{Spain} The Hidden Gem(s) of Madrid

May 15, 2016


100 Museums Challenge: Museum No.47

When I was preparing for my trip to Madrid last month – the thing I was most excited about, was visiting the ‘Museo Geominero’. As long time readers of this blog will know, I have a soft spot for the ‘unsung heroes of the museum world’, those hidden gems that often go unmentioned in the ‘must see’ guidebook lists. In fact, it’s what led me to start a project a couple of years ago, a blog that puts exactly those kind of museums in to the spotlight. Anyone can submit a museum to the project, and one of those was the Museo Geominero. Oscar Menendez, who submitted it, wrote: “I love small museums and this is a hidden treasure in Madrid. Its building is worth a visit itself.” So, you see, I was pretty hyped up about visiting this place.

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That’s the backstory, but what about the reality? Well, it was definitely a defining ‘wow’ moment that will be hard to top this year. I have visited a LOT of museums in my life, and this is one of the few where I was completely overwhelmed when walking in. Possibly, because a) I had not seen any photographs of it before (it came so highly recommended, I hadn’t felt the need to look it up any further), and b) entering the building was a bit of an anti-climax of dark corridors lined with old cases of dimly lit specimens. So when I entered the main hall of the museum – a magnificent piece of architecture, lined with balcony galleries, with sunlight flooding in through the strained glass roof, and cases upon cases filled with rocks and minerals of every shape and colour – I literally fell to my knees. And I don’t mean that in a figurative sense of the word. I *actually* fell to my knees in awe whilst uttering ‘wow’ over and over. The security guy sitting in the corner must have thought I was crazy. To say the building in itself is worth a visit, is a bit of an understatement – it is spectacular!

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My photographs don’t and can’t do it justice. It’s one of these places you really have to experience for yourself. But by sharing some of my pics here, I will hopefully be able to make my case to you that this museums *has* to go on your ‘must see’ list for your next Madrid visit. Sure, as Oscar pointed out, it isn’t quite as impressive on, say, a grey rainy day when the sunlight isn’t flooding in, but it’s definitely worth a visit in any weather!

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So, let me tell you a little more about the museum. ‘El Museo Geominero’, which translates to the ‘Mining Museum’ in English, belongs to the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute, a public research facility of the Spanish Government’s Science Ministry. It houses an extensive collection of rocks, minerals and fossils from all over Spain – including a replica T.rex head. As one reviewer on Tripadvisor noted, it is “only worth going if this is something you are interested in”. Well, d’oh! Okay, so consider yourself warned. Though how anyone could not find this interesting, is beyond me. It’s not just a bunch of old rocks. These specimens all came from the Earth we live on! I mean, wow, people! This stuff is amazing. Big, small, rough, smooth, dull, sparkly, dark, bright, all colours of the rainbow…there was even a display case with some minerals that had been polished in to jewels, though, to be honest, once I’d seen the real deal, straight from the Earth, I found those pretty boring.

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Cast iron spiral staircases in the corners of the hall take you to the upper atrium galleries, where you will find further old style display cases filled with, yes, you’ve guessed it, more rocks, fossils and minerals. And you can gaze down at the gallery below full of wonder.

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Museo Geominero 09

Other criticism on Tripadvisor levelled at Museo Geominero included that there was no information in English. While this is true, it didn’t really bother me that much. I mean, we’re talking about rocks, fossils and minerals here. Most of which have scientific names, that don’t differ that much between languages. And it wouldn’t really have made that much of a difference to me knowing the English names of the thousands of specimens on display. They were simply beautiful to look at either way, and I got enough context from the accompanying photographs and diagrams despite not understanding any of the Spanish.

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Museo Geominero is definitely a very traditional.  ‘old school’ museum, where the content speaks for itself. There are no audio visuals, no interactive experiences, no cafe or shop. Just a spectacular building with beautiful and interesting things to see. If you don’t feel like falling to your knees to take it all in, there are also a couple of red velvet sofas you can rest on to soak up the atmosphere. I want to finish with another quote from Oscar:

“‘El Geominero’ is an old school museum, not that kind of science centre with plenty of electronical devices. Here you’ll find rocks and more rocks, fossils and so on… and a fantastic atmosphere of a XIXth century museum. It’s free and open almost everyday. It’s located in Chamberí, one of the most typical Madrid neighborhoods: a few meters from the museum you’ll find nice bars with tapas. I do not need anything else to visit it.”

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El Museo Geominero is open daily from 9am until 2pm, except for some days around Christmas and New Year. Admission is free, but as it is within a government facility you will need to bring your passport or some other form of ID to gain access!

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