Interested in Madrid?
We'll send you updates with the latest deals, reviews and articles for Madrid each week.
Topics include Dining Scene, Spain: For Foreign Visitors & more!
Best Sights of Madrid
Madrid has wonderful palaces, buildings and monuments, many that take the breath away. This is a list of places in Madrid that are impressive and have great architecture.
1. Prado Museum - The Prado is the biggest art gallery in the world. It has more than 7,600 paintings, but can exhibit only one part of its collection for lack of space. However a recent addition to the museum increased the space by 50%, so more paintings will be on display.
Charles III took the royal collections and tried to create one museum under one roof. It was his wife Maria Isabel de Braganza who influenced him in this decision because she was very interested in the idea of a museum. She could be called the mother of the museum. But it was Fernando VII who created the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture in 1819. Later the collection became the national property of the Spanish government and this became the Prado. Prado means meadow, and the museum got the name of Prado because there was an open meadow where the museum now sits. The museum has grown by buying paintings, and many collectors have left their private collections to the museum also.
During the Spanish Civil War, the collection was sent to Geneva for safe keeping and then returned to Madrid during the Second World War.
Besides paintings, the Prado also has collections of sculpture (1000 pieces), coins, drawings (6300), prints(2400), and other works of art. Only 1300 pieces of art are displayed in the Villanueva Building and 3100 works are on loan to other museums. There is a very important 19th century collection of art that has recently been displayed in the new building.
The old building is the Villanueva Building, named after its architect, Juan de Villanueva. This building was started in 1785 but construction was stopped during the War of Independence against the French. After that war the building was finished in 1819. The style of the building is neo-classic. The west front of the museum facing the main street, the Paseo del Prado, has a door called the Velazquez Door because there is a statue of the artist in front of it. There is a frieze above the door that shows an allegory of King Fernando VII as the protector of science, art, and technology, which are represented in figures and are located in front of his throne. Behind the king are the classical mythological gods Apollo, Athena, Mercury, and Neptune.
The new addition to the Prado was finished in October, 2007, and was done by the architect Rafael Moneo, who is the first Spaniard who has won the Pritzker Prize of Architecture. The new addition has a cafeteria, auditorium, and a book shop. In the new lobby one can find Greek statues from Tivoli. There is a new translucent, lantern-shaped patio and there are galleries built around this patio. On the top is a restored Baroque cloister which came from the neighboring San Jeronimo Church. This is now a sculpture gallery. The new addition is called the Jeronimos Building (also called the Moneo Cube, because its shape looks like a cube) and the good thing is that it does not clash with the architecture of the Villanueva building. The entrance to the Jeronimos wing is a massive pair of bronze doors by the artist Cristina Iglesias, which looks like thickets of vines. There is also a rooftop garden that has beautiful box hedges in a very symmetrical design. The best thing about the new addition is that there is plenty of space in its new galleries for big, temporary art shows. The new addition cost $219 million. The new building took ten years to complete because after it was started, they found that there was a stream running down the hill under the site. A technology fix had to be found to isolate the stream from the museum building. This took many years and increased the price of the addition.
2. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
This museum permanently has the Thyssen Collection, one of Europe's biggest from the Baron Thyssen. It also has the Carmen Cervera Collection, with more modern paintings starting with the Impressionists.
The highlight at the Thyssen is the collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works. It is astounding to find work after work by Lautrec, Van Goch, Cezanne, Renoir, Pisarro, Monet, Matisse - many others all in a small alcove - so much it literally takes one's breath away.
The Impressionists painters include Claude Monet, John Sargent Singer, Camille Pissarro, Pier-August Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, Maximilien Luce, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and Joaquin Sorolla.
The Post Impressionist painters include Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Signac, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Henri Edmond Cross, Paul Serusier, Henri Le Sidaner, Pierre Bonnard, and Maurice Prendergast.
The Fauve painters include Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Georges Braque, and Robert Delaunay.
The Expressionist painters include Edvard Munch, Ernst Kirchner, Wassily Kandinsky, Max Pechstein, Franz Marc, August Macke, and Emil Nolde.
What is enjoyable in the museum is the quiet atmosphere that is conducive to art appreciation. The Prado is too big, too crowded, and too noisy. The Reina Sofia is too modern and has little of the figurative art that many enjoy. Also a practical place to visit - cloakrooms and a gift shop with great quality items. This museum has the best gift shop of any museum in Madrid. It has a huge assortment of art books, both in Spanish and English. There are also all sort of quality art souvenirs.
Another thing about the Thyssen is that it is a beautifully designed museum, with pink marble floors and warm colors on the walls. The Palacio de Villahermosa was chosen for this museum and the famous Spanish architect Rafael Moneo (Pritzker Prize winner for achitecture) designed it, keeping the façade of the old palace intact, but redesigning completely the interior. Moneo also designed the new annex containing the Carmen Cervera Collection and cafeteria. The annex does not clash with the façade of the old palace.
When one goes to the Thyssen, one may not notice that there are two collections there, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection was sold to the Spanish government by the Baron Thyssen, while the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection is the personal collection of Carmen Cervera, the widow of the baron. The latter collection is on loan to the museum. Carmen Cervera is popularly known in Spain as Tita Cervera.
3. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (MNCARS)
This museum has 20th century paintings, among them Picasso's Guernica. The building that the museum now occupies started out as the San Jose Hospital, a building designed in the 18th century by the architects Jose de Hermosilla and Francisco Sabatini. The building was remodeled in 1981 and in 1992 the Museo Reina Sofia was inaugurated by the King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. In 1990 the collection of modern Spanish art from the Museo Español de Arte Contemporaneo was transferred to the Reina Sofia. After that Picasso’s Guernica was taken from the Cason del Buen Retiro, a part of the Prado Museum, and placed in the Reina Sofia. To add more space, a new building by Jean Nouvel was constructed in 2001 and finished in 2005.
The museum specializes in Spanish contemporary art, art from the 20th century. The most famous Spanish artists of this time period are found in this museum, namely Picasso, Dali, Miro, Julio Gonzalez, Tapies, Oteiza, Equipo Cronica, Gerardo Rueda, Juan Gris, Pablo Gargallo, and Chillida.
There are many foreign artists represented in the museum, such as Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Max Ernst, Magritte, Man Ray, Andre Masson, Tanguy, Jean Arp, Isamu Noguchi, Yves Klein, Mark Rothko, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, and Robert Motherwell.
The top floor of the museum is the library, which is Spain’s largest library dedicated to art. The museum has a central patio with a mobile sculpture by Alexander Caldwell, the library, bookshop, and cafeteria. There are two large glass elevators attached to the façade of the old building.
If one is a modern art lover (likes surrealism, cubism and conceptual art), then the Reina Sofia is the museum one should see. The main attraction of the museum is Picasso’s Guernica, which generates powerful emotions and shows the horrors of war.
4. Palacio Real de Madrid
The Palacio Real in Madrid is also called the Palacio de Oriente. This palace is in the center of Madrid and is used by the king for ceremonial purposes. The king does not live here, but lives in the Palacio de la Zarzuela in the outskirts of the city.
The Alcazar stood where the present palace is today. This castle was built at the end of the 9th century by the Moorish king of Cordoba, Mohammed I. The fortress was rebuilt in the 14th century and in the 16th century Charles V and Philip II rebuilt it as a palace. Unfortunately there was a fire on Christmas Eve in 1734 that destroyed the palace.
The present palace was ordered built by King Philip V when the old palace burned down. It is built of stone and brick, without any wood, to prevent future fires. Philip V called the famous Italian architect Filippo Juvarra to design and build the palace. Juvarra designed the palace, but died in 1736. The new palace was built from 1738 to 1755 and the architect was Juan Bautista Sachetti, Juvarra‘s disciple from Turin. The new palace was then occupied by Carlos III in 1764. The style is classical late Baroque and was inspired by the Roman artist Bernini.
This palace is the largest in Europe, occupying an area of 135,000 square meters. There is a very large Plaza de Palacio in front of the palace. This plaza is also called the Plaza de Armas. There is a very impressive double staircase at the entrance, with symmetrical flights of stairs. One of them was supposed to be for the king, and the other for the queen. The vault over the staircase is a painting by Giaquinto.
One will see many large tapestries, porcelain, gilt mirrors, crystal chandeliers, clocks, and art objects. There is a lot of period furniture, unlike in other European palaces, which are bare of furniture. There are also great pieces of art from Goya, Velazquez, Mengs, and Caravaggio found in the Painting Gallery.
The most exotic room is the Porcelain Room with its large collection of porcelain produced by the Royal Factory of El Buen Retiro. Charles III was the king who had this room created. He had been the King of Naples before inheriting the Spanish throne and he wanted to copy a room in the palace in Naples that was adorned with beautiful porcelain from the Capodimonte Porcelain Factory near Naples. So he established the Royal Factory of the Buen Retiro to produce the porcelain for this room.
There is a beautiful Throne Room which comes from the reign of Charles III, which is the most impressive room. Tiepolo painted the ceiling fresco in 1766 and represents the Allegory of the Spanish Monarchy, with personifications of the different Spanish possessions around the world. Naples manufactured the carved gilt furniture and the embroidery of the velvet wall hangings. The Royal Factory of La Granja made the enormous mirrors. The rock crystal chandeliers were bought in Venice in 1780. In 1650 Velazquez brought from Rome the bronze lions beside the throne dais.
There is also a Royal Chapel, that is not too big but is furnished lavishly. It is famous for its organ, on which several designers worked, including Ventura Rodriguez, Leonardo Fernandez Davila, and Jorge Bosch. Another impressive room is the Banquet Hall, which can seat at least 100 persons.
There is a Royal Armory, which contains one of the most important collections of its type in the world. It displays arms and armor that belonged to the kings of Spain, from the 13th century on. The kings collected arms from other countries and there are many arms that came from Japan.
The name of the palace gardens is the Campo del Moro (“The Moor’s Field”), and these originated during the time of Philip II. In 1890 they were remodeled
to their present look. There is a large square to the east of the palace, and this is known as the Plaza de Oriente, and this has recently been remodeled. It has several statues of the kings of Spain carved during the reign of Ferdinand VI.
