Palacio District, Madrid

Palacio DistrictPalacio District
Several attractions of note are found in this Madrid central district.

Plaza Mayor

Once the site for important events such as bullfights, executions of heretics and proclamations of new kings, Plaza Mayor is now a lively central square. Here, tourists can find quaint restaurants and cafes.

Real Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales

Housed within a Renaissance style Palace, the Church and convent of the Descalzas Reales are a reflection of splendid 16th century architecture. The interior is also impressive.

Convento de la Encarnación

Juan Gómez de Mora, a pupil of Herrera and architect of the Plaza Mayor, was commissioned by Margaret of Austria, the consort of Philip III, to build the Augustinian Convento de la Encarnación, which originally adjoined the royal Alcázar with which it is connected by a long passageway (the foundation stone was laid in 1611, the consecration taking place in 1616). After a fire the church was rebuilt in 1767 by Ventura Rodríguez and its interior completely redesigned. Today the visitor is likely to be a astonished by the contrast between the simple unadorned facade, reminiscent of El Escorial and very characteristic of the Habsburg style of architecture, and the overcharged Baroque style of the interior. Since 1965 part of the convent has been turned into a museum and opened to the public. Apart from the many paintings from the 17th century and items of furniture, the collection of relics is of particular note.
Address: Plaza de la Encarnación 1, Spain


Within the Convento de la Encarnación, which has been open to the public since 1965, ten rooms can be visited. In the very first room the visitor finds himself in the austere and yet attractive atmosphere of a 17th C. convent. The paneled doors, the exposed beams of the ceiling and the portraits of Habsburg kings recall the world of Lope de Vegas comedias. A landscape by Peter van der Meulen, "Entrega en el Bidasoa", commemorates the marriage between Anne of Austria, daughter of Philip III, and Louis XIII of France on an island in the Bidasoa (the river marking the frontier between France and Spain).

Pictures and Sculpture

The pictures on show include notable works by 17th C. Madrid artists including Juan Carreño, Bartolomé Román, Carducho and Antonio de Pereda. Works by leading religious sculptors of the 17th C. such as Gregorio Hernández (Fernández), José de Mora and Pedro de Mena represent this typically Spanish field of art.


The choir has stalls dating from the original foundation (end of 16th C.) and pictures by Bartolomé Roldán. The walls are faced with Talavera tiles.

San Francisco el Grande

The Church of San Francisco el Grande was built for an old-established Franciscan friary. The design for the church, which was begun in 1761, was produced by Fray Francisco Cabezas, who took as his model Carlo Fontana's Church of Santa Maria in Campitel in Rome. In 1770 Francisco Sabatini, Charles III's favorite architect, took over the direction of the project, and the Neo-Classical facade is his work. The dome was added in 1770 by Antonio Pló.
The interior - on a circular plan, with a dome and six chapels - has paintings by Maella, Francisco Bayeu, González Velázquez and Goya. In the first chapel on the left are Goya's "San Bernardino", González Velázquez's "St Bonaventure" and "The Appearance of the Virgin to St Anthony". The church also contains numerous other works of art, including a "St Bonaventure" ascribed to Zurbarán, a "St Francis" by Alonso Cano and stalls from the Convent of El Paular.
Address: Plaza de San Francisco el Grande, E-28005 Madrid, Spain

Real Basilica de San Francisco el Grande

Picture gallery with 18th and 19th C. paintings
Address: Plaza de San Francisco el Grande, E-28005 Madrid, Spain

San Francisco el Grande - Museum

The church museum displays a variety of religous art and artifacts.

Plaza de Oriente

Madrid owes the Plaza de Oriente to Napoleon's brother, who ruled Spain as King Joseph I from 1808 to 1813. Work on the construction of the square, which was designed to create a vista between the Puerta del Sol and the Palacio Real, was suspended after the War of Liberation and the return of Ferdinand VII to the Spanish throne, and the square was completed in its present form only in the reign of his daughter Isabella II. It is a harmonious ensemble of gardens, trees and buildings, notable among which is the massive Teatro Real.
On the other side of the square is the Convento de la Encarnación.

