Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest in Western Europe and one of the largest in the world. With over 135,000 square metres and 3,418 rooms, it has witnessed centuries of Spanish history. It is one of the few official seat of a Head of State that is open to the public. Almost 2 million visitors come every year to discover its rooms, works of art and treasures that are unique in the world.
The Royal Palace of Madrid, like all the Royal Sites managed by Patrimonio Nacional, is regularly used by Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain for audiences and official events. Moreover, the Royal Palace of Madrid, the largest in Western Europe, continues to be the official residence of the King of Spain, being the only official residence of a Head of State that is open to the public, ensuring that the Palace is alive as it organises official events, the changing of the guard and dozens of activities that revolve around the visitors.
FROM MEDIEVAL ALCAZAR TO ROYAL PALACE
The Royal Palace dates back to the 18th century but actually sits on the site of the old Alcázar of Madrid, a medieval fortress converted into a palace which Philip II made the official residence of the kings of Spain in 1561. The Alcazar, decorated with great works of art from the Spanish golden age, was destroyed by a fire on Christmas Eve 1734. Legend has it that members of the court of Philip V, of French origin, started the fire in order to build a French or Versailles-style palace. But it’s just that, a legend.
For the enormous task, King Philip V sent for the best European architect of his time, Filippo Juvarra, who never got to see his work finished, something very common at the time, as the works took many years to complete. It was his disciple, Giambattista Sacchetti, who was in charge of adapting his ambitious project. The entire building is made of vaults with no wood in the structure, which would guarantee the survival of a large part of the Palace in the event of a fire, and with many floors to accommodate all the government offices, the official business of the Royal House and the servants. It was a building made to house the country’s ultimate power.
The first stone was laid in 1738 and the construction was not completed until 1751, although the sculptural decoration of the surroundings continued until 1759 as well as the “exterior works”, always under the direction of Sacchetti, who scrupulously supervised the entire project from start to finish. However, the culmination of his project was altered by Francisco Sabatini, architect of Charles III, the first monarch to live in the Royal Palace where he settled in 1764.
CHARLES III AND THE FIRST COURT TO INHABIT THE PALACE
It was under the reign of Charles III that the Royal Palace of Madrid experienced its greatest Italian-style splendour with the arrival of the most famous painters of that time to decorate his residence: Venetian Giambattista Tiepolo and German Anton Raphael Mengs, trained in Rome, was its first court painter. The series of frescoes painted by these skilled artists in the main rooms is one of the most important features of this residence where both Charles III and his son Charles IV lived during only eight weeks a year: in December, Easter week and part of July. In the rest of the year they lived in the other Crown Palaces: El Escorial, Aranjuez and La Granja.
THE TREASURES TO BE VISITED AT THE ROYAL PALACE
The style of the Palace has been shaped by the tastes of the monarchs who lived there:
The quarters of King Charles III, which includes the rooms of the Enlightenment era King and are some of the most important for the city of Madrid, still retain all the decoration directed by Sabatini, uniform throughout the main floor.
The Throne Room and the so-called Gasparini Chamber are the most representative ensembles of Charles III’s taste, devoted to the rococo style in its most exuberant Italian version.