The Madrid armory is one of the most complete in the world. As you enter the immense hall, your heart gives a leap, the blood surges through your veins, and you stand as motionless at the portal as one who has lost his reason. An entire army of cavalry, clad in armor, with swords in their hands, lances in rest, gleaming and formidable, dash toward you like a legion of specters. It is an army of emperors, kings, dukes, in the most superb armor that has ever issued from the hands of man, upon which falls a torrent of light from eighteen enormous windows, and this draws from the metal a gleam of rays, sparks, and colors that fairly make one giddy.
The walls are covered with cuirasses, helmets, bows, guns, swords, halberds, tournament lances, immense muskets, and gigantic lances, which reach from the floor to the ceiling; from the ceiling hang the banners of all the armies of the world, trophies of Lepanto, San Quintino, the War of the Independence, and those of Africa, Cuba, and Mexico; on every side there is a profusion of glorious ensigns, illustrious arms, marvelous works of art, effigies, emblems, and immortal names. One does not know where to begin to admire, and runs, at first, here and there, looking at every thing, and seeing nothing, and really weary be-fore having fairly commenced one’s task. In the center of the hall is the equestrian armor, with horses and cavaliers ranged in a row, by twos and threes, all turning in the same direction, like the column of a squadron; and one distinguishes, at first sight, among others, the armors of Philip II., Charles V., Philibert Emanuel, and Christopher Columbus.
Here and there, on pedestals, one sees helmets, casques, morions, collars, and bucklers, belonging to the kings of Arragon, Castile, and Navarre, finished in fine relief of silver, representing battles, scenes from mythology, symbolical figures, trophies, and grotesque garlands; some of them of inestimable value, the work of the most distinguished artists of Europe; others of strange shapes, overladen with ornaments, tufts, vizors, and colossal crests; then small helmets and cuirasses of young princes, together with swords and shields, donated by popes and monarchs. In the midst of the equestrian armor, one sees statues clothed in the fantastic costumes of Indians, Africans, and Chinese, ornamented with feathers and bells, with bows and quivers; frightful warlike masks; costumes of mandarins of woven gold and silk.
Along the walls are other pieces of armor; that of the Marquis of Pescara, the poet Garcilaso of Vega, the Marquis of Santa Cruz, the gigantic one of Frederick the Magnanimous, Duke of Saxony; and among one and another Arabian, Persian, and Moorish banners, that are falling to pieces. In the glass cases is a collection of swords, which make you shudder when you hear the names of those who wielded them: such as those belonging to the Prince of Conde, Isabella the Catholic, Philip II., Ferdinand Cortes, the Count Duke of Olivares, John of Austria, Gonzalez of Cordova, Pizarro, the Cid; and, a little farthcr on, are the helmet of King Boabdil of Granada, the buckler of Francis I., and the camp-chair of Charles V. In a corner of the room are ranged the trophies of the Ottoman armies; helmets studded with gems, spurs, gilded stirrups, the collars of slaves, daggers, scimetars in velvet sheaths, circlets of gold, embroidered and covered with pearls; the spoils of Ali Pasha, who was killed on the flagship, at the battle of Lepanto; his caftan of gold and silver brocade, his belt, sandals, and shield; the spoils of his sons, and the banners torn from the galleys.
On another side are votive crowns, crosses, and necklaces, belonging to Gothic princes. In another compartment are objects taken from the Indians of Mariveles, the Moors of Cagayan and Mindano, and from savages of the most distant oceanic islands; such as necklaces of snail shells, pipes of wooden idols, reed flutes, ornaments made from the feet of insects, slaves’ robes made of palm leaves, written leaves which served as safeguards, poisoned arrows, and executioners hatchets. And then, on every side one turns, there are the saddles of kings, coats of mail, culverins, historical drums, sashes, inscriptions, mementos and images of all times and countries, from the fall of the Goths to the battle of Teuan, from Mexico to China; a collection of treasures and masterpieces, which one leaves dazed, moved, and exhausted, to return to self-consciousness later (as if coming out of a dream), with one’s memory wearied and confused.
If on some future day a great Italian poet shall desire to sing of the discovery of the new world, in no place can he obtain more powerful inspiration than in the Naval Museum of Madrid, because in no place does one feel more deeply the virginal atmosphere of the wild America and the mysterious presence of Columbus. There is a room called the cabinet of the discoverers; the poet, on entering it, if he really possess the soul of a poet, will uncover his head in reverence. In whatever portion of the room the eye falls, one sees some image that stirs the heart ; one is no longer in Europe, nor in the present century, but in the America of the fifteenth century; one breaths that air, sees those places, and feels that life.
In the center is a trophy of arms taken from the natives of the discovered territory; shields covered with the skins of wild beasts, javelins of cane with plumed notches, wooden sabers in osier scabbards, their hilts ornamented with manes and hair falling in Iong bunches; canes, poles, and enormous clubs, great swords indented like a saw, shapeless scepters, gigantic quivers, clothes of monkey skin, daggers of kings and executioners, arms belonging to the savages of Cuba, Mexico, New Caledonia, the Carolinas, and the most remote islands of the Pacific, black, strange and horrible, which awaken in one’s mind confused visions of terrible struggles, in the mysterious obscurity of virginal forests, within interminable labyrinths of unknown trees.
Round about these spoils of a savage country are the images and mementos of the conquerers; here the portrait of Columbus; there, that of Pizarro; beyond, that of Ferdinand Cortes; on one wall the map of America, drawn by Giovanni de la Cosa, during the second voyage of the Genoese, on a broad canvas covered with figures, colors, and signs, which were intended to serve as a guide for the expeditions into the interior of the territories; near the canvas is a piece of the tree under which the conqueror of Mexico reposed during the famous “bitter night,” after he had opened his path through the immense army which awaited him in the valley of Otumba; then a vase taken from the trunk of the tree near which the celebrated Captain Cook died; imitations of boats, barks, and rafts used by the savages; a collection of portraits of illustrious navigators.
Then, in the middle portion, there is a large picture which represents the three ships of Christopher Columbus-the “Nina,” the “Pinta,” and the “Santa Maria,” at the moment in which American soil appears, and all the sailors, erect on the poops, waving their arms, and uttering loud cries, salute the new world and give thanks to God. There are no words which express the emotion that one experiences at the sight of that spectacle, nor tears worth that which trembles in one’s eye at that instant, nor human soul which, in that moment, does not feel itself more grand!