Essential

 

Complete route around 33 museum pieces to be followed with the multimedia guide or the "MAN National Archaeological Museum" app. +Info 

 

Length: 96'

Essential

Although parts of the Museum are equally important as they are part of our cultural heritage, some of them are special for their artistic value, technical perfection, symbolic meaning... Finally for revealing some fundamental aspect of the social group that gave them life. We recommend that you do not fail to see any of the essential that we have selected.

 

Manzanares Biface

The biface or hand-axe is one of the first stone tools made by human beings. It is also the one that best illustrates prehistoric man's ability to turn hard stone into a useful object. This tool's perfect balance of material, form and function is proof of the intelligence and skill of the first humans. Its shape is the materialisation of a plan or project devised in the mind of someone who knew exactly what he wanted to use it for—in this case, for several things. In other words, it is a multi-purpose tool that could be used to cut, dig, extract, pound, flay and strip flesh from bone. With this goal in mind, the flint stone was knapped on both sides to create the working edge, which was then retouched using a wooden or bone hammer until the edge became sharp enough to cut.

 

Bifaz

Planta 0, Sala 5

Stela from Solana de Cabañas

The peoples who inhabited southwest Iberia at the end of the Bronze Age used large stone slabs to mark their territory. They engraved these slabs with the figure of their local chieftain and the objects that symbolically identified him as such, and placed them at strategic points along roads and trade routes so that travellers could see them from a distance and interpret their message.

The stela from Solana de Cabañas is one of the best specimens in existence. On it, we see a man beside a large shield. A brooch, a mirror, a sword and a spear are depicted above the figure and shield, and below is a four-wheel chariot. These objects had real-life counterparts, though not all of them have been archaeologically documented in the Iberian Peninsula. Some associated their owner with the Mediterranean princes, who vaunted similar objects as symbols of their power, while others related him to the rulers along Europe's Atlantic coast. Both types underscored his involvement in the network of gift exchanges between rulers, and therefore afforded him the prestige that legitimised his authority within that territory.

 

Estela de Solana

Planta 0, Sala 9

Lady of Elche

This sculpture has been famous ever since it was discovered by chance at La Alcudia in Elche, in a secret niche made of stone slabs adjoining the outer wall of the ancient Iberian city of Illici. Possibly the work of a sculptor who hailed from Greece or had trained in Greek workshops, it depicts a richly garbed woman with very beautiful, idealised features. Her elaborate headdress includes large metal coils, a tiara, a veil and a beaded diadem. Her attire consists of a cloak, toga and tunic, and she is wearing three necklaces, probably made of gold. There is no general consensus on the purpose of the hollow in her back, or on the piece’s dating, sculptural composition and identity. Consequently, we cannot say for certain whether it was used as a cinerary urn or a reliquary, if it was made in the late fifth century BC or shortly afterwards, or if it was originally a bust or a full-length sculpture whose lower half was cut off. Scholars also have doubts as to whether it represents a goddess, a priestess or a bride wearing her dowry jewellery, although today the most widely accepted theory is that it depicts a female aristocrat who had been deified by her ancestors.

Dama de Elche

Planta 1, Sala 13

Pozo Moro

This tower-shaped tomb is a one-of-a-kind discovery because its decorative reliefs are vital sources of knowledge on how eastern myths influenced the Iberian mind. In them we find an iconographic programme that glorifies the deceased as the founder of a noble bloodline, although not all scholars subscribe to this interpretation. The cycle opens with the Phoenician goddess Astarte, coiffed like the Egyptian goddess Hathor, who is holding two huge lotus blossoms, symbols of fertility and rebirth. It continues with an image of the hero carrying the tree of life, which he has won by defeating the monsters and which guarantees his immortality. This is followed by a banquet scene. A monstrous two-headed creature holds a wild boar’s leg in one hand and a bowl with a human figure—perhaps the dead man—in the other. The creature is about to devour the man, who will thus cross over to the realm of the gods. The programme ends with the figure of a warrior fighting monsters and a sexual scene in which a male character is seen coupling with a goddess. If the man is the deceased, this union suggests that his descendants—in other words, the local aristocracy—are part divine.

