One of the lesser-known highlights of Madrid is the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales ("Monastery of the Barefoot Royals"), a Hapsburg foundation with a fascinating museum of religious art treasures.
History of Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
The convent was founded in 1559 by Joan of Austria, whose daughter hid away here rather than endure marriage to Felipe II. More aristocratic women soon followed, bringing their dowries with them. These dowries included such treasures as precious metals, paintings, and even religious relics. With all these possessions, the foundation soon became very wealthy.
By the mid-20th century, however, the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales was mostly home to very poor women. It still held its priceless collection of treasures, but the nuns were forbidden to auction anything.
The state eventually intervened and, with a special dispensation from the pope, the convent was opened to the publc as a museum in 1960. In 1985, the European Council rated it "Museum of the Year."
What to See at Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
The opening of the convent has provided a glimpse into what had long been a mysterious presence in central Madrid. A handful of barefoot nuns still live here, growing vegetables in the garden. Access is by guided tours only, unfortunately available only in Spanish.
The main attraction of the museum is those precious dowries brought in by the aristocratic ladies who became nuns. Among them are reliquaries, one of which is said to contain pieces of the True Cross and another some of the bones of St. Sebastian.
Of the many priceless paintings on display, the most valuable is Titian's Caesar's Money. Other works shown in the Flemish Hall include those by Hans de Beken and Breughel the Elder. All of the convent's tapestries were based on Rubens's drawings, displaying his chubby matrons.
From Plaza del Callao off the Gran Vía, walk down Postigo de San Martín to Plaza de las Descalzas Reales; the convent is on the left.
Quick Facts on Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
|Names:||Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales · Monastery of the Barefoot Royals|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||40.418412° N, 3.706142° W|
|Address:||Plaza de las Descalzas 3|
|Hours:||Sat and Tues-Thurs 10:30am-12:30pm and 3-5:45pm; Fri 10:30am-12:30pm; Sun 11am-1:15pm|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales|
- Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales - Spanish National Heritage
- Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales - Frommer's Madrid
- Descalzas Reales and Encarnación convents - Rough Guide to Spain
- Convento de las Descalzas Reales - Fodor's Spain
Map of Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Madrid
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