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Madrid Travel Guide

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Madrid's History

Medieval Madrid
14TH AND 15TH CENTURIES: Puerta del Sol-Calle Mayor-Plaza de la Villa. There are two buildings in the Plaza de la Villa dating from the Middle Ages: the Casa (house) and the Torre (tower) de los Lujanes (15the century), where King Francis I of France was held prisoner following the Battle of Pavia. The building to the right of it with a Mudejar doorway if the Hemeroteca Municipal, which contains more than 70.000 bound volumes of newspapers printed in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Puerta del Sol-Calle Mayor-Calle del Nuncio-Plaza del Marqués de Comillas. Just beyond the Plaza de la Villa, to the right of the Calle Mayor, there is an alley leading up to San Nicolás de los Servitas, the oldest church in Madrid. It has a Moorish style tower which evokes the days of the Arab occupation. There is another interesting church to the left of the Calle Mayor, beyond the Calle del Sacramento and the Calle del Nuncio: the church of San Pedro el Real or el Viejo, the belltower of which shows traces of the Mudejar style. Close by the Plaza del Marqués de Comillas. Formerly known as the Plaza de la Paja, a square that was very important in the Middle Ages. The Morería, or old Moorish Quarter, spreads between this square, the Plaza de la Cruz Verde, El Alamillo and the Ronda de Segovia, and ends up at the modern Viaduct.

Madrid under the Habsburgs
16TH AND 17TH CENTURIES: Puerta del Sol-Plaza Mayor. The Madrid that evokes the reign of the House of Austria is the first part to have achieved any architectural importance. It is centered round the Plaza Mayor, built by Philip III in 1619. There are nine arched gateways leading into this great square which was the hub of life in Renaissance Madrid. The finest building is the Casa de la Panadería ("Bakery"). In the early days bulls were fought on horseback in this square, and tournaments were held on one great occasion when five saints (St. Teresa, St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier, St. Isidro and St. Philip Neri) were simultaneously canonized. The square was also the scene of "autos de fe", the public punishments imposed by the Inquisition, and Philip V, Ferdinand VI and Charles IV were each proclaimed King there. Plaza de Santa Cruz-Calle de Toledo-Plaza de la Villa-Calle de Sacramento. In the Plaza de Santa Cruz, is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was built by Crescendi in 1634. He along with Juan de Herrera, who built the Segovia Bridge over the Manzanares, was responsible for adding a distinct Spanish note to the early Renaissance formulas compounded in Italy. The Cathedral of San Isidro, in the nearby Calle de Toledo, was originally the Imperial Jesuit College. The Madrid Town Hall is set in the Plaza de la Villa and is the work of Gómez de la Mora. Near it is the Casa de Cisneros, built twenty years after the death of the famous Cardinal Regent of Spain. Just round the corner, in the Calle del Sacramento, is the Palacio de los Vargas, a 16th century building also called the House of San Isidro, which contains several curious relics. The Capilla del Obispo (Bishop's Chapel), in the Plaza del Marqués de Comillas dates from the same century and contains one of the finest reredoses produced in the Renaissance. Then, rather more out of the way, in the Avenida de la Ciudad de Barcelona, 1, there is the Basilica of Atocha, which is in the process of being rebuilt.

Puerta del Sol-Plaza de las Descalzas Reales-Plaza de Oriente. Turning off the Calle del Arenal to the right, up the Calle de San Martín, the visitor will find the Plaza de las Descalzas. This little square owes its name to the Convent founded there by Doña Juana de Austria, daughter of the Empeor Charles V. The convent in question is now an interesting museum. The Convent of La Encarnación, standing in the Plaza of the same name, is also open to visitors, and was founded by the wife of Philip III. The architect who built the church was Gómez de Mora (1616). The equestrian statue of Philip IV to be seen in the middle of the Plaza de Oriente is quite the finest piece of sculpture in Madrid. It was cast in bronze by the Florentine sculptor Tacca, from a design by Velázquez; it weights nine tons.

