Spanish Attractions With A Higher Calling

By: Ray J. Walberg

There are many buildings and attractions in Spain that look as they did centuries ago, but there are few that still operate like they did in the generations that have past. The Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales is one such location. It is the monastery of the barefoot nun, and while that may sound like a funny name, it is a location of serious religion and serious art.

The convent was originally created in 1559 by Charles V's daughter. She envisioned the location as a noblewoman's retreat. At that time, it was a royal palace that allowed the noblewomen of Spain to retreat to silence. The next 200 years saw the location known as a completely practicing convent. Eventually outsiders were kept out, and the property became solely a convent.

In addition to an area to contemplate and grow in their religion, those inside the convent could also grow in their appreciation for art, as it houses a private art museum with a number of pieces of art as well as historical artifacts.

In recent years, the convent opened its doors to tourists, who are allowed to come inside the walls during scheduled tours.

The convent is an architectural spectacle in itself. The walls are made of vibrant orange stone with inviting archways, Renaissance doors and construction. Walking through the grounds and the carefully tended gardens you will feel as if you have gone back to the time of Charles V himself.

The art collection is varied and beautiful. Many of the items that are in the collection were brought to the convent by those who wished to reside within its walls. They would bring the pieces of art and artifacts as their dowry or offering to become a 'bride of Christ'. Now all those items are one of the attractions many want to see when visiting the area. Among the paintings in the gallery are those by Brueghel, Titian, and Zurbarán . There are also Rubens inspired hand-woven tapestries and sculptures by Crescenci and Mena.

Since the 1960's the public has been able to take part in enjoying the grounds that the Franciscan nuns have so lovingly cared for all these years. They opened the convent to the public, and tourists are invited to see the area through tours that they conduct. While many wonder if they can just wander the grounds and take it all in by themselves, that is not allowed. The only way an outsider can visit the convent is by being a part of one of the tours guided by the nuns. On the tour, visitors will see both the convent grounds and the art collection on the site.

If you don't speak Spanish, you will not understand much of what is said on the tour, since it is only given in the native language, but as you walk through, you may well find the tour fulfilling without even knowing what is being said by the tour guide. If you do have questions, English questions are allowed at the end of the tour and answers will be given to your questions.

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