Knowing the old town of Madrid
Probably most of the travellers all over the world, when trying to discover a new city, they start their adventure with the oldest and most historic places. Madrid is not an exception either. And it doesn´t matter if you decide to learn about it with a guide or by yourself, you will definitely fall in love with the oldest places of the city. The part of Madrid that we recommend for a walk is also known as Madrid de los Austrias, and it includes some of most emblematic places, like Plaza Mayor, Plaza de la Villa, Plaza Oriente and Royal Palace. And the best thing about it is that you can visit all these places by foot just in two hours. So let´s start our journey with the most popular part – Plaza Mayor.
The secrets of Plaza Mayor
There is no doubt, this one is a favourite place of many travellers. It is in the heart of Madrid, just a few steps from Puerta del Sol. Plaza Mayor, which means Major Square, just turned 400 last year. More than four centuries ago, Felipe II ordered a renovation for a previous Arrabal square, his works were continued by his successors, Felipe III and Carlos II, and ended in 1619 while managed by Juan Gómez de Mora. One can only imagine all the stories these walls could tell. It went through three huge fires and various assaults. The four lampposts in every corner have major events that happened there, carved in their surface, such as bullfights, markets, corronatios and even executions.
Its balconies became witnesses during the centuries not only to joys and delights, but also to many violent acts. The owners of the houses in the square were obliged to leave their balconies for the most powerful and famous in the city during the main events and celebrations.
One of the most important buildings is La Casa de la Panadería (“Bakery House”), which was renovated many times during the last four centuries. La Casa de la Carnicería (“Butcher House”) is situated in front of it. The last one was rebuilt while using the style of the first one. Formerly it was a general meat store to supply the Villa’s markets, hence its name. Although it was always one of the most mysterious buildings in the area. The data on its construction are scarce, nor the exact dates of its beginning exist.
There are nine arches for each entrance in the square. The most famous is the Arco de Cuchilleros. The origin of its name is in the street of Cuchilleros to which it leads. There were the workshops of the guild of cutlers who supplied their knives to the butchers working inside and around the main square.
There are many more curiosities about this historic place. One of them is related to the the Casa del Campo and the horse had its mouth open. After its transfer, the statue has suffered several attacks. One of them burst the animal’s belly d statue of Felipe III and his horse in the center of the square. Initially it was located in ue to an explosive introduced through the horse’s mouth, which is why they found dozens of dead birds inside. The birds, apparently, when entering through the mouth could not leave and ended up dying inside the statue. To end these unfortunate accidents, they decided to cover the mouth of Felipe III’s horse.
Plaza de la Villa
If we continue along the main street, we arrive at the Plaza de la Villa. Its main facade is surrounded by three buildings of great historical value, built in different centuries: la Casa y Torre de Lujanes, Casa de Cisneros and Casa de la Villa. The last was the old headquarters of the Madrid City Council. This square was very important in medieval Madrid because of its location, where the main entrances to the city crossed, and where many sword fighting took place. The House and Tower of Lujanes, built in the fifteenth century by the Lujanes family, are one of the oldest buildings in the historic center.
Walking a little more we pass through the Iglesia Catedral de las Fuerzas Armadas (“Cathedral Church of the Armed Forces”), also known as the Sacramento Church, whose construction began in the 17th century. And at the end of the same street is the Almudena Cathedral. It is a relatively modern cathedral compared to the other Catholic churches in the center of Madrid. Its construction began in 1883 and lasted for 100 years.
Royal Palace of Madrid
Located near the Cathedral, it is impossible to miss the majestic Royal Palace of Madrid. With its humble 3748 rooms, it is one of the largest palaces in the world. It was built on the orders of Felipe V in the middle of the 18th century and, although the current kings do not live there, it is still used for state ceremonies and solemn acts. By the way, it is said that, apparently, having so many uninhabited corners, it is impossible not to have a ghost or two wandering around the palace. During the construction work several workers claimed to have seen different ghosts and demons on their facades, and refused to continue working on it. To calm his workers, Felipe V commissioned the building an exorcism and the workers were washed with holy water.
Plaza de Oriente
Continuing with a walk around the area we find the Plaza de Oriente, just next to the Royal Palace. There we can observe many statues of spanish kings, among which the statue of Philip IV, a 17th century work by Pietro Tacca, stands out. It is considered the first equestrian statue in the world held only by the horse’s hind legs. It is worth mentioning a detail for the most curious … formerly the same statues were at the top of the Royal Palace, but after Carlos III had a dream, in which one of them was pushed to kill him, he ordered to remove most of them and place them in the Plaza de Oriente and in Parque del Retiro
For those who still want to continue walking through the old town of Madrid, we recommend heading south. Over there you can cross the Segovia Viaduct, also known as the Suicide Bridge. Without giving explanations, one can guess in a second where this name comes from, and which is why glass walls for safety were made. When crossing the bridge, we have several options to go back to our starting point, the Plaza Mayor, and continue to learn about the Austrias neighborhood of Madrid. It could be interesting to learn about this part of the city with a professional guide since its alleys and older buildings keep many mysteries and stories. Are they real, or are they just urban legends? We will let that be decided and discovered by travelers.