Among the squares of Madrid, a leading role is played by Plaza Mayor, In the heart of Habsburgs, the historic district of the city. Walking through the square or the neighboring streets it will be impossible for you not to notice the difference between this area, the old city characterized by alleys and streets, and the conformation of modern Madrid, where wide avenues and open spaces prevail.
Baroque in style, with a rectangular plan, the square is lined with elegant buildings, almost all occupied on the ground floor by shops, bars and restaurants and embellished by a row of arcades and is enlivened by street artists and painters who perform portraits on the spot or sell their paintings.
During yours holiday in Madrid sooner or later you will certainly pass this way. Close your eyes and try to imagine one of the many events, joyful or dramatic, that have taken place here over the centuries: bullfights, parties, official celebrations, Inquisition judgments, executions, theatrical performances, concerts.
Now reopen them and go and discover one of the most characteristic corners of the Spanish capital.
Cosa vedere to Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is a stunning sight as a whole, but there are three attractions to look out for.
Among the nine entrances to Plaza Mayor, the most famous is the monumental one Knife Bow, which has become one of the most emblematic views of Madrid. The arch is connected by a staircase to Cava de San Miguel, a street lined with bars and restaurants: the steep difference in height between the square and the street has a strong visual impact.
Built together with the other eight entrances during the reconstruction of the square by the architect Juan de Villanueva which followed the fire of 1790, the Arco de Cuchilleros recalls in its name the knife makers who supplied the tools to the butchers of the Butcher House, the general meat warehouse in Plaza Mayor.
Although only the base and ground floor remain of the original structure, Bakery House it is the most famous building in the Plaza Mayor, located on the north side of the square.
Built in 1590 by Diego Sillero, was later used as a model for the construction of the other buildings in the square. The current appearance is of a four-storey building, with a portico on the ground floor and an attic on the top floor, and two corner towers on either side of the building.
Also in this case the name refers to the original function of the building: “panadería” means bakery and in fact in the past this was the main bakery of the city; here a fair price was set for bread, accessible even to the lower classes of society.
It later became first a royal apartment, then the seat of the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts and finally the Academy of History. Today it houses thetourist office of the city of Madrid.
During your walk in the Plaza Mayor, stop and admire the facade of this landmark building, richly decorated with frescoes by Carlos Franco made in 1992 depicting mythological figures, including Cybele, Cupid and Bacchus, connected to the history of Madrid. The current decorations are not the original ones: in fact the facade has been decorated and restructured several times over the centuries.
Sculpture of Philip III
At the center of the square stands the equestrian statue of Philip III called the Pious, king of Spain from 1598 to 1621. It is considered the most valuable work of art outside the walls of a museum: outdoors all year round at any time of day, you can admire it without having to pay no ticket!
It was designed by Giovanni de Bologna and completed by his apprentice Pietro Tacca in 1616.
A bit of history
On the place where today we find Plaza Mayor stood the ancient Plaza del Arrabal, site of the most important market in the city. The new square was built at the end of the fifteenth century following the transfer of the royal court to Madrid; the architect Juan Gómez de Mora he was commissioned to standardize the buildings in the square.
On several occasions the square was devastated by fires and consequently rebuilt and modified. The most important renovation of the square is due to the architect Juan de Villanueva in 1790: the facades of the buildings were reduced by two heights, the square was closed at the corners and nine access arches were built.