Museo Nacional de Antropología, Madrid, Spain

Category: Madrid

The Museo Nacional de Antropología, or National Museum of Anthropology, is one of Spain’s many national museums, located in Madrid near the Parque del Buen Retiro (Retiro Park) and opposite the Atocha railway station.  Inaugurated on April 29, 1875 during the reign of Alfonso XII, it is the oldest anthropology museum in Spain and one of the oldest in the world.
As an ethnological museum, the Museo Nacional de Antropología provides visitors with a comprehensive overview of the various people and cultures in the world and establishes the cultural similarities and differences that unite or separate them to highlight cultural diversity.  Visitors to this massive museum are able to peruse pieces that highlight the various cultural norms, not only in Spain and throughout Europe, but also in Africa, Asia, North and South America and Oceania.

Under the direction of King Alfonso XII, and spearheaded and funded by doctor Pedro Gonzales Velasco, the Museo Nacional de Antropología opened in April of 1875 to wide acclaim as the first anthropology-based museum in Spain.  Velasco, who had saved all his money for the construction of the museum, hired Spanish architect Marquis de Cubas for its design, and when it finally opened in 1875, its original name, which was soon changed, was the “Anatomical Museum.”  The original collections housed in the Museo Nacional de Antropología were made up of objects belonging to the three “kingdoms” of nature—plant, animal and mineral—samples of physical anthropology and teratology, antiquities and ethnographic objects, making the museum a true cabinet of curiosities for visitors.  At Velasco’s death many years later, the State purchased the building from his estate along with the complete collection.

The Museo Nacional de Antropología expanded in 1895 when the Museum of Natural Sciences made the decision to move its sections of Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory to the museum.  Since that time, the museum has undergone many, many expansions and renovations and today it is home to one of the most highly respected anthropological collections in the world.

The collection at the Museo Nacional de Antropología is very impressive, and although it is much too large to describe it all within the confines of this brief article, some of the more interesting pieces include:

  • Armor-a-Kulang kurab Marano.  This suit of armor was used as a defensive weapon by the people of the South Moors group of islands.  They were made strictly from natural materials from their environment, such as water buffalo horn, and decorated with scrolls, leaves and vines.
  • Mask-suit.  This interesting piece is said to have been worn by the Shamans during rituals in the Amazon region, in the countries now known as Brazil and Colombia.  Made from a fabric called “tururi,” which is fashioned from tree bark, it was also worn by men during funeral rituals and processions.
  • Phur Bu.  From Nepal, the Phur Bu is a ritual dagger formerly used in Tibetan Buddhism.  The item consists of several segments:  the handle features three crowned heads, the center a vajra, or scepter, and the end a knife shaped in the form of a makara, or water monster.

If you plan to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología on your upcoming trip to Madrid, you should know the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 7:30 PM and Sundays from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.  The museum is closed on Mondays and major Spanish holidays.