|Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales: Nothing that special, right?|
Originally the site of a medieval palace, the building was turned into a convent by Juana de Austria in 1559. The architect responsible for El Escorial also took on this renovation project, although the exterior result is a little less striking. Following the death of her husband, Juan Manuel of Portugal, young Juana was widowed at 19, and basically wanted somewhere nice to chill out for the rest of her days. The convent became home not only to her, but also to a stream of titled ladies in a similar situation, who turned up with all their worldly goods in tow. And what worldly goods: the art collection and treasury are jaw-dropping.
|The upper cloister|
And the surprises continue upstairs, where the upper cloister is edged by chapels dedicated to different saints and events from the life of Christ. Even if you aren't at all religious, it's worth a visit to hear the history behind each one; the architects and sculptors behind the statues and richly-adorned alcoves. As well as factual information on paintings and sculptures, our guide helped us to get an idea of life in the convent. There are still a few cloistered nuns living there, but new recruits won't be admitted, meaning that within a few decades, the convent will no longer be in active use.