Royal Palace

The splendid Royal Palace in Madrid is beautifully designed with elements of Baroque and Rococo style. The facade of the Palace was inspired by designs originally prepared for the French Louvre.

Statue of Philip IV

In the center of the Plaza de Oriente is an equestrian statue of Philip IV by the Italian sculptor Pietro Tacca, based on drawings by Velázquez and models by Martínez Montañés.

Plaza del Ramal

Adjoining the Plaza de Oriente is the little Plaza del Ramal, with a cross marking the site of the Church of San Juan, in which Velázquez was buried.

Plaza de la Villa

A little way west of the Plaza Mayor along the Calle Mayor is the Plaza de la Villa, one of the finest squares in the old part of Madrid, with the Town Hall, the Casa de Cisneros, the Torre de los Lujanes and the Municipal Newspaper Archives.

Town Hall

The Casa del Ayuntamiento was begun in 1586 to the design of Juan Gómez de Mora, who had been involved in the building of the Escorial, and completed more than a century later (1696), in accordance with the original plans, by José de Olmo and Teodoro Ardemans, architect of the Palace of La Granja. In 1789 Juan de Villanueva added a balcony with a view of the Calle Mayor from which the Queen watched the Corpus Christi procession.
Notable features of the interior are a fine collection of tapestries; the handsome State apartments, including the Salón de Goya, the Council Chamber and the Patio de Cristales; a 16th C. monstrance; and Goya's "Allegory of Madrid".

Allegory of Madrid

Goya's "Allegory of Madrid" can be viewed at the Town Hall.

Torre de los Lujanes

Opposite the Town Hall is the Torre de los Lujanes, with the Municipal Newspaper Archives adjoining it. These are the oldest buildings in the square.
The house and tower of the Lujanes are among the few civil buildings surviving from 15th-16th C. Madrid, and the entrance doorway with the owner's coat of arms is one of the few Gothic remnants in the city.
After being taken prisoner at the Battle of Pavia in 1525 King Francis I of France was confined in the Torre de los Lujanes; but Charles V allowed this "prisoner" considerable liberty, and Francis was able to move freely about Madrid and attend the festivals and banquets which the nobility of Castile gave in his honor.

Casa de Cisneros

The Casa de Cisneros, now connected with the Town Hall by a covered bridge, was built in 1537 by Benito Jiménez de Cisneros, nephew of the great Cardinal Cisneros who founded the University of Alcalá. Its main front, one of the few examples of Plateresque (Late Gothic) decoration in Madrid, faces the Calle de Sacramento. In 1590 Antonio Pérez fled from here to escape Philip II. The house was acquired by the city in 1909 and is now the official residence of the Mayor as well as housing a beautiful collection of tapestries.
Address: Plaza de la Villa 4, E-28005 Madrid, Spain

Almudena Cathedral

The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Almudena is one of the oldest in Madrid, dating back to the ninth C. In the course of the centuries it has been much altered and enlarged, pulled down and rebuilt, and building work is still in progress. In the time of Lope de Vega (16th-17th C.) a rich and handsome church stood on this site, close to the Alcázar; but in 1870, for reasons that are not clear, this church was demolished. In 1883 the foundation-stone of a Neo-Gothic church of The Almudena huge size was laid on the site of the earlier church, and a number of different architects worked on the gigantic project until work came to a halt in 1940.
Building work is now once again in progress on the future Cathedral of La Almudena, under the direction of Fernando Chueca. The facade, looking on to the Plaza de la Armería and the Royal Palace (see Palacio Real), is complete, but much work remains to be done on the nave and the apse, which are unlikely to be completed in the foreseeable future.
Address: Calle de Bailén 8-10, Spain

