My opinion of the Velazquez Tech Museum in Madrid

review velazquez tech museum Madrid

Immersive exhibitions are a tourist proposal halfway between culture and entertainment. And in recent years they have been proliferating a lot. In Madrid there have been many recently: Van Gogh, Goya, Frida Kahlo… They have all been of a temporary nature, but there has also been a permanent one on one of the city’s great icons, and here is my opinion: the Velázquez Tech Museum, which revolves around the painting Las Meninas by the great Sevillian painter, on display at the Prado Museum.

What’s in this museum

Before I give you my opinion about the Velazquez Tech Museum in Madrid, I would like to tell you that these are the main spaces or attractions you will find:

  • La Habitación or the ‘room of the room’ of the painting: Las Meninas is a scene that takes place in the Prince’s Room of the Alcázar of Madrid and this room recreates its space. This is key to trying to understand what was going on in that scene and, above all, what painting Velázquez was painting when he portrayed himself in Las Meninas (a mystery which, on the other hand, can never be successfully solved).
  • Hall of ‘The Pillars of Society’: this is an elongated space where some Meninas are exhibited and which invites us to reflect on current culture and society.
  • Hologram room: a 10-minute projection in which a hologram of Velázquez tells us some details of the painting, offering some interpretations of it.
  • Immersive room: this is probably one of the visitors’ favourites, as it works as a cube of images and audiovisual effects, very tiktokable.
  • The ‘Art in the streets’ room and other Meninas: more figures that formed part of the urban exhibition Meninas Madrid Gallery are on display. They stand out for their great originality, making them the most artistic pieces in the museum. And they reflect on creativity in our times.
  • Photo room: this is the final space, where visitors are invited to take a free photo, creating the illusion that they are sharing the space with the protagonists. In my case, it is the photo that accompanies this article.

Now: my opinion of the Velázquez Tech Museum in Madrid

I admit that I don’t usually visit this type of immersive exhibition: I like the real works, the original ones in museums, much better. I offer my opinion on technology in the art world in front of The Washing of the Feet by Tintoretto, when I do the visit in the Prado Museum: the new virtual applications can NEVER replace the original work.

But at that moment, I also add another important appreciation: technology can be a good complement to understand and appreciate such a work. And that is truly my opinion about the Velázquez Tech Museum in Madrid: it is a good complement to reflect on the painting… after having seen it, so it can be a good complement to the work of art.

The most positive aspects of the Velázquez Tech Museum

  • It helps to reflect on Velázquez’s intention in creating the work: was it a portrait session of the kings Philip IV and Mariana of Austria? Was there a set of mirrors in the room?
  • A good family experience: it is well known that young people and children nowadays need a lot of visual stimuli to keep them from getting bored. And this museum has plenty of just that.
  • It recovers some of the best Meninas that were exhibited in Madrid in previous years: remember that the aforementioned Meninas Madrid Gallery was an initiative in which these figures were exhibited in the streets and then auctioned off to raise funds for charity. A magnificent idea that was temporary in nature, but which here takes on the character of a permanent exhibition, so that we will never forget this great urban exhibition.
  • The photo in which the visitors slip in among the characters is a very interesting idea and, for some, the realisation of an impossible dream: to be there with them and feel as if they were inside the painting. In my case (and in Pablo Picasso’s), the impossible dream is to see what the hell Velázquez was painting at that moment, which would explain everything… and we will never know it.
  • It is very centrally located, next to the Plaza Mayor. The museum is about a 10-15 minute walk from the Prado Museum. Being in the surrounding area would have been perfect, but maybe that would have been a bit of a stretch…

The least positive thing about the Velázquez Tech Museum

  • The priority language is Spanish: the information signs are translated into English, but if I’m not mistaken, the hologram only speaks Spanish, and I don’t know if there is a way to translate all this into other languages. For example, into Italian or French, which are two languages widely spoken by tourists visiting the city.
  • The museum space is relatively small. However, I must also say that there is capacity control by means of time slots, so it is not an overwhelming experience in terms of crowds of visitors.

How to visit the museum: prices, opening hours…

If you are planning to visit the Velázquez Tech Museum in Madrid, take note of these details:

  • Address: Calle de Atocha 12
  • Opening hours: from 11.00 to 21.00, every day of the week
  • Price: €12 general admission, €9 reduced admission, €36 family ticket

In short…

In short: my opinion of the Velázquez Tech Museum in Madrid is positive. It seems to me to be an original and necessary idea for the city, as the figures of the Meninas have become true icons of the city, since we see them in Christmas decorations, on souvenir T-shirts, in various exhibitions… Therefore, it fills a gap that existed until now: that of immersive exhibitions, which have many followers nowadays.