Bourbon Madrid
17TH CENTURY: Puerta del Sol-Alcalá-Fuencarral-San Bernardo-Conde Duque-Puente de Toledo. From the late 17th century until about 1735, the Spanish Imperial or Renaissance style slipped into a period of decadence marked by the appearance of such architects as Churriguera, Ribera, Moradillo and others. Our first Bourbon itinerary is an introduction to Madrid's Baroque architecture, of which the best examples are; the church of San José in the Calle de Alcalá, the portal of the Hospicio in the Calle de Fuencarral, the church of Montserrat in the Calle de San Bernardo, the portal of the Conde Duque Barracks, and a splendid bridge, the Puerta de Toledo over the Manzanares. They were all built by Ribera and some of them finished by Moradillo.

Sol-Alcalá. This tour covers the Neoclassical monuments, built during the reign of Charles III, whose architects were Sabatini, Villanueva, and Ventura Rodríguez. The building in the Puerta del Sol which is commonly known as Gobernación (Ministry of the Interior) is an example of this particular style, and was originally built as the Central Post Office. The tower with its famous clock - as popular a feature with the people of Madrid as Big Ben is with Londoners - was added in the 19th century. The imposing building on the left of the entrance to the Calle Alcalá was once the Royal Customs-House and now houses the offices of the Ministry of Finance or Treasury. The next building up this street is the Royal Academy of San Fernando, and a few yards beyond it, the Church of Calatravas. Further down the Calle de Alcalá the visitor comes to the Fountain of Cibeles, the Goddess of Fertility. This sculptural group by Michel provides the subject for some of the most popular picture postcard views of Madrid. Finally there is the Puerta de Alcalá, a monumental, arched gateway built by the architects Sabatini and Michel in honour of Charles III, in 1778.

Sol-Prado-Jardín Botánico-Retiro. A short distance along the Paseo del Prado there are two lovely fountains known as the Four Seasons and Neptune. The Prado Museum is a little further along on the left. This Neoclassical edifice was built during the reign of Carles III by Juan de Villanueva, and was originally designed as a Natural Science Museum. Following its completion during the reign of Ferdinando VII it was used as a picture gallery. There is a statue of Goya, by Benlliure, opposite the North front, which is approached up two wide flights of steps crowned by an allegorical group sculpted by Suñol. The façade which gives into the Paseo del Prado has a central arcade with fourteen arches, decorated with various statues and medallions. There is a statue of Velázquez by Marinas in the gardens in front. And set against the South front there is a statue of Murillo opposite the fine gateway which leads through to the Botanical Gardens.

Steps lead up fro the Prado Museum towards the Retiro Park, past the church of Los Jerónimos Reales. This 15th century monastery was considerably restored during the 19th century. Here, in the Gothic nave, the heir to the Spanish throne has traditionally received his title of Prince of Asturias. The Casón del Buen Retiro and the War Museum, both fragments of the old Buen Retiro Palace, are only a yard or two away, and standing next to them is the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language. In the Retiro Park, monumental and neoclassic statues of early kings and queens of Spain flank the avenues. The Madrid observatory, built by Juan de Villanueva en 1790, is situated on the San Blas hill inside the park itself.

Sol-Plaza de Oriente-San Francisco-Princesa. The Royal Palace is undoubtedly the finest example of Neoclassical architecture to be seen in Madrid. The outside is in Italian style, and the interior very French. The Palace was built over the site of the old Alcázar of the Austrias, destroyed by fire in 1734. The ground plans were drawn up by Sachetti, although Ventura Rodríguez collaborated considerably in the final work. It is built of Guadarrama granite and Colmenar limestone. On December 1st, 1764, thirty years after the fire, King Charles III took up residence in a section of the Palace for the first time. it is now considered one of the finest palaces in Europe. Visitors may see: the grandiose staircase, its ceilings painted of Giaquinto: the Hall of Halberdiers, hung with fine Flemish tapestries; the Pillared Drawing-Room, with cellings by Giaquinto and many paintings and works of art; the King's apartments - three rooms where Charles III first resided: a little drawing-room, the Ante-Chamber and the Gasparini Drawing-Room, the Porcelain Room with decorations and furniture all made of famous Buen Retiro porcelain; the private apartments of the late King Alphonso XIII and his Queen, preserved just as they left them; and finally, the Throne Room, which has a magnificent ceiling painted by Tiepolo (1764) and two bronze lions originally cast to decorate the old Alcázar. The whole palace abounds with paintings and sculptures, Rococo furniture, and Buen Retiro, Severs and Saxony porcelain. The Royal Pharmacy is very interesting, particularly as it has been maintained in its original state. The visitor should also make a point of seeing the Armoury, the Museum of Carriages, the Exhibition of Gothic Tapestries, and the Rooms of Queen María Cristina.

