The Magnificent Plaza Mayor of Madrid

by | Nov 29, 2022 | BLOG, Europe, SPAIN

On your next trip to Madrid, the capital of Spain, the Plaza Mayor of Madrid will be one of the essential visits that will become the center of your tourist activities in the city’s historic area.

Very close to Puerta del Sol and behind Calle Mayor, you will find one of Madrid’s most attractive corners and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful central squares in all of Europe.

The Plaza Mayor of Madrid is one of those places with the most fabulous atmosphere, especially on weekends.

Plaza Mayor of Madrid

The square is also the usual venue for different celebrations and events, such as musical concerts or the traditional Christmas market.

Therefore, it will not surprise you that the Plaza Mayor will be full of tourists who enjoy the great atmosphere and bustling terraces.

History of the Plaza Mayor of Madrid

The now very central Plaza Mayor of Madrid occupies the space that developed at the wall’s gates during medieval times outside the city.

This space has been occupied since its beginning by a swampy area called the Lagunas de Luján.

Over time, the so-called “Plaza del Arrabal” began to be formed in that exact place, with a famous market, just at the entrance of Madrid’s wall, to avoid the fees merchants had to pay within the city.

The wall of medieval Madrid stretched along the west side of “Calle de la Cava de San Miguel.”

During the Catholic Monarchs’ rule, the government already regulated the shops’ settlement in the “Plaza del Arrabal.”

Still, King Felipe III finally commissioned a new plaza to replace the disorderly one in the Arrabal.

The new square was built in just two years by a disciple of the architect Juan de Herrera, who completed it in 1619.

On the north side, by 1590, the city had built the “Casa de la Panaderia.” Breadmakers sold bread on the ground floor, while royal apartments used the upper floors.

Opposite, on the south side of the square, there’s another similar building known as the “Casa de la Carniceria.”

Subsequently, the Plaza Mayor suffered several fires, such as the one in 1672 that also affected the “Casa de Panadería.”

Since its construction, the Plaza Mayor of Madrid has been the site of numerous royal celebrations.

This way, apart from large festivals, the Plaza Mayor gathered up to 50,000 people and housed everything from bulls’ launching to prisoners’ executions.

After the reform in 1853, coinciding with the construction of the nearby “Puerta del Sol” square, the Plaza Mayor of Madrid became a landscaped place where trams circulated.

In the center of the “Plaza Mayor” square stands the equestrian statue of Felipe III, which used to be at the Casa de Campo.

What to see in the Plaza Mayor of Madrid

When you arrive at the Plaza Mayor of Madrid, you will find a large pedestrian area where you will see the statue mentioned above and all the bars and terraces that occupy most of the space in the summer.

In the set of similar design buildings that complete this square, you will recognize the “Casa de la Panaderia” by its facade painted with mythological allegories.

This majestic building is currently the headquarters of the Madrid Tourist Office.

Private apartments occupy most of the other buildings, so it is still possible to rent one and live in the Plaza Mayor.

Centuries-old shops

Under the arcades, there are still many traditional and centuries-old shops.

This square side is mainly occupied by souvenir shops that maintain the traditional structure of their façade.

Specifically, on the west side of the square, under the arcades, the different existing shops maintain their facades in the style of 19th-century establishments.

To find a traditional store whose origins date back to the 19th century, you must go to number 25 of the Plaza Mayor, on the northwest side of it, where you will find the “La Favorita” Hat Store.

This original and traditional establishment remains one of the few in Madrid.

Other characteristic traditional shops of the Plaza Mayor are the stamp collecting and numismatic shops dedicated to selling stamps and coins, some of which are still open.

In the Plaza Mayor’s vicinity, you can also find centenary restaurants, such as Casa Botín, considered the oldest restaurant in the world, or Los Galayos, which has a long literary tradition.

Squid sandwiches

The bars where they sell calamari sandwiches are traditional in this Madrid square and its surroundings.

In these bars, customers crowd to consume this hot sandwich at certain hours by filling their bread with freshly fried squid, ideally accompanied by a beer.

For about 5 euros, you can have a calamari sandwich and a beer.

