Madrid’s Naval Museum

As one of the former naval superpowers in the world, I thought that Spain’s Naval Museum in Madrid would be full of very interesting facts and artifacts, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I found the museum (helped by the huge MUSEO NAVAL) painted on the outside of the building and headed on up the stairs. While the internet had told me the museum had no admission price, I realized that there was an essentially mandatory 3 euro admission price. I paid it though was not disappointed.

The museum is full of interesting pieces of Spanish naval history. A huge glass case contains some samples of Spain’s famous swords, some quite intricate.


A variety of Spanish swords

There were also tons of cases full of interesting artifacts like port seals, coins, medals, model ships and other tidbits of ship history. While paintings are the focus in many other museums, here they are almost barely noticeable and crammed up high on the walls next to cannons.

One of the rooms, full of naval paintings, cannons, coins and model ships

The museum also has three replica rooms: two of Captains’ quarters and one of a ship’s hold. While it was hard to get a good picture of the dark rooms, it’s definitely worth a glance into them to see what it was like on the swankiest part of the ship.

With Spanish explorers venturing all over the globe, there is also a huge collection of artifacts from the Pacific Ocean and Asia. One huge case contains weapons of a variety of Pacific Islander peoples, as well as some armor and models of ships from the area.

Collection of weapons from the Pacific

There is also a section of more modern Spanish naval history, including the Spanish-American war.

As an American living in Spain, it was a little jarring to see a case containing a battered American flag here. I try to be reflexive about my identity as somebody living in a foreign country, especially given the historic roles of both my home country and the one in which I am living. While I obviously know that the Spanish-American war occurred, at this moment I realized how much more difficult my position as an American living abroad would have been a few hundred years ago, or were I to be living in a country with a different modern relationship with my home country. Seeing an American flag in this context, as one of a foreign enemy in battle here used to represent a war, was so unlike any other context in which I’ve seen one. Also on display in a similar way in the museum is a French flag from the Spanish War of Independence, in which Napoleon invaded and gave his brother power over Spain.

An American flag from the Spanish-American War

There was also a room full of a variety of ships’ figureheads, all of very interesting shapes. One included Neptune, others included the bear and the strawberry tree (the symbol of Madrid), and another a lion.

There was a special exhibit on the path to Manila, which included a map of the different routes and ships Spanish explorers took across the Pacific ocean.

Portion of a map showing great Spanish explorers and their ships

There was also a model of one of the ships which was my favorite of all the ship models in the museum. It’s by far the most colorful and lively! I love that it looks like it’s blowing in the wind.

There was a room that was a model of a ship’s hold, which I thought was huge until I realized that the back wall was made of mirrors.

Replica of a ship’s hold

A few unexpected things were on display as well. One box held different epaulets, which I have never seen in person before.

Collection of epaulets

There were also some older navigational tools, such as compasses, sextants, and pocket sundials.


After my trip to Toledo and learning about the distinctive metalworking style of the city and their famed swords, I was proud of myself for spotting the swords below and instantly knowing they had been made in the city without needing to read the informational sheet (swords 19 and 20).

Spanish swords (2 from Toledo)

The museum definitely surprised me in a few spots– I wasn’t expecting to find an American flag or weapons from the Pacific Islands. There were quite a few cool finds, like cannons and port seals from Hondarribia/Fuenterrabia, which we visited in País Vasco.  While I hadn’t expected to need to pay to enter, 3 euros wasn’t a steep fee to see an interesting pocket of Spanish history.



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