The Cathedral of La Almudena is being built to the left of the palace and has a façade in the same Neoclassical style as the latter. Following the Calle de Bailén across the Viaduct, which affords some of the finest views to be had from Old Madrid, we come to the Church of San Francisco el Grande. The interior of this church, which has a dome about 105 feet in diameter, was decorated by Goya, his brother-in-law Bayeu, Maella, and other 18th century painters. For some years it was used as a Royal Pantheon. If we return along the Calle de Bailén and across the Plaza de España, we find ourselves in the Calle de Princesa. This street contains two fine buildings designed by Ventura Rodríguez: the Liria Palace, built as residence for the Duke of Alba in 1770, and the Parish Church of San Marcos, just up the Calle de San Leonardo.

Madrid of the Romantics
19TH CENTURY. Puerta del Sol-Plaza de Isabel II-Plaza de la Marina Española-Puerta de Toledo. The so-called Romantic or Isabelline architecture of Madrid belongs to the first half of the 18th century. Or, better said, to the thirty years which separate the two civil wars known as "Carlist". Certainly neither the public buildings nor the palace of this period correspond to any one style. All the buildings of that period are mainly influenced by previous styles. The Romanticera in Madrid is better expressed in its furniture, decoration, handicrafts, literature, painting and drama. One of the great buildings erected in the early 19th century was the Teatro Real (Royal Theatre), in the Plaza de Oriente. It was completed in time to be opened, by order of Naváez, on the feast day of St. Elizabeth in 1850. All the great opera singers of those days, from Adlina Patti to Gayarre, were heard in this theater. The old Senate and a Monument to Cánovas, who restored the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish throne, can be seen in the neighboring square, the Plaza de la Marina Española. The Puerta de Toledo, in the middle of the square of the same name, and erected for King Ferdinando CII, is a further example of a typical period monument. Puerta del Sol-Carrera de San Jerónimo-Felipe IV-Plaza de la Lealtad-Cibeles-Recoletos. Another fine Isabelline building is the "Palacio del Congreso". If we go along the Paseo del Prado we reach the Calle de Felipe IV where the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language is situated. Just off the Paseo del Prado on the left side of the Plaza de la Lealtad there is a Monument to the Heroes of 2 May, the leaders of the Spanish uprising against Bonaparte. Beyond is the Bolsa or Stock Exchange, built in the style of a Greek temple towards the end of the las century. The imposing building on the left corner of the Paseo facing the Cibeles fountain is the Bank of Spain; on the right of the Paseo we have the Headquarters of the Navy and the General Post Office buildings. The Banco Hipotecario, in the Paseo de Recoletos was once the mansion of the Marquis of Salamanca, who founded the district which bears his name. This tour ends with the most important building constructed in the days of Queen Isabella II: the Palace of Bibliotecas y Museos, opened in 1892 to commemorate the fourth centenary of the Discovery of America. It is still, to this day, one of the most magnificent buildings in Madrid. It houses the Archaelogical Museum, the National Library and Art Galleries.

Contemporary Madrid
Atocha-Prado-Alcalá-Gran Vía-Plaza de España-Moncloa-Ciudad Universitaria-Paseo de la Castellana, Madrid has undergone countless changes over the last fifty years, not only in the extension of its buildings, but also in its way of life. Prior to the "Gay Twenties" Madrid was a Castilian town both in appearance and in its customs. But, since the 1914-18 war, a luxury architecture began an uncertain style. during the last years, Madrid has been suffering from a continual growing crisis. We will mention a few buildings: the old Ministry of Agriculture in Atocha, the Banco Central Hispanoamericano and Fine Arts Club (Bellas Artes) in the Calle Alcalá, the Telephone Exchange and the Carrión Building in the Gran Vía, the Torres de Jerez in the Plaza de Colón, the two skyscrapers in the Plaza de España, the Neo-Herrera style Air Headquarters and the monumental Triumphal Arch in the Plaza de la Moncloa, from where the Velázquez landscape of the Casa de Campo can be admired. The Plaza Picasso on the Casteliana and the Vaguada are two interesting examples of contemporary architecture.

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