Pozo Moro

Planta 1, Sala 12

Standard from Pollentia

This bronze standard belonged to a school for young men in the Hispano-Roman city of Pollentia. Emperor Augustus created such institutions to prepare high-born youths in the empire's provinces for civic life. Here they would have been taught Roman values, beliefs and customs to ensure their integration in the new society. Their education also entailed participation in mock combats and the processions that preceded them, bearing standards like this with the school's insignias: the genius of youth, and the protective goddesses Isis, Fortuna and Diana the Huntress. The circles on the sides, now empty, may have contained portraits of the emperor and the princeps iuventutis, his successor. Their effigies would have allowed the young pupils to fulfil their duty to worship the emperor, which Augustus dictated should also be part of their civic and religious education.
 

Estandarte de Pollentia

Planta 1, Sala 19

Statue of Livia

This beautiful female statue represents Livia Drusilla, wife of the Emperor Augustus. This is the loveliest and best preserved of all her effigies in Spain, perhaps because of the soft, idealised features of her serene countenance. She is wearing the double tunic and cloak of a respectable Roman housewife.
Livia was recognised as a great personality during her lifetime. She was a paragon of virtue and respect for Roman tradition, and she was immensely popular with the people, playing a prominent role in public affairs as the wife and mother of their imperial princes. However, her influence extended beyond politics and into the religious sphere, especially when she moved for the rapid deification of her husband Augustus, to whom she dedicated a temple and founded a school of priests to serve his cult. Livia herself was a priestess in that cult, and this sculpture depicts her in that capacity.

Estatua de Livia

Planta 1, Sala 20

The Guarrazar Hoard

Six crowns and five crosses of gold with precious stones, pearls and cut glass from this hoard are displayed here. It was concealed in two pits near the town of Guadamur. The most important piece in the hoard—which also happens to be the largest and most ornate—is Reccesvinth’s crown, with hanging gold letters that spell out his name. Except for the exquisitely crafted Byzantine pectoral cross, all of the elements in the hoard were manufactured at royal workshops in the Visigothic capital of Toledo during the seventh century. The crowns were not intended to be worn, as Visigothic kings were not crowned but anointed with oil. They are actually votive offerings presented by monarchs and, in some cases, other high-ranking civil or church authorities, to the principal basilicas, where they were displayed to embellish important spaces like the altar or the tombs of venerated saints. These rich artefacts testify to the alliance forged between the monarchy and the church, the crown and the cross, as a way of mutually legitimising their authority.

Corona de Recesvinto

Planta 1, Sala 23

Zamora Pyxis

This ivory box is one of the loveliest examples of the ivory carving practised by Hispano-Islamic craftsmen at the palace workshop of Madinat al-Zahra in the second half of the 10th century. The inscription carved in elegant Kufic script around the rim of the lid tells us that it was a gift commissioned by Caliph Al-Hakam II for his favourite Subh, under the supervision of a high-ranking civil servant named Durri as-Saghir. Subh, a Vascon from northern Spain by birth, was one of the most influential women in Umayyad Córdoba and mother of the future caliph Hisham II. The decorative programme of stylised trees, palms, stalks, leaves, buds and flowers, interspersed with affronted pairs of peacocks, doves and fawns, recreates the palace gardens and was therefore an appropriate choice for the intended recipient of this piece. Boxes like this one were exotic, exclusive objects reserved for the caliph’s family and high-ranking government officials, and were used to hold jewellery and perfumes. The Christians admired them so much that they were often reused as reliquaries at monasteries or cathedrals.

Bote de Zamora

Planta 1, Sala 23

Crucifix of Ferdinand and Sancha

This ivory crucifix is the first sculpted depiction of the Crucified Christ to appear in the Christian kingdoms, and its exquisite craftsmanship makes it one of the most important examples of Romanesque art. It is also an exceptional reliquary of the True Cross, with a container for the lignum crucis on Christ’s back, which could be carried in procession or displayed by inserting the tab at the bottom into a base. The iconographic programme focuses on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and on his role as the redeemer of mankind, represented by the figure of Adam at his feet. The hieratic, rigid, frontal pose of Christ’s figure underscores his divine nature, as do the open eyes which show no sign of suffering. At the top of the cross we also see an image of the triumphant resurrected Christ, and there is a reference to the Day of Judgment in the depiction of the dead emerging from their graves, with the saints rising and the damned falling. At the bottom of the obverse side we find the names FERDINANDUS and SANCIA, the monarchs of Leon who donated this cross in 1063 to the Collegiate Church of San Isidoro de León, where the king’s funeral was held.

