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The Madrid of the Austrias


Madrid of the Austrias. The Austrian Habsburg dynasty transformed the Spanish capital into what is known today as Madrid's beatiful city center.

The reign of the Spanish-Austrian Habsburg dynasty, which ruled from 1516 up to 1700, signified the beginning of a peak artistic period that fashioned a beautiful and popular area of the city. The Austrian Habsburg dynasty transformed Madrid into what is known today as the city’s historical center, where edifices evoking memories of an imperial Spain, representative of the largest empire known on Earth (stretching from the Americas far beyond the Netherlands), are found. In their honor, this “old” area of the Spanish capital is known as “Madrid de los Austrias”.

The Madrid we know today emerged in the 9th century as a fortified Muslim settlement called “Mayrit”. This settlement was eventually conquered by the Christian King Alfonso VI of Castile & León in 1083. However, it wasn’t until 1561 that the town was chosen to become the seat (capital) of the Spanish Royal Court by the ordinance of King Felipe II. From this moment forward, with the exception of a 5-year stint (1601-1606) in which the title of “capital” was temporarily assigned to Valladolid, Madrid has been the permanent residence of the Spanish Monarchy and the seat to the country’s government.

The streets and edifices of “Madrid of the Austrias” are important historic monuments as they are living examples of Madrid’s glorious 16th and 17th centuries. In the very heart of this Austrian Madrid lies the impressive Plaza Mayor (Main Square). It was the hub of Spanish life from its inauguration in 1620 as “Plaza de la Villa” and continues to be a popular attraction today for both tourists and Spaniards alike. Madrid’s town hall (the once Casa de la Villa) is also located within the Plaza. Nearby is the palace Casa de Cisneros, which was built 20 years after the death of the Cardinal Regent of Spain, as well as the Torre de Lujanes.

One key monument from the Austrian-Habsburg’s era is the Puerta Del Sol (“Sun Gate”), an original gate that was part of the city wall that once surrounded Medieval Madrid. Because Puerta Del Sol is considered to be the true heart of Madrid, at its feet lies “Km. 0”… the starting point of all Spanish roads leading to the capital.

Over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, Madrid de las Austrias seemed like a pure conventual city seething with churches, numerous religious and knight orders, and edifices, whose austere exteriors of baroque-styled façades contrasted with the luxurious interiors common of the nearby palaces. Some of the monuments representative of this time are: the Iglesia de las Calatravas, the Real Convento de la Encarnación, the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (now a public museum), the Palacio de Santa Cruz, the Iglesia de San Antonio de los Alemanes and the most famous of the 9 gates leading into the Plaza Mayor: the Arco de Cuchilleros. Felipe IV’s second residence, known as el Palacio Del Buen Retiro, was also built in the typical fashion of the era among countless others.

We can finally conclude that, without the designation of Madrid as the capital city by King Felipe II, the city would not have developed into the bustling Madrid we know today… or perhaps it might have, but in a different way. Either way, the historical area of “Madrid de los Austrias” exudes such a charming and characteristic personality that it is, without a doubt, one of the most authentic Spanish cities of the Iberian Peninsula.

Journey through the Madrid de los Austrias as you take exciting Spanish lessons in our don Quijote school in Madrid!