In the 16th century, the daughters of nobility had two choices: to be married off to forge alliances among powerful men or to opt for a life behind the walls of a convent. Many of the wealthiest chose this convent, founded by the powerful and charismatic sister of Felipe II, Juana de Austria. As the widow of the Prince of Portugal, she took over a palace of the royal treasurer in 1557 to establish this Franciscan convent as her own retreat. Each of the noblewomen who took the veil brought a dowry as a bride of Christ, and their treasures still fill the convent. Ironically, by the mid–20th century, all the nuns came from poor families and were literally starving to death amid a priceless art collection that they were forbidden to sell. The state intervened, and Rome granted special dispensation to open the convent as a museum, allowing the public to see the riches. The large hall of the nuns’ former dormitory, for example, is hung with 20 tapestries woven in Brussels from cartoons by Rubens. (Take a moment to notice the floor tiles that delineate each nun’s tiny sleeping area.) This is still a working convent, home to about 20 nuns. Guided tours are in Spanish, but one glimpse of the massive staircase, with its magnificent murals of saints, angels, and Spanish rulers, immediately explains the conjunction of art, royalty, and faith that defines Spanish history. The guided tour takes at least 1 hour—more if you have to wait for enough people to assemble before the guide will start. Tours are limited to 20 visitors at a time.