Plaza de Oriente

Plaza de Oriente, Madrid

Visitors to Spain's capital city are often puzzled to discover that the Plaza de Oriente is located in the west of Madrid, while its name suggests an eastern setting. However, it lies on the east side of the Palacio Real, and that is why it is so named.

Juan Bautista Sachetti, who designed the Palacio Real, had plans to build a large square in front of the palace in the 18th century. However, the plans were not realised until King Joseph I, Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, ruled Spain from 1808 to 1813. The unplanned scrabble of houses then occupying the eastern side of the palace, some 56 in total, which included a church and several convents, as well as a library, were cleared for the project.

In a city that never sleeps where hustle and bustle is an integral part of everyday life, Plaza de Oriente is a haven of peace and tranquillity. The landscaped gardens are enclosed in a kind of semi-circular design. It's a leafy area with plants and trees beside broad walkways, one of which is lined with the statues of Spanish kings from the medieval period.

Plaza Oriente and Teatro Real, Madrid

There are 44 statues of Spanish monarchs lining the square. They range from the Gothic period up to the time when the country was reunified following the defeat of the Moors in 15th century. They also seem a little out of proportion, but this is simply because the statues were originally designed to be installed on top of the palace. However, the architects felt that the statues were too heavy and they were left at ground level.

Taking centre stage of Plaza de Oriente is a huge statue of Felipe IV astride a horse that was modelled from an art piece by Veláquez. It stands on a large pedestal and is indeed a striking sculpture.

Its designer, Pietro Tacca, was afraid that the rearing horse could not be balanced properly, and that it would fall forward under its own weight. The famous Italian astronomer, Galileo Galilei, came to his rescue by suggesting that the front rearing part of the sculpture should be hollow, and therefore relatively light, with the back part solid to anchor the weight.

Plaza de Oriente was not finished in its present form until the reign of Isabel II. During this time the Teatro Real, the Royal Theatre, was also built opposite the palace on the east side of the square.

Plaza de Oriente is a very popular place with visitors to the city, as well as with local people. Any visit to Madrid should not be considered complete without a trip to this grand spacious plaza. There are many cafés that line the area where the visitor may rest a while and absorb the atmosphere, perhaps the most famous one being the Café de Oriente, which has a marvellous terrace to sit outside and enjoy the spectacular views of the square.

Getting to Plaza de Oriente is easy. It is a short walk from Plaza de España, and the nearest Metro is Opera, and bus numbers 3, 15 and 20 will take you there.

Tourist Accommodation Near the Plaza Oriente & Royal Palace, Madrid


Second Plaza de Oriente photo courtesy of Jose M. Azcona