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Spain's highly-anticipated Royal Collections Gallery opens its doors

Royal Collections Gallery prepares for spectacular opening
Royal Collections Gallery prepares for spectacular opening Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Theo FarrantAP
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Great masterpieces are being exhibited in this state-of-the-art gallery, whose construction, over the last 25 years, has uncovered part of the Moorish wall with which the city was founded in the 9th century.

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The long-awaited moment has arrived as the Royal Collections Gallery in Madrid opens its doors to the public. 

This remarkable museum, hailed as one of Europe's cultural highlights of the year, features an extensive collection paintings, tapestries, sculptures, decorative art pieces, armoury and sumptuous royal furniture collected by Spanish monarchs over five centuries. 

Items span from the Spanish Empire of the Hapsburg to the Bourbon dynasty.

Ana de la Cueva, president of the National Heritage government agency, declares, "This is the largest museum project in Spain and Europe in decades." 

What's on display at the Royal Collections Gallery?

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A painting called "Salome with the Head of John the Baptist", by Caravaggio is displayed at the Royal Collections Gallery in MadridAP Photo

The inaugural exhibition features 650 pieces from the National Heritage's extensive collection of 170,000 items, including artworks by renowned artists such as Goya, Caravaggio, El Greco, and Bosch. 

Additionally the gallery showcases possibly the world's finest tapestry collection and an astonishing assortment of carriages and royal furniture. 

The artworks of the Royal Collections do not belong to the Spanish crown but to the state, under the National Heritage agency which manages some palaces, monasteries, convents, and royal gardens across the country.

“With this coexistence of such extraordinary pieces shown through such a clear chronological resource, it really turns the gallery into a museum of museums,” says gallery director Leticia Ruiz.

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Staff members set up a Royal carriage at the Royal Collections Gallery in Madrid, SpainAP Photo
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Restorer Ana Maria Loureiro Arias works on the Religious sculpture called "Saint Michael Slaying the Devil", at the Royal Collections Gallery in MadridAP Photo

Among the notable pieces in the new gallery is a polychrome cedar wood sculpture from 1692 depicting Saint Michael slaying the Devil. 

Created by Luisa Roldán, the first female sculptor to serve the Spanish court, the sculpture is currently undergoing restoration in preparation for the opening. 

It is believed that Roldán modelled the devil after her husband and possibly used herself as the inspiration for Michael.

A hidden heritage unveiled

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People walk around the main entrance of the Royal Collections Gallery in Madrid, SpainAP Photo

The gallery building itself is a masterpiece nestled into the steep hillside, overlooking the majestic Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral.

Designed by Luis M. Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón, the building's narrow and unimposing vertical structure has garnered ten architectural awards, including the prestigious 2017 American Architecture Prize.

However, the gallery possesses an additional element that adds to its significance.

During the construction process, archaeologists unearthed a portion of the city's Arab wall, including one of Madrid's original gates.

Álvaro Soler Del Campo, the archaeologist and chief curator of the Royal Armoury, highlights Madrid as the only capital in the European Union that preserves a fragment of its initial walls.

He explains that Madrid was founded in the mid-9th century by the emir of Cordoba, Mohammed I, as part of a network of fortifications, and that archaeological research has uncovered a foundational gate, a keep, a wall, and other towers.

"The important note is that this means that it is the only capital in the European Union that has Islamic origins and of which we have preserved the remains of its foundations," explains Del Campo. 

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Check out the video above for a look inside the stunning museum.

Video editor • Theo Farrant

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