Cuchilleros Arch

One of the most outstanding corners you will see on your visit to the Plaza Mayor of Madrid is the “Arco de Cuchilleros.”

It is one of the arcaded exits that this large square in Madrid has, which you find in its southwest corner and leads you to one of the most popular areas of bars and tapas for tourists, such as Cava Baja.

The Arco de Cuchilleros connects the Plaza Mayor with the Calle de Cuchilleros, an extension of the Cava de San Miguel.

History of Cuchillero’s Arch

The Arco de Cuchilleros, built after the reform that the architect Juan de Villanueva made in the Plaza Mayor in 1790, meant the complete closure of the square with buildings.

When you come to the Arco de Cuchilleros from inside the square, you will be surprised by the long staircase that leads down to Calle de Cuchilleros.

But it is when you get to this street and turn to see the porticoed arch you will discover the great height of the building, with its six floors.

In front of the arcaded arches that come out on its east side and open at the same street level, the “Arco de Cuchilleros” must bridge the significant gap existing with the “Calle Cuchilleros.”

The “Arco de Cuchilleros” is also famous for hosting one of Madrid’s most traditional restaurants and tapas bars, “Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas.”

It also takes you from the Plaza Mayor to the oldest restaurant in the world, Sobrino de Botin.

La Casa de la Panaderia – The Bakery House

The most significant building in the central Plaza Mayor of Madrid is the “Casa de la Panaderia.”

You will easily recognize it because, in the uniform building surrounding the square, the “Casa de la Panaderia” occupies the north side and shows us a facade colored with paintings representing mythological images.

History of La Casa de la Panaderia

The “Casa de la Panaderia” was built in 1590.

It served as the market hall of commerce established outside the wall of Madrid’s small medieval town.

Bakeries were located on the original building’s ground floor, while the upper floors were for royal apartments.

When the construction of the Plaza Mayor of Madrid began in 1617, following the guidelines of the architect Francisco de Mora, the “Casa de la Panaderia” was integrated into the project and undoubtedly conditioned the style of the new buildings.

With the arcaded ground floor and two corner towers, the original four-story building was destroyed by fire in 1672.

Later, the “Casa de la Panaderia” underwent additional renovations, the most important in 1888.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the “Casa de la Panaderia” was also, at different times, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando headquarters and the Royal Academy of History.

By the 19th century, it had become the office of the Madrid City Council.

The Paintings

The last major remodeling affected what will attract your attention when standing right in front of the “Casa de la Panaderia”: the facade paintings.

The Madrid City Council restored these paintings on successive occasions from the frescoes that Claudio Coello and José Jiménez Donoso painted in 1672.

In 1988, the Madrid City Council decided to restore the deteriorated frescoes that the “Casa de la Panaderia” had at that time, dated back to 1914 and were made by the painter Enrique Guijo.

Finally, a project by the painter Carlos Francos was approved and completed in 1992.

This project shows us different mythological characters in paintings, as we can currently see.

The “Casa de la Panadería” in Plaza Mayor is currently the Madrid Tourist Board’s headquarters.

The Equestrian Statue of Felipe III

When you visit Madrid and the Plaza Mayor, you will see that it is a pedestrian square, totally open, except for the presence in the center of a giant equestrian statue.

It is about Felipe III, the king who, in 1619, commissioned the square’s construction as we can see it today.

Felipe III was the son of Felipe II, and he extended the imperial domination of the Kingdom of Spain throughout his reign.

The equestrian statue was designed and cast in Florence in 1614 by Juan de Bolonia, although Pietro Tacca finished it.

It was finally in 1848 that the Madrid City Officials placed the statue in its current location on a large stone pedestal after remodeling the Plaza Mayor.

However, during the republican regimes in 1873 and 1931, the government removed this “Plaza Mayor’s” beloved statue.

An inscription on the statue’s pedestal establishes that Felipe III commissioned the construction of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid in 1619.

It is important to note that, later, his successor, his son King Felipe IV, wanted to have a more majestic equestrian statue than his father.

For this reason, he commissioned his statue, considered the most important one in Madrid.

You can see it in the nearby “Plaza de Oriente.”


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