Long gone are the days when Spain was the strongest power in the Western world. Spanish army no longer instills fear in Europe, and the Spanish red-yellow-red flag is associated not with blood and gold (this is exactly the nickname — “Sangre y oro” — it had in the old days), but with red wine and golden sand beaches. However, even now the Spaniards remember their history and are proud of it — this is very noticeable in the museum dedicated to the history of the Spanish army.
The history of the museum began in 1803, but five years later, during the Spanish uprising against French rule, the museum was plundered by Napoleonic soldiers. The restored museum existed until 1827, when it was divided into the Artillery and Engineering museums. Later, museums of cavalry, intendantry and infantry were added to them. It was only in 1929 that the decision was finally made to create a unified Army Museum in Madrid, which would not only unite the collections of the former museums, but also add to them the newly created collections of the other army branches, as well as the medical service. In 1932, the new Army Museum was officially opened. After the Civil War of 1936-1939 it was housed in the Salon de Reynos Palace in the center of Madrid. The former palace of the Spanish kings is a luxurious room, but the entire museum collection simply did not fit in it.
The museum clearly needed more space, and in 2005 the Army Museum in Madrid closed to reopen in a more suitable location five years later. However, not everyone considered it suitable. Yes, the Alcazar Castle in Toledo is the epitome of Spanish military history. The first fortification on this site was erected by the Romans in the 3rd century AD, later the castle was fortified by the Visigoths, Arabs, and then the Spaniards (until the 16th century, the Alcazar was the residence of the Spanish kings). But some of the public were outraged not by this, but by the much more modern events that took place in the twentieth century. From July to September 1936, the castle was defended by a detachment of rebels who opposed the Spanish Republic and found themselves besieged by the superior forces of the Republicans. Despite all the efforts of the besiegers, the defenders of the castle, commanded by Colonel José Moscardo, held out until the approach of the main rebel forces under the command of General Francisco Franco.
The defense of the Alcazar is firmly embedded in the “patriotic myth” of the Spanish nationalists who won the bloody Civil War. On the ruins of the Alcazar (the castle was deliberately not restored for a long time) officers of the nearby military school took the oath. It is easy to guess, what emotions this name evoked in the Spaniards of leftist views.
Be that as it may, in 2010, the renovated museum was inaugurated in the Alcazar in the presence of Crown Prince Philip (now King Philip VI of Spain). It must be said, that the museum is not the only historical site in Toledo. The city itself is a large architectural monument (including a fortress one) with several museums worthy of close attention. Separately, it is worth noting the huge Cathedral of St. Mary, in which, among various treasures, the general’s saber and the baton of Francisco Franco, the dictator of Spain from 1936 to 1975, are kept.
The museum consists of an old (castle) building and a new building, attached to the bottom-side of the museum. Despite the modern look of the exposition, which in some places can be mistaken for an exhibition of art objects, its authors are clearly not supporters of digital technologies and other interactivity. However, in a museum of an army with such a history, there is a lot to see even without an interactive experience. Moreover, there is a special exposition for those who cannot see — a special hall for the blind and visually impaired, where, among other things, they can touch some of the exhibits. The accessibility of the entire exposition to people in wheelchairs need not be mentioned — in modern museums this is implied by default.
The exposition is conventionally divided into two parts — thematic and historical. The first part consists of sections devoted to various types of weapons, uniforms, awards, banners, and more. There is even a collection of toy soldiers. The second part is devoted to the history of the Spanish army from 1492 to the present day, told in chronological order. It is complemented by a “permanent-temporary” exhibition, dedicated to military affairs in Spain until 1492. The collection is very impressive, the museum does not stop working on its replenishment, so a lover of military history can easily spend several hours inside.
The attitude of the museum to the most famous event in the history of the Alcazar — its siege in 1936 — is interesting. There is not a word about it in the permanent exhibition. The museum did not dare to destroy the chapel and the small memorial of the defenders, as well as the historical office of Colonel Moscardo, hit by the shell during the siege — but they did pretend, that these premises do not belong to the history of the Spanish army. In the museum's map, the chapel and memorial are listed as part of the building along with wells and courtyards — an uninformed visitor will pass by without even realizing their meaning. The exposition, dedicated to the Civil War, is located in a similar way — very little space was allocated for it, and the entrance to it is so located, that an uninformed person has every chance to pass it by.
At the time of my visit in 2012, the exposition had another serious drawback: there was almost no heavy military equipment in it, with the exception of a few small cannons inside the museum. To the credit of the museum, now there is a whole collection of military equipment on the open space of the museum.
The website of the museum (http://www.museo.ejercito.es/en/) is worth noting. It was made not only with high quality, but with great love for the museum. High-quality “virtual visit” posted on the website, with lets you can walk through the museum halls without getting up from your computer: https://ejercito.defensa.gob.es/museo/en/visitas/visita_virtual/ . A separate “virtual visit” was made for children in the form of a cartoon: http://www.museo.ejercito.es/en/visitas/visita_virtual_infantil/. In addition, the site contains numerous photographs of items both from the permanent exhibition and from the museum’s storerooms. Those things are sadly lacking on the websites of most military museums in the world.
Museum address: Toledo, Calle de la Union. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00 (the ticket office is open only until 16:30). The museum is always closed on January 1st and 6th, May 1st, and December 24th, 25th and 31st.
Standard ticket costs 5 euros, but there are discounts for certain categories of visitors, for persons under 18 and citizens of the European Union over 65 years old, admission is free. In addition, admission to the museum is free for everyone on Sundays, Museum Day (March 29), World Cultural Heritage Day (April 18), World Museum Day (May 18), Spanish National Day (October 12) and Spanish Constitution Day (December 6).