The Museo de la Ciudad (The Museum of the City.)
People have been living in the Madrid area since prehistoric times. Of course, it is well known the Romans had a settlement here, although for them Segovia and Alcalá de Henares were more important. Archaeologists have discovered artefacts that cover a wide spread of centuries. However, it is thought that the origins of the modern city didn’t begin until around the 9th century when Muhammad the First ordered the construction of a small palace somewhere near the present day site of the Palacio Real.
Around this palace, a small town grew up and was known as Al-Mudaina. Not far away was the Manzanares River, which the Arabs called Al-Majrit, which means “Place of Water”. From this, the name was taken to refer to the whole area and slowly changed over time through Majerit into the modern name Madrid.
If you have any interest in the city beyond the café and bar society and the meccas of fine art, then the Museo de la Ciudad, the Museum of the City, should enter into your itinerary. In this light and airy modern building are housed some wonderful exhibits, helpfully arranged in chronological order, that explain not just the history of Madrid, but how it works and how it celebrates its existence.
It is not a museum crammed with strange object, although there are a few. It does not ram the history down your throat. Set on four floors set about a high atrium the displays allow you to discover for yourself the wonderful story that is Madrid. Neither, for the non-Spanish visitors, will you have to delve into your dictionaries to understand the exhibits, as displays are simple and it’s pretty much self-evident what you are looking at.
The top floor is recent Madrid. It is a testament to the art of the model-maker. Whole swathes of the city have been miniaturised. The detail is amazing. We spent ages looking over a model of the area that runs either side of Paseo de la Castellana finding the apartments and offices of friends. For me the scale model of the bullring at Ventas, which is close to where I live is quite superb.
Here too, you will find models of buildings and plazas that have since been changed since the model was made that give rise to cries of, “So that’s what it used to look like”.
But a city is more than its buildings. The citizens live, work, play and dress here. There are exhibits of many of the old ways of doing things – and the quaint and curious implements they used. There is a display of beautiful clothes, including the traditional “Vestido de Chulapa”, the tight, sexy dress worn by Madrid ladies for the fiestas of San Isidro and San Antonio.
(Now here’s a fascinating tit-bit, which will probably get me into hot water with my Madrid friends, but I can’t resist. In Spanish, if someone is described as “Chulo” it means that they are a bit full of themselves and quite derogatory. And Madrileños are often described, by the rest of Spain, as just that. Whether the name of the costume is derived from the epithet, or vice-versa, I don’t know. Men also wear a special form of dress at these festivals, but they all look like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins!)
The museum is a fascinating insight into what makes the city tick. It attracts on all levels and children of all ages will find something to amuse, interest and inform.
The Museo de la Ciudad is at Calle del Principe de Vergara, 140. Nearest Metro is Cruz del Rayo on line 9. It is open 10:00 to 20:00 Mondays to Fridays. 10:00 to 14:00 at weekends.