Theater Royal

The building of the Theater Royal, which stands in the Plaza de Oriente facing the Palacio Real, was begun in 1818 after the demolition of the old Caños del Peral Theater, and after various interruptions the theater, also known as the Teatro de La Ópera, was ceremonially inaugurated by the young Queen Isabella II on November 19, 1850 with a performance of Donizetti's opera "La Favorita".
The theater became famous for performances of Verdi and Wagner operas, works by Stravinsky and Russian ballet.
In 1925 the theater had to be closed because of the danger of collapse and the infiltration of ground-water, and after long-drawn-out restoration work it reopened in 1966 as a concert hall. The opening of the Auditorio Nacional in 1989 paved the way for the theater to assume its original role as Madrid's opera house once more. The Teatro de la Zarzuela, which in the meantime has been used to stage operas, can then revert to its original function as a venue for the Spanish light opera tradition known as "Zarzuela".
Address: Carlos III, E-28013 Madrid, Spain

San Plácido

The Monasterio de San Plácido, a convent of Benedictine nuns, is situated in one of the oldest parts of Madrid, to the north of the Gran Vía. It is one of a group of churches - San Antonio de los Alemanes, San Martin and the Immaculada Concepción - characteristic of the Late Baroque architecture of Madrid. San Plácido was founded in 1623 by Doña Teresa Valle de la Cerda, who became its first Abbess; the architect was Fray Lorenzo de San Nicolás, a native of Madrid.
The church, which is excellently preserved, has the restrained simplicity characteristic of Madrid Baroque. The High Altar, with a large "Annunciation", was the work of Claudio Coello, who was also responsible for the two side-altars in the transepts, dedicated respectively to St Gertrude (right) and saints Scholastica and Benedict (left). Velázquez's famous "Christ on the Cross", now in the Prado, was painted for San Plácido.

Foreign Ministry

The Palacio de Santa Cruz, now occupied by the Foreign Ministry (Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores), was originally built in the 17th C. as a prison. Together with the Plaza Mayor and the Casa de la Villa it forms part of the "Government quarter" which grew up round the old Alcázar of the Habsburgs. This substantial and well-proportioned building, with two stories flanked by towers, is believed to have been designed either by Juan Bautista Crescenci or by Juan Gómez de Mora, the architect responsible for the Plaza Mayor. In 1786, during the reign of Charles III, the palace was converted into a Law Court by Juan de Villanueva; from 1834 to 1877 it was occupied by the Madrid courts; and since 1931 it has housed the Foreign Ministry.

San Miguel

The Pontifical Church of San Miguel is near the Plaza de la Villa and only a short distance away from the Plaza Puerta Cerrada. Like so many other Madrid churches, it was built on the site of an earlier church. Although not one of the city's finest churches, it is of imposing and indeed monumental aspect.
It was begun in 1739 to the design of the Italian architect Santiago Bonavia, who was later succeeded by Virgilio Rabaglio and then by Andrés de Rusca.
The church has an aisleless nave with side chapels, embryonic transepts and a dome, and is decorated with frescoes by Bartólomé Rusca. The Baroque facade, with an outward curve in the Italian manner, is built of granite and is flanked by two turrets.
Address: Calle de San Justo 4, E-28005 Madrid, Spain

San Pedro

The Church of San Pedro, known as San Pedro el Viejo (Old St Peter's), is situated in the oldest part of Madrid, the area round the Plaza Puerta Cerrada and Calle de Segovia. Its square brick tower, dating from the mid 14th C., is one of the few remnants of medieval architecture in Madrid. Typical features of the Mudéjar style of the Moorish builders working in Christian Spain are the use of red brick, the sparing decoration and the horseshoe arches taken over from Moorish architecture.
The church itself was built in the 17th C. Like many churches in the older part of Madrid, it fell on evil days in later centuries; and a succession of robberies, most recently in 1936, reduced it to its present rather desolate condition.

