In the 16th century, the daughters of nobility had two choices: Be married off to forge alliances with powerful men or opt for a life behind the walls of a convent. Juana de Austria, the charismatic daughter of Carlos V, did both. She married the crown prince of Portugal at age 17, but when he died 2 years later, she requisitioned a royal palace to establish this Franciscan convent. Its name means “Convent of the Barefoot Royals.” Each of the noblewomen who took the veil brought a dowry as a bride of Christ, and their treasures still fill the convent. By the 20th century, however, the nuns’ circumstances had changed. Also known as the Poor Clares, they were literally starving amid a priceless art collection they were forbidden to sell. The state intervened, and Rome granted special dispensation to open the convent as a museum in 1960, allowing the public to see its riches for the first time. The large hall of the nuns’ former dormitory is hung with tapestries woven in Brussels from cartoons by Rubens. Note the floor tiles that delineate each nun’s tiny sleeping area. Guided tours are in Spanish, but one glimpse of the magnificent staircase, with its 17th-century frescoes of saints, angels, and Spanish rulers, explains the confluence of art, royalty, and faith that defines Spanish history. Other highlights include a plaintive, carved Virgen la Dolorosa by Pedro La Mena, who sits with her hands clasped in one of the choir stalls, and the Plateresque tomb of Doña Juana, who died aged 38 in 1573. This is still a working convent, home to about 20 nuns.
Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
Plaza de las Descalzas Reales s/n
Our Rating Hours Tues–Sat 10am–2pm and 4–6:30pm; Sun 10am–3pm Transportation Metro: Opera. Bus: 3, 25, 39, and 148 Phone 91-454-88-00 Prices Admission 6€; free for children under 5 Web site Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales Other Closed Jan 1, Jan 6, Holy Week, May 1, May 15, Sept 9, Nov 9, Dec 21, and Dec 24–25. From Plaza del Callao, off Gran Vía, walk down Postigo de San Martín to Plaza de las Descalzas Reales; the convent is on the left
MapPlaza de las Descalzas Reales s/n Madrid
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