descubrimiento (Gardens of Discovery), which has a fountain (off) and some modernist sculpture:

On the sculpture are a series of texts from various authors about the New World. Some aren't what you would expect, like this one from the Roman writer Seneca:

(Loose translation: "There will come in the latter years of the world certain times in which the sea will loose the bindings of things, and a great land will appear. And a new mariner like the one who guided Jason, who was named Tiphys, will discover a new world. And Thule will no longer be the most distant of lands.")

As for the museum itself:

It has great objects as always. In fact, I don't think the exhibit cases have been altered since the last time I was here, eight years ago. I'm used to museums in northern Spain, which are heavy on the multi-media presentations and grabbing the attention of the viewer. Not so much in Madrid. It's particularly bad on the lower level, where many of the displays look like they haven't been changed in the last 25 years. Upstairs, in the Iron Age - Medieval rooms, there are many new signs and placards, and some attempt to inject color and liveliness into the museum. Still, given what they have, I would expect more. I guess they don't worry too much about bringing in money from visitors, like a lot of modern museums. That has both advantages and drawbacks.

In addition, every guide book I have seen says that the museum has a reconstruction of the cave paintings at Altamira in the basement. I have been there twice now, and it must be very, very well hidden, as I swear there is no such thing inside.

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