Plaza Mayor

Madrid’s grand central square is found in the heart of Hapsburg Madrid, the oldest part of the city. Steeped in history, the bustling plaza is the perfect place to begin your stroll through one of Madrid’s most charming districts. While you’re there, have a bite to eat or a coffee at one of the sunny terraces, buy yourself a souvenir in any of the time-honoured shops, watch street musicians and artists working their magic, and soak up the city’s rich history. The square also plays host to events such as the drum parade at Easter, outdoor concerts, and the city’s Christmas market in December, so be sure to check the calendar when you’re visiting.

Before Madrid became the city you see today, filled with large avenues and boulevards, it was made up of small streets and alleys, which today conjure up images of swashbucklers and swindlers.

Plaza Mayor was erected on the former Plaza del Arrabal, where Madrid’s most popular market was held till the late 16th century. When King Philip II moved the Spanish court from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, he began to plan a remodelling of the square, although it wasn’t till his son and successor Philip III was in power, that the new square was built. It was designed by architect Juan Gómez de Mora, who brought architectural uniformity to this open space which would be used to host all kinds of events, from local festivities and bullfights to beatifications, coronations and even the occasional auto-da-fé during the Spanish Inquisition.

Casa de la Panadería

At one end of the square stood -and still stands- Casa de la Panadería. It was erected by Diego Sillero around 1590, although only the cellar and the ground floor of the original building remain. Since it was built, it has served as the town’s main bakery (in charge of setting the price of bread, so even the poorest citizens could afford it), royal chambers, the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Academy of History. Today it houses the Plaza Mayor Tourist Information Centre and the Tienda Casa de la Panadería, a shop selling souvenirs of Madrid made by local artisans. The façade is covered by exquisite frescoes painted in 1992 by the artist Carlos Franco, and which feature mythological figures that are linked to the history of Madrid, such as the Goddess Cybele.

Arco de Cuchilleros

Throughout its history, a number of fires have swept through the square causing immense damage. The most devastating one occurred in 1790, in which it was practically destroyed. It was rebuilt by Juan de Villanueva (the architect behind the Prado Museum and the Royal Observatory) who made major changes and gave us the square we know and love today. As well as reducing the number of floors of the buildings to two, he also closed off the square at its four corners and built nine arches that provided entrances to the plaza. With its monumental appearance, the most well-known arch is the Arco de los Cuchilleros whose steep steps lead down to Calle de los Cuchilleros. The street is lined with buildings that are taller than others in the area and whose façades are slanted because they served as buttresses. It received its name, Cuchilleros, from the town’s knife makers who had their workshops here and would supply knives to the butchers on the Plaza Mayor. Across from Casa de la Panadería, on the other side of the square, you’ll find the Casa de la Carnicería. whose architectural design is nearly a copy of its neighbour opposite and which back then was used as the butcher’s guild and as a place where meat was stored and sold to the town (carne is the Spanish word for meat). Today Casa de la Carnicería houses the Hotel Pestana Plaza Mayor.

Statue of Philip III

The equestrian statue found in the centre of the square is that of King Philip III. It was started by the Flemish sculptor Giambologna and finished by his disciple, the Italian sculptor Pietro Tacca in 1616. It originally stood at the entrance to the Casa de Campo Park, but in 1848 Quee

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