Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de la Villa
The history of this part of the
city, and of Madrid itself, starts with the first fortified castle to be built on the
banks of the River Manzanares. Constructed by the Moor emir Muhammad ben Abd al Rahman and
given the arab name of Magerit (later becoming Madrid), it served as a base for the city's
development. A myriad of small houses, churches and streets were built on the hills
surrounding the fort, which was replaced by a gothic construction in the 15th century and
finally by today's Royal Palace in the 18th century.
area of the city is called Madrid of the Habsburgs (and also Madrid of the Austrias),
since the monarchs of this dynasty helped to stimulate its development in the 16th
When Felipe II established his Court here in 1561,
Madrid was nothing more than a small Castillian borough with a population of 20,000. Only
a few decades later the population had tripled and Madrid had become the all important
centre of a new and powerful empire. The aristocracy built their mansions here so as not
to be distanced from the Court, the Plaza Mayor was built and the Puerta del Sol later
became the geographical centre of Spain and a point of reference for all the city's
vistors. As such, we begin our first itinerary here in Madrid's most central point.
(Please click the images below for a larger
Itinerary for Madrid of the
Puerta del Sol
the Metro (lines 1, 2 & 3) or bus (numbers 3, 51, 52 or 150) to Puerta del Sol. As you
come out into the square take note of its almost semi-circular shape. Look to the
"flat" south side of the semi circle and find the clock tower. This is the
famous clock all Spaniards turn their eyes to on New Year's Eve, guzzling down a grape to
each of it's twelve chimes at midnight. Millions watch on TV and what sometimes seems like
millions more brave the cold here in the square. If you're here on New Year's Eve this is
a marvellous experience.
clock tower perches on a building called the "Casa de Correos", the head
quarters of the Community of Madrid's Autonomous Government, outside of which is a stone
slab on the pavement marking Kilometre Zero - the official starting point for Spain's 6
opposite this building is the most important of the 3 statues to be seen in the square,
"El Oso y El Madroño" (the Bear and the Strawberry Tree). Official
symbol of the city, this bronze
statue is the work of the sculptor Antonio Navarro Santa Fe. A reproduction of the Mariblanca statue (the original is in the Municipal Museum) and a statue of Carlos III
(placed here by popular demand) can also be found in the square. (Also see our specific
Puerta del Sol page)
back west towards and past the Metro station on your right in order to walk a short way up
Calle Mayor before turning left, then immediately right into Calle Postas. This short
street leads directly up to one of the arched entrances to Madrid's expansive main square.
majestic square was originally planned by Felipe II and his architect Juan de Herrera, but
was inaugurated in 1620 during Felipe III's reign, whose statue sits proud in the very
centre of the square. Juan Gómez de Mora gave it its rectangular form, and after it had
suffered three fires Juan de Villanova completed the work in 1853 by joining the four
sides. The square has been called Plaza Mayor since the 15th century, but was built on the
site of the old Plaza del Arrabal and served as a market square until the late 19th
century. (more Plaza Mayor information
surrounding three-storey houses with their many balconies are still lived in by the
fortunate few. Public executions, crowning ceremonies, bullfights, Inquisition trials and
diverse fiestas have all taken place (and still do ... well, the fiestas at least) right
here in the square.
If you're following this itinerary and have entered
the plaza from Calle Postas, the
Casa de la Panadería (the Bakery) is on the
Named after the bakery it replaced, the construction
of this building and its colourful facade of frescos was initiated in 1590. Walk along
this side of the plaza and on the right, under the arches, is a small but entirely
fascinating Andalusian tavern, called the Torre del Oro and decked out in the green and
white stripes of the Andalusian regional flag.
This tavern is a must-see for all but the
sternest anti-bullfighting activists (who can stay outside and relax with a drink on the
terraces of one of the rather expensive cafeterias), its walls brimming with amazing
action photographs of famous bullfights, gorings included, as various personalities
(including both Che Guevara and Franco!) watch from the sidelines. Several enormous
fighting bulls' heads add to this collection of tauromachy. Order a fino (dry sherry) or a
caña, which will be presented with a small tapa for no additional cost.
"La Torre del Oro"
(click photos to enlarge)
Continue your walk around the
square, taking in the curiously traditional hat shops. If you're here on a Sunday, you'll
find the square full of collectors and sellers, forming a regular open air market
for stamps and coins. And on the days leading up to Christmas, the square's packed
with stands selling decorations, joke items and small figures for the Spanish tradition of
making elaborate nativity scenes.