This is my opinion of my new Retekess tour guide system

After more than 10 years as a tourist guide in Madrid, I have finally decided to make an important investment that until now I had thought impossible: to buy some tour guide systems to use with my own groups. Until now, when I needed them, I used the good services of some rental companies which, by the way, have raised their prices a lot after the pandemic. 

And of course, I also used the radioguides of Madrid’s museums and monuments themselves, although with the pandemic they had ‘forgotten’ us: only the Royal Palace maintained its service, while the Prado and the Reina Sofía suspended it. A few months ago, the Prado resumed it, but the Reina Sofía still does not offer this service.

These factors and other reasons I will explain below were the pushes I needed to buy my own equipment: the Retekess TT122. In the following lines I will explain my opinion about them.

What I ordered and what I got

A few weeks ago I bought two TT122 tour guide system, each consisting of:

  • 1 transmitter
  • 15 receivers
  • 1 microphone
  • 15 earphones (with earhook for one ear only)
  • 1 charging cradle for 16 devices
  • 16 charging cables
Unboxing of my radioguides Retekess TT122

This way, I can give service to a maximum of 30 visitors, with 1 spare transmitter-microphone just in case. In other words, with this I cover the basics: any tourist group in the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía, the Royal Palace, the Thyssen and El Escorial, as in none of these cases they allow groups of more than 30 people.

The order I placed does not, therefore, include disposable headphones. But that’s OK: apart from the fact that disposable headphones cost extra and have an extra impact on the environment, the reusable headphones included in the system are of good quality and sound good. And frankly, I prefer that they are only one-eared, so that the visitor is not completely cut off from his or her surroundings. This is interesting for safety reasons, because when the visitor is walking down the street with both ears occupied, he may not notice a speeding car or a scooter coming, but he does can hear it when he has one ear free.

And there are no hygiene problems: unlike the ones at the Royal Palace, these reusable earphones are not inserted into the ear, but are clipped to the ear and the earpiece just sits on top. In any case, as an additional hygienic measure, I subject each earphone to a simple disinfection and, in addition, I have bought some covers that can act as an ‘ear mask‘. They are intended to cover large headsets, but can also be adapted to these small headsets. They don’t look very elegant, but they are a great solution for the more hygiene-conscious.

The only ‘but’ I can say about these headphones is that the ones I received are only suitable for the right ear, i.e. the ear hook cannot be removed and repositioned, as is the case with the radioguides at the Royal Palace, for example. This can be an inconvenience for visitors who (sometimes unknowingly) hear worse with their right ear. But Retekess tells me that there is a solution: when ordering, you can specify how many headphones you want for the right ear and how many for the left ear. I mention this so that if you are going to place your order, remember to write it down as an express request.

In any case, I’ve already found a solution: running the cable behind the ear and putting the hook upside down, and I see that it holds more or less well. Another option is to attach the hook to the left temple of the glasses, if the visitor wears them and doesn’t mind.

Operation of my Retekess

I write these lines having used my equipment twice: the first time with 12 people at the Royal Palace and the second time with another 12 at the Prado Museum. And on both occasions, the result has been very good: everyone has listened to me well, at a more than acceptable distance. In the Royal Palace, because the walls are so thick, there can be some discontinuity when I have some people several rooms behind me, but this also happens with the radioguides of the Royal Palace itself, so this is nothing new.

Also, so far I haven’t registered any interference with other groups, something that by the way happened to me using the tour guide systems of some rental companies and when we crossed paths with Asian groups in the Prado. As far as the battery are concerned, no problem. They were short visits, two hours, but at the end all the devices showed me the three ‘full charge’ stripes. 

And from the visitor’s point of view, there are no mysteries: they have a central button and “+” and “-” buttons to select the channel and to select the volume. We used channel 01, with a volume of 09, and everything was fine.

Price and shipping of these tour guide system

Of course, there are many different models of Retekess tour guide systems and they all have different prices. I opted for one of the cheapest ones because I think what I need is something quite simple, to be honest. Besides, they were on sale: the set of 15 receivers + 1 transmitter was €429.99. In other words, the two packs came to €959.98 in total. To this I had to add a charge of €28.80, which I think was due to import taxes. In total, adding the aforementioned cases (bought on Amazon), I haven’t spent more than €1,000.

And that’s a totally affordable cost, I think. Quite the opposite of the offers I occasionally receive from other brands, which rarely go below €2,000 or €2,500. That cost may be amortisable for companies or for the museums themselves, but not for a humble freelancer like me, who also often works with small private groups that do not require radioguides.

