In those days, monarchy may have spelled POWER…….and EXTRAVAGANCE. But there’s a breed who chose to live in convents and commit themselves to a life of prayer and devotion.






One such monarch is Juana of Austria, sister of King Philip II. She founded the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales in 1559. The Franciscan nuns in this functioning convent are better known as the “barefoot royals” because of their aristocratic backgrounds. The convent also houses the tomb of its “fundador” Juana of Austria, one of few royals not buried in the royal resting place in El Escorial.



(I only managed to snap the exterior shot. The rest of the photos were all sourced from the Net)







The guided tour is only for one hour, but certainly worth the €7 admission. (Prado Museum is €12, free after 6pm) I could have waited for a later tour in English but couldn’t wait as I was eager to view the works of arts donated by the nuns’ wealthy families. And so it was a guided tour in Spanish for me. Having read up on the Monasterio, it was “muy facil” to follow the guide’s spiel.






By this time, I am beginning to appreciate smaller museos. Prado and Thyssen are fine, worth every euro and time spent. By that, I mean lots of time. It’s hard to digest all that art in one go. In the case of smaller museums, the “collections” maybe fewer but definitely NOT less significant. In this Convento, I have this feeling that the wealthy families of the barefoot royals donated what’s “BEST” from their own collections and treasures. I can only imagine them saying goodbye to a daughter or a sister and parting with a treasured work of art to keep the novice nun “company” and provide a source of joy.






The Convent is bigger than I thought. We did the rounds from hall to hall, chapel to chapel, all around a lovely courtyard. But nothing beats the moment one enters the convent. The grand staircase is so stunning that it is agonizing to leave the area to view the rest of the monastery. This area is part of the original palace owned by the Royal Treasurer Alonso Gutierez before it was sold to Juana in 1555. The frescoes and trompe-l’oeil on the balustrades, arches and walls will leave you mesmerized. Not to be missed is the “royal balcony” fresco as one climbs the staircase. Here you’d find King Philip IV with Mariana of Austria, the Infanta Margarita Teresa and the Prince of Asturias, Felipe Prospero who died at age 4.





The chapels, cloisters, choir area, halls and corridors are all crammed with paintings, tiles, frescoes, sculptures, woodcarvings and other pieces of art. And the tapestries! Surely they’re there not just to “warm” the convent during winter. Speaking of which, I’ve got to say that there’s a certain degree of “warmth” in each piece of art in here. Perhaps because they were “favorite” works of art of some of the nuns — looked at and over and over as they evoke fond memories of their families? Perhaps they lovingly view, even touch these art pieces whenever they missed their families? Who knows? But unlike some “cold” works of art on display in some museos, I enjoyed this short but very comprehensive tour of the Convent the most. And in Spanish at that! Don’t fail to visit this convent when in Madrid. It is just a short walk from Puerta del Sol, right behind El Corte Ingles.