Mercado de San Miguel

The lively and attractive market of San Miguel, just off the Calle Mayor and in the immediate vicinity of the Plaza Mayor, is an example of progressive municipal development in 19th C. Madrid.
The colorful market, with its stalls laid out in regular rows on two levels, was originally constructed in 1835 and was completed in its present form in 1915 (architect Alfonso Dubé). It replaced the picturesque but unhygienic confusion of foodstuffs and other wares on the old market square. Recently the iron structure of the market building has been fitted with glass walls to provide protection against both heat and cold.

Carriage Museum

In the converted royal stables in the Campo del Moro behind the Palacio Real and opened in 1967 is a noteworthy collection of sedan-chairs and carriages. The entrance is situated on the Paseo Virgen del Puerto, the main section of a popular promenade for strollers in the 18th C. The oldest exhibit is Charles V's sedan chair, dating from the 16th C. and in the style of a covered traveling trunk. Also on display is the carriage of Juana la Loca, as well as some magnificent coaches used in the 19th C. by parliamentary representatives.
Address: Virgen del Puerto, E-28005 Madrid, Spain

Las Ventas

The huge circular structure of the Las Ventas bullring, in Neo-Mudéjar style, has seating for 23,000 spectators. It was opened in 1934 by the celebrated bullfighters Juan Belmonte, Marcial Lalanda and Cagancho. After the Civil War other famous matadors including Manolete, Arruza, Dominguín, Litri, Bienvenida and Ordóñez achieved their triumphs here. Las Ventas has also been the scene of historic political demonstrations - during the Second Republic and in 1977, before the first democratic election after Franco's death.
Address: Calle de Alcalá 237, E-28028 Madrid, Spain

Bullfighting Museum

The Bullfighting Museum displays paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings and posters on bullfighting, as well as costumes and historical items.
Address: Plaza de Toros de las Ventas, E-28028 Madrid, Spain

San Nicolás

San Nicolás is Madrid's oldest church, though only the brick tower survives from the original structure - one of the few examples of Mudéjar architecture in the city. The horseshoe arches at the entrance to the choir and the stucco decoration are also in Mudéjar style.
The reredos on the High Altar was the work of Juan de Herrera, the architect of the Escorial, who was buried in San Nicolás; his remains were later removed to his native town of Santander.
Address: Calle San Nicolás 1, Spain

Arco de Cuchilleros

Arco de Cuchilleros, meaning arch of the swordsmen, is a stone arch covering one of the stairways leading into Plaza Mayor from Cuchilleros street. In the 1700's it was a place where swords and knives were sharpened since it was close to the butcher's area in the Plaza.

Mayor and Arenal

These two streets have always been especially lively and popular shopping thoroughfares. Among the long-established firms there have traditionally been many textile and cloth dealers, jewelers and clockmakers and above all dealers in militaria, stamps and coins. More recently music shops have become established.

Convent of the Reparadoras

This Convent of the Reparadoras was designed in 1782 by Ventura Rodriguez and dates to about the 19th century. The church was built for the purpose of installing the Court of the Inquisition.

El Campo del Moro

The park has a central vista with ramps on both side leading from the palace to the fountain. The informal woodland has grown a great variety of shrubs and trees which include maples, oriental planes, magnolias and Judas trees.
Address: Paseo Virgen del Puerto, E-28005 Madrid, Spain

Church of St Peter the Old

In the 15th century the Church of St Peter the Old was built with a 14th century mudejar tower built over the minaret of a former mosque.

Palace of the Marquis Grimaldi

The Palace of the Marquis Grimaldi was designed by Sabatini in 1776 and it adjoins the Senate Palace.

Senate Palace

The current seat of the Spanish Senate, the Senate Palace was originally built in the 16th century for a community of Agustinian friars.

Casa de la Carnicería

Formerly a butcher shop, Casa de la Carnicería now houses municipal offices.

Convent of the Carboneras

The convent was built in 1607 and currently houses a collection of paintings.

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