The Prado Museum is Madrid's top cultural sight, and one of the world's greatest art galleries.
Located in the eponymous street, El Paseo del Prado, its dazzling display of works by the great European masters such as Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, Rubens, and Bosch (among other major Italian and Flemish artists), is housed in an 18th-century Neo-Classical building that opened as a museum in 1819.
Its name derives from the district where it is located, formerly an area of market gardens known as the "prado" or meadow. The Spanish queen at the time had been impressed with the Louvre in Paris and wanted to showcase an enormous collection in her own country. The result is several thousand works at the present time, with a recent modern extension allowing more of them to be displayed.
Las Meninas by Diego VelazquezThe sheer scale of the collection can make it daunting, so it is important to arrive with a few of the highlights in mind and concentrate on those. Perhaps the collection's most famous painting is Velazquez's "Las Meninas," showing princess Margarita and her two ladies-in-waiting as well as the artist himself with paintbrush and palette in hand. Another of his famous works, "The Triumph of Bacchus," shows the god of wine with a group of drunkards.
The other major artist of the collection is Goya, whose depiction of nudity in the painting "The Naked Maja" led him to be accused of obscenity. His works make up such a large part of the museum, that his statue stands outside the main entrance.
Another outstanding painting in the history of art is "The Garden of Delights" by Bosch, whose several other works are also represented at the Prado, as he was one of King Filipe II's favourite artists. Also look out for Rubens' "The Adoration of the Magi" and "The Three Graces," depicting three women (the Graces or the daughters of Zeus), dancing and representing Love, Joy, and Revelry.
Rembrandt is also present with his fine self-portrait and "Artemisia," the subject of which is still unclear. Another self-portrait is that of Albrecht Dürer, who painted it at the age of 26.
For a 1-hour visit, The Prado recommends the following masterpieces:
* 'The Crucifixion' by Juan de Flandes, Room 57b
* 'The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest' by El Greco, Room 10a
* 'Las Meninas' by Velázquez, Room 12
* 'Jacob's Dream' by José de Ribera, Room 16b
* 'The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid: the executions on Principe Pio hill' by Goya, Room 39
* 'The Annunciation' by Fra Angelico, Room 49
* 'The Cardinal' by Raphael, Room 49
* 'The Emperor Charles V, on Horseback, in Mühlberg' by Titian, Room 11
* 'The Immaculate Conception' by Tiepolo Giambattista, Room 89
* 'Descent from the Cross' by Roger van der Weyden, Room 58
* 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' by Hieronymus Bosch, Room 56
* 'The Three Graces' by Peter Paul Rubens, Room 9
* 'Self Portrait' by Albrecht Dürer, Room 55b
* 'Artemis' by Rembrandt, Room A
* 'Offering by Orestes and Pylades (San Ildefonso Group)'. Anonymous, Room 71
The first 14 of these masterpieces may be seen in ultra high resolution (14,000 million pixels) in Google Earth, allowing you to study every minutiae normally invisible to the naked eye. You have to open Google Earth, select the 3D layer on the left panel, and type "Museo del Prado" in the "Fly to" box, to see these masterful works of art in all their glorious detail. These works are also viewable in Google maps, following this link.
However, as the Prado's director Miguel Zugaza says, "This shows you the body of the painting, but what you won't find here is the soul. You can only find that by looking at the original."
The Prado is worthy of repeat visits, but if you are able to only visit it once, these are the major works you should not miss. Devote most of your remaining time to admiring the Spanish works of the 17th century.
For a break or light meal, the museum offers a cafeteria. The museum shop is also worthy of a stop, as is acquiring an "Art Walk" ticket ("El Paseo del Arte") that also allows entrance to the Thyssen Bornemisza and Reina Sofia museums. Although perhaps an even better option is to purchase the Madrid card (see link below under "Entrance fees"), since this also gives you entrance to dozens of other museums and sights, and allows you to avoid the sometimes extremely long queues here at the Prado.
This area is a good location as a base for your stay in Madrid, since it is right alongside the top three museums and within walking distance of all major sights and attractions.
There are plenty of hotels, self-catering apartments, and small, family-run hostels within 1Km of the Prado.