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Madrid’s Museo de America: Localization and Spatial Semantics

The Museo de America [Museum of America1] was founded by decree under the Franco regime in 1941. A plan to construct a building exclusively for the museum was in the works, but in the meantime, it was temporarily installed on a floor of the Museo Arqueologico Nacional [National Archeological Museum], where it opened to the public in July 1944. A year earlier, the architects Luis Moya and Luis Martfnez-Feduchi had begun construction on the new building, which was completed in 1954. The idea behind the museum, “in keeping with the ideology behind its founding decree,” was “to promote Spain’s missionary work and civilizing efforts in America. The building’s architecture reflected this historicist and neocolonial style, with an arch-fayade, a tower that evokes that of baroque churches of America and a layout similar to that of a convent.”2 Although the building works were completed in 1954, the museum collections were not moved to the new site until 1962. A decision was made to wait on its inauguration until 1965 in order for it to coincide with the International Congress of Americanists. The museum closed for reforms in 1981 and reopened in 1994, after a pompous celebration of the 500 years since the discovery of America. The museum’s permanent exhibition has remained the same since its last reopening.3

Located at an emblematic spot in Madrid on the corner of Avenida de los Reyes Catolicos and Avenida del Arco de la Victoria, MAM sits atop a hill that overlooks the city. The museum entrance is kitty-corner from the arch, which was constructed between 1953 and 1956 to commemorate Franco’s victory in the Civil War.4 It is surrounded by gardens with sculptures from different periods that commemorate the heroic deeds of the colonizers.5 During the Spanish Civil War, fighting took place near the museum’s current location. When the war ended, an altar was constructed in honor of the Virgen del Asedio,6 along with several buildings: Escuela de Ingenieros Navales [Naval Engineering School], Instituto de Cultura Hispanica (later the Instituto de Cooperation Iberoamericana and today the Agencia Espanola de Cooperation Internacional) [first the Hispanic Culture Institute, then the Institute of Spanish-American Cooperation and now the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation] and la Plaza de Cristo Rey [Christ the King Square]. The front of the building faces Parque del Oeste [Park of the West], a green space located right across from the museum that boasts several sculptures dedicated to the Latin American founding fathers.7

In 1992, the year commemorating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America, a 92-meter-high tower was constructed next to the museum’s building. The tower is called the “Faro de Moncloa.” In this brief overview of spatial semantics, all of the elements are aimed at emphasizing Spain’s role as a colonizer in the Americas. The following section will examine how the museum’s permanent exhibition is organized.

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