Crucifijo de Don Fernando

Planta 2, Sala 27

Napier’s Calculating Machines

This small casket is made of verawood with ivory inlays. It is actually a case designed to hold two calculating machines invented by the mathematician John Napier in the second half of the 16th century to perform mathematical calculations with Arabic numerals. The first device is in the box with a sliding lid, in the upper part of the case. It consists of two plates bearing the tables of powers and rods with the multiples of the amount shown at the end of each rod. The second machine is stored inside the case, in numbered drawers. The central part held the plates with the multiplication tables, which function as the multiplicand, while the side drawers were used to store the perforated pieces used as multipliers when laid across the tables, according to a set of established rules. This second device was capable of performing the multiplications required in certain scientific disciplines, like astronomy and cosmography.

Abaco

Planta 2, Sala 28

Stela of Nebsumenu

"In the first year of my reign I, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Seankhiptah, Son of Re, to whom eternal life has been given, hereby decree: That the arable lands of Nebsumenu, Vizier of Lower Egypt and overseer of the state sealers, shall henceforth be urban districts of the south and of the east; as well as all the southern lands and their canals, and the barren lands, to the east and west of the land of Hemu.”

These are the words inscribed on this stone stela. It is an official document, a re-zoning decree transforming rural land into urban districts.

It was issued by Pharaoh Seankhiptah, who is depicted in the central scene. With him are the high-ranking official Nebsumenu, owner of the lands and beneficiary of this decree, and the gods who are blessing this royal mandate. Above, a winged solar disc presides over the scene.

It is logical to assume that the landowner profited tremendously from this decree, as it gave him permission to develop and build on what was once open farmland.
 

Estela de Nebsumenu

Planta 2, Sala 33

Statue of Harsomtush-Em-Hat
 

"This is Harsomtus-em-hat, noble prince, scribe of the royal documents, record-keeper of dwellings, priest of Neith, priest of Hathor, priest of Horus.”

As the inscription says, Harsomtus-em-hat was a priest. His life was devoted to serving several gods. He had been circumcised, and he had to shave his entire body from head to toe each day. His only garment was a white linen tunic, and he was not permitted to eat pork or the flesh of unclean animals. As a priest, his daily routine consisted of ablutions, prayers and libations to honour the gods. The handle of the sistrum in his hands reminds us that he was consecrated to the goddess Hathor, among other deities.

Harsomtus-em-hat was also a high-ranking government official: a record-keeper of property titles, treasuries and censuses. His daily job, which he combined with his priestly duties, was to write official documents. He also worked in the archives and libraries, where valuable papyrus scrolls on mathematics, engineering, astronomy and medicine were zealously guarded alongside ancient theological texts, mythical accounts and liturgical documents.
 

Estatua de Harsomtus-Em-Hat

Planta 2, Sala 34

Dinos of Thetis and Peleus

 

Ceramic dinos like this one were used to mix water and wine at parties and banquets in ancient Greece. Its illustrated surface tells a mythical tale.

Thetis, the most beautiful of the Nereids, was desired by Zeus himself. But it was a mortal, Peleus, who managed to carry off the lovely sea goddess.

Surrounded by the raging surf and sea foam, he holds her in a tight embrace. She struggles, but her beautiful silver-scaled feet cannot support her weight. Her watery garment slips between Peleus’ arms as her body writhes like a sea serpent. But Thetis is no match for him.

Then the joyous nuptials are announced. A dove and Eros, god of love, bring lovely marriage ribbons for the bride. Octopuses, dolphins, squids, sea horses and sea dragons help the playful Nereid sisters to prepare the ceremony. Tambourines jangle melodiously in female hands. And, transported by two leaping dolphins and a Nereid, the triumphant Peleus finally carries off his bride.

This is the story of the abduction and marriage of Thetis told to us by the painter of this pottery vessel from the fourth century BC. The swift, sure brushstrokes and the imaginative quality of the tale make it a masterpiece. It is the most surprising abduction ever painted.
 

Dinos de Tetis y Peleo

Planta 2, Sala 36

Tevau

Money can come in many different shapes and sizes, as certain objects prized for their material, ritual or sacred value can become a form of currency. This is the case of tevau or “feather money”, one of the most original types of money. Made from the feathers of the small Cardinal Myzomela bird, its value derives from the long, laborious manufacturing process and the procedure’s magical connotations. For this reason, it was only used to make ritual payments, such as bride prices, or purchase very valuable goods like canoes and livestock. Used in the Solomon Islands in Oceania until the nineteen-seventies, tevau was declared a protected cultural heritage asset in nineteen seventy-five and its export has been banned ever since.

Tevau

Entreplanta, Sala 38