Opposite the Casa de Panadería, there's a convenient
Tourist Information office and various other Ayuntamiento offices in the Casa de la
Carnicería (the Butcher's). On this side, in the square itself, you'll find dozens of
amateur artists willing to skillfully draw your caricature for around 12 euros - just stop
and watch a while to see how its done.
Having walked all the way round the square, stand
looking at the Casa de la Panadería and take the north-west exit directly to your left,
out onto Calle Ciudad Rodrigo and Travesía Bringas.
As you walk into Travesía
Bringas, turn left down Cava San Miguel and then look to your right. A short way down the
first small street of Plaza San Miguel is Madrid's last remaining market constructed in
forged iron, the Mercado de San Miguel.
Continue walking down Cava San Miguel and past the mesones
on the left, wonderful stop-off places to sample a quick sangría accompanied by freshly
made tortilla (spanish potato omelette).
The last one of these mesones
(Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas) is named after a famous bandit who is almost permanently
represented outside by suitably dressed doormen, complete with pistol.
You are now at the Arco de los
Cuchilleros (the Arch of the Knifemakers). The talus shaped wall here was constructed by
Juan Gómez de Mora to account for the lower street levels at this side of the plaza. In
fact, the buildings here have 3 more floors than those at the other side. While you're
here, check out Cuchis, a wonderful mexican restaurant famous for its good-natured,
fun-loving waiters and the plaque outside which proudly anounces, "Hemingway never
Walk a bit further down what is
now Cuchilleros street. On the left you'll see a good "tablao" (a tavern where
live flamenco dancing can be seen), situated just before the famous Botín restaurant.
This high quality restaurant is supposedly the world's oldest, as mentioned in the
Guinness book of records.
Finally, Cuchilleros opens out
into the Plaza de Puerta Cerrada. Take a right here down the Calle de San Justo and past
another good Spanish restaurant, Casa Paco. Look down the first small street to the right,
Pasadizo del Panecillo, where you can see the baroque façade of the Arzobispal Palace.
Keep on down until you come across a small square, the Plaza de Cordón.
Set back slightly on the right
is the San Miguel church, designed according to italian baroque styles in the 18th
century. The interior decoration is rococo but its most intereting point is the rather
unusual convex façade. Turn back on yourself a little to go down Puñonrostro street
towards the Plaza Miranda, where the Convent of the Carboneras was built in 1607 and
currently houses several interesting paintings. Continue along Calle Codo until you come
to the Town Hall sqaure.
4. Plaza de la Villa
In the Plaza de la Villa there are several
buildings with varied historic interest, such as the
Casa de Cisneros. Originally a
plateresque palace constructed in 1537 for the Cardinal Cisneros, this marvellous building
was recently restored by Luis Bellido and today houses various Town Hall
The La Casa de la Villa (previous Town Hall building) was
designed by Juan Gómez de Mora in 1640, although other architects such as José de
Villarreal, Teodoro Ardemans, Juan de Villanueva and Luis Bellido have also worked on its
construction, adding, for example, shields, a neoclassic column and the baroque portal.
Both the Casa de la Villa and Casa de Cisneros can be seen when visiting the Municipal
Collection, comprending the Town Hall's diverse donations and adquisitions, including many
15th century items. Goya's "Alegoría del dos de mayo" is kept inside this
building, celebrating the popular revolt which led to the defeat of the French and today
celebrated as a
Torre de los Lujanes is the
oldest construction in the plaza, dating from the early 15th century. This mudejan style
tower and two portals are what remains of the former palace which was used to keep captive
Francis I of France after the Battle of Pavia in Italy in 1525.
Also to be found in the Plaza de la Villa is the
Statue of Admiral Alvaro de Bazán, mounted on a pedestal of grey marble brought from the
mountains of Elvira and given form by the architect Miguel Aguado. The 3 metre statue
itself is the work of Mariano Benlliure.
Our itinerary ends here, but there are many other
points of interest in the area which we will mention here in case you want to wander
around a little:-
If you leave the Plaza Mayor to the east, the Santa
Cruz Palace can be found in the Plaza de Provincia. This building, now the headquarters of
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was designed by Juan Gómez de Mora and constructed
between 1629 and 1643.
In the Plaza de la Paja you can see the
Obispo (literally, the Bishop's Chapel), Madrid's only gothic temple. Nearby, in the Plaza
de Los Carros, stands the baroque Capilla de San Isidro and another baroque church, San
Andrés, presides over the Plaza de San Andrés.
Just off the Plaza de Puerta Cerrada, the many
traditional bars and restaurants give Cava Baja street the taste and smell of Old Madrid