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Plaza Mayor in Madrid

9 julio, 2019


The grand arcaded Plaza Mayor square, whose symmetrical rectangular shape features a uniform architecture, is one of the most representative symbols of Madrid, with huge popularity among tourists and locals, and also one of the prettiest squares in the whole country. Its mix of impressive architecture, picaresque historical tales, and vibrant street life makes it stand out from many others. Definitely, a must-see if you are planning on visiting Madrid soon hosted in a luxury apartment!

The square is located in the city center, only a few blocks away from another famous plaza, the Puerta del Sol. Measuring 129 by 94 meters, it is surrounded by three-story residential buildings with 237 balconies facing the square. It has nine entranceways in total. 

A bit of History

The square, which was built during the Habsburg period was originally called the ‘Plaza del Arrabal’ but with the time it became known as the ‘Plaza Mayor’.  Designed in 1619 by Juan Gómez de Mora and built in typical Herrerian style, of which the slate spires are the most obvious expression, its first public ceremony was suitably auspicious – the beatification of San Isidro Labrador (St Isidro the Farm Labourer), Madrid’s patron saint.

Thereafter it was used for different purposes, all notably controversial: bullfights, which normally happened in celebration of royal weddings or births, with royalty watching on from the balconies and up to 50,000 people crammed into the plaza, were a recurring theme until 1878. Far more notorious were the ‘autos-da-fé(the ritual condemnations of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition), followed by executions – burnings at the stake and deaths by garrotte on the northern side of the square, hangings to the south.

These continued until 1790 when a fire largely destroyed the square, which was subsequently reproduced under the supervision of Juan de Villanueva, who lent his name to the building that now houses the Museo del Prado. The square was redesigned with gardens, but those were removed in 1936. At the center of the square there is a bronze statue of King Felipe III, constructed in 1616 by Juan Cristóbal GonzálezJean Boulogne and Pietro Tacca, but it was not placed in its current central position until 1848.

The Casa de la Panadería

The splendor of the plaza is due in large part to the warm colours of the uniformly ochre apartments, with 237 wrought-iron balconies offset by the exquisite frescoes of the 17th-century Real Casa de la Panadería. It is four stories high on the north side of the Plaza Mayor, the ground floor comprising porticos and the top floor in the form of an attic, with its sides crowned by angular towers. 

At the top center of La Casa de la Panadería, there is a Spanish Coat of Arms. They are the royal Spanish arms from the reign of Carlos II. The present frescoes date to just 1992 and are the work of artist Carlos Franco, who chose images from the signs of the zodiac and gods (eg Cybele) to provide a stunning backdrop for the plaza. The frescoes were inaugurated to coincide with Madrid’s 1992 spell as European Capital of Culture.

‘Bocata de calamares’ (calamari Sandwich)

The calamari sandwich is a very peculiar culinary specialty in Madrid, composed of a bread bun opened up from one side, packed with calamari that are battered in flour and egg and then fried. Some like to add mayonnaise or lemon to their sandwich.

This type of sandwich is very popular in Madrid, so it can be found in most bars in the capital, but it is especially typical in the Plaza Mayor. After a long day touring the city, there is nothing better than taking a break in one of the terraces of the square to enjoy a calamari sandwich with a cold beer.

Other attractions

Another top feature of Playa Mayor is Sobrino de Botin, an atmospheric Spanish tavern listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest eatery.

The Plaza Mayor also has a wide range of old and traditional shops and cafes under its porticoes. Celebrations for San Isidro (patron saint of Madrid) are also held here. It also hosts the city’s main tourist office, a Christmas market in December and arches leading to laneways out into the labyrinth.