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One of Spain’s most beautiful plazas is the Plaza Mayor of Madrid. It is one of the most important places for visitors to see when they go to Madrid. It is rectangular in shape and measures about 129 by 94 meters. There are three story buildings surrounding the plaza, each with arcades on the ground floor. There are 476 balconies and there are nine entranceways to enter the plaza. The architecture is very uniform, and this gives the plaza a very beautiful look. Architecturally, it is a gem.
The Plaza Mayor was first laid out in 1619 during the reign of King Philip III, although King Philip II was the first king who asked the famous architect Juan de Herrera to design it in 1581. There were a series of fires in 1631, 1672, and 1790 and what is seen now is a reconstruction by the architect Juan de Villanueva from 1790. The last restoration was in 1853.
There is a bronze equestrian statue of King Philip III in the middle of the square. This was modeled by the Italian sculptor Giovanni de Bologna, and later his pupil Pietro Tacca cast it in 1613 in Florence. It was first put in the Casa de Campo and later went to the Plaza Mayor.
In the center of the north side is the Casa de la Panaderia (the Bakery). A baker’s guild used to occupy this building. This has beautiful frescoes on the façade. This is now occupied by municipal offices. Opposite it on the south side is the Casa Consistorial, where more municipal offices have been installed. On the southwest corner of the square is the picturesque Arco de los Cuchilleros, leading to the Calle de los Cuchilleros. Cuchillero means cutler, someone who makes, sells, or repairs knives. The street goes to the old town of Madrid.
The arcades contains stamp and coin sellers, hat and uniform stores, tourist stores, bars, and restaurants. Many of the stores are quite old and interesting. The square also contains open air restaurants.
The Plaza Mayor has been used for ceremonial occasions, city functions, and celebrations. In the past they had the inquisition here, as well as canonizations of different Spanish saints. During Christmas they hold stands that sell Christmas decorations, nativity scenes, costumes, food, and pine trees. On Sundays they have stamp and coin collectors who buy and sell parts of their collections.
Interesting Footnotes from Revulgo, our expert from Madrid:
1. The Plaza Mayor was the site of the famous execution of Don Rodrigo Calderon, Marques de Siete Iglesias.He was a nobleman working in the court during the reign of King Philip III, and later fell in disfavor, and was charged with murder and witchcraft. The execution took place in 1621.
Another nobleman, Conde de Villamediana, appeared during a bullfight at the Plaza Mayor, was very insolent and was assassinated there, rumor being that the king had ordered it. The plaza was also the site of combats in 1808, 1822, and 1854. The plaza has really seen a lot of Spanish history.
2. Many years ago they removed the statue of Philip III from the plaza to build an underground parking lot there. They took the occasion to study the health of the statue and found a big surprise. The statue was hollow and was filled with dead sparrows, which had entered the statue through the mouth of the horse, and could not find their way out again. After that they sealed the mouth of the horse so that this would not happen again.
3. The Plaza Mayor was used to hold many bullfights in the past during the monarchy. Some of the bullfights were very long, starting during the morning and continuing through the afternoon. The Museo de Historia de Madrid in Calle Fuencarral has many paintings of these bullfights.