Moreover, the arrival has not been a problem: although a colleague told me that back in April it took longer than expected due to problems at the port of Shanghai, they arrived quite quickly for me, to be honest: just over a week. A very pleasant surprise.

In short: I expect to get a return on my investment within a year or so. But that’s not really the only reason I did it: I did it mainly because it’s a huge leap forward in terms of convenience for me. Before, I had to manage to pick up and return the heavy suitcase that the rental companies give you: sometimes I had to go to their office, sometimes to a hotel in the city centre, and so on. And that takes time that, in the case of a freelance professional, is gold… that slips through your fingers. 

And if I compare it with the option of the museum’s radioguides, it saves time for the group, as the participants already enter the museum with the tour guide system on and tested, so that we have more time for the interior visit. 

My colleagues, what tipped the scales

In addition to the good price and the convenience of having my own tour guide system, what really encouraged me to take the plunge were the opinions of two trusted colleagues. Both of them also have these very same radioguides, exactly the same model. And they both told me that they were working very well. So it was not a blind purchase.

But more importantly, buying the same model makes it much easier for us to serve larger groups. I will give you an example of an upcoming visit to the Royal Palace: there will be 36 people and we will have to divide them into two groups. One group will be with me and the other will be with my partner. And all of them will use the same model of tour guide system, in case we have to exchange them.

As you see, so far it’s all good things, so I hope to think the same in a year’s time, when this tour guide system will be a little bit more tested. For the moment, I have nothing but good things to say.

The Royal Palace, the great beneficiary of the ‘new’ Caravaggio?

Salome with the Baptist's head Caravaggio

In the last few weeks I have been following very closely what is happening with the discovery of the supposed Ecce Homo by Caravaggio. You may know: a art piece that was attributed to the circle of Ribera and that was going to be auctioned with a derisory starting price of 1,500 euros in Ansorena, but that the Ministry of Culture decided to stop because of suspicions that it could be a Caravaggio. It is currently under investigation to determine the true authorship and all possibilities are open, including that of an imitator. But whatever the outcome, my opinion is that the great beneficiary of all this may be the Royal Palace, or rather, the future of the Royal Collections Museum of Madrid. Let me explain.

The discovery has generated a huge stir in the media. Reports on television, articles in newspapers, posts on social networks… And in all of them the scarcity of caravaggios in Spain and in the world is mentioned. For example, in our country there are only four (or five if we accept the disputed St. John the Baptist of the Cathedral of Toledo). That is one of the reasons why the change of authorship would also imply a drastic change in its economic valuation: it is said that 23 million euros were to be offered at the auction!

In addition, when talking about the vicissitudes of the painting itself, which belonged to the Viceroy of Naples when this territory was Spanish, the link it to the Salome with the Baptist’s head, which is part of the Royal Palace collection, as they have the same provenance. Important note: I emphasize the words “is part of” and do not use “is exhibited in the Royal Palace” (as it is usually said in these reports), since it has not been there for a few years now, but has been on tour in different exhibitions around the world, such as Rome.

In any case, all this media exposure has served for the Spanish public to discover Caravaggio, a figure who has not been given the importance he deserves here, but who in other countries is recognized (deservedly) as a ‘great of the greats’, especially in his homeland, Italy.

And why do I say that the Royal Collections Museum of Madrid could be the great beneficiary? Precisely because it will serve to highlight its Salome with the head of the Baptist, which will be exhibited in this new museum. Let us remember that this new museum, whose construction has already been completed, is in the phase of materializing its museographic proposal and is scheduled to be inaugurated soon. Patrimonio Nacional, the institution that manages the museum, intends to hang in its rooms a masterpiece of worldwide impact, which will serve as a hook to attract, on its own, numerous visitors. Unfortunately for the Prado Museum, the work that has always sounded for it is The Garden of Earthly Delights, by El Bosco, since it is on deposit at the Prado, being its real owner Patrimonio Nacional.

But what if it turns out that thanks to the tsunami generated by the ‘new’ Caravaggio, that great work of global impact may be the Salome with the Baptist’s head? In my opinion, it has everything that makes a painting by the Italian genius unique: technical mastery with his characteristic tenebrism and, let’s be honest, that gloomy atmosphere that impresses all and sundry. 

If Caravaggio continues to be on the crest of the wave in the coming months and Patrimonio Nacional knows how to play its cards, we may be facing that great painting that will sneak into tourist guides and art books published in all corners of the world. And it will bring quality tourism to Madrid, so let’s make the most of it!