The Palacio Real is really the most sumptuous and impressive palace in Spain. Seeing it, one sees the riches and glory of Spain’s history. It is really a very interesting history lesson.
The Stradivarius Collection in the Palacio Real
Antonio Stradivari was the most important luthier in history, and he was born in Cremona, Italy, in 1644. The sounds of his violins and other string instruments had the most beautiful sounds ever created. It is known that those he made between 1683 and 1715 had the best quality. In total he created about 1100 instruments, but today only about 500 or 600 have been conserved. What few people know is that the Palacio Real has the best collection in the world of Stradivarius in its museum of musical instruments.
From sales, it is known that a Stradivarius violin has a value between 1 million and 4 million euros. The value of a Stradivarius is greater if it has a definite name because of its history and previous owner. At the end of the 18th century, there were more than 50 Stradivarius in Madrid.
King Carlos II ordered five instruments from Stradivari between 1696 and 1709. However he died and his successor Felipe V declined to buy them. Another king, Carlos IV bought them in 1775 in Rome. This king played the violin, which he learned in his youth in Italy. One viola was lost from the palace when Napoleon's troops robbed it. The remaining four instruments are a viola, a violoncello, and two violins. These have the name of the Spanish Quartet and are exhibited in the Stradivarius Room. When the four instruments are played at the same time, it sounds like there are a dozen instruments playing. Few tourists are aware of them when they tour the palace, or know how important they are. It is estimated that the Spanish Quartet has a value of 100 million euros!
5. The Sabatini Gardens
The Sabatini Gardens are located by the north wing of the Royal Palace and were designed by Francesco Sabatini. He was an Italian architect of the 18th century who designed much of the Royal Palace, being the court architect. The gardens were not built at that time however. These gardens were built in 1933 where the royal stables were. There is a large reflecting pool that is surrounded by Roman statues. The gardens are formal in style in the neoclassic style, with symmetrical designs that include fountains and many bushes, trees, and flowers. Many of the bushes and trees have been trimmed to have symmetrical shapes, and they include cypresses and pine trees. There are many benches where one can sit and relax. It is a very quiet and beautiful place.
6. The Basilica of San Francisco el Grande
Near the Royal Palace, there is the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande, which is dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels. The exterior of the church is in the neo-classic style and the facade of this church is simple and modest. St. Francis of Assissi came to Spain in 1214 on a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. He built a modest home for his companions and himself where the church now stands. In 1760 the building was demolished to build a bigger church. The building was finished in 1784 under the direction of Francisco Sabatini, the architect of the Royal Palace. There is a small fee to enter the church and a guide explains everything. Once one enters the church, one is overwhelmed by the beauty of the church.
It has the biggest dome (33 m) of any church in Spain and has the third biggest dome in Europe. Only St. Peter's and the Pantheon in Rome are bigger. The inside of the dome has beautiful large paintings. There are seven chapels, and each chapel has three very large paintings, all done by famous artists. One of them was Goya (St. Bernardine of Siena). Two of the large paintings were done by artists from Malaga, namely Jose Moreno Carbonero and Antonio Muñoz Degrain.
The main chapel has its paintings flanked by pilasters that are gilded and topped with Corinthian decorations. There are two Renaissance pulpits made of carved white marble. Each has four panels decorated with motifs in gilded bas-relief, inspired by the life of St. Francis. Around the rotunda are 12 statues of the apostles, that are 2.85 m high. There is a very good French organ at the back of the church on the upper level. They built a false organ so that the case would match that of the real one so that the look from below would be symmetrical. There are cloisters and a sacristy in the back that have 49 paintings done by famous artists, and these paintings mostly deal with the life of St. Francis. One can also find many beautifully carved choir chairs.
After the Law of Secularization of 1835, the Franciscan friars were thrown out and the church became government property. The present owner is the Foreign Affairs Ministry. The Franciscans still say Mass everyday in the church, but they are not allowed to do any maintenance. The church has been under very slow restoration for the last 30 years. Some of the murals near the ceiling have been damaged by water seeping. This is a pity that the church cannot be completely restored immediately. However the church is probably one of the most beautiful churches in Spain.
7. Plaza Mayor
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.
8. El Retiro Park
El Retiro Park is located in the center of Madrid and is quite big, occupying a space of 12 hectares. In 1935 it was declared a Garden of Historic-Artistic Importance. It was constructed in 1632 by King Felipe IV as part of his Buen Retiro Palace. Retiro means retreat, because the palace was supposed to be a country retreat. At that time the area was out in the countryside. The king hired many Italian artists and the park was conceived as an Italian Baroque park. Later the Bourbon kings came and they wanted formal French gardens, so the park was remodeled to this new style. The palace and gardens were destroyed during the War of the Spanish Succession and the French invasion of 1808. The gardens were restored during the time of Fernando VII and Isabel II. Later came the Revolution of September, 1868, when the Town Council of Madrid took the land for itself. It was then that the park was opened up to the public.
One of the features of the park is the large artificial lake (El Estanque del Retiro) that is located by the monument to Alfonso XII. This little lake is used for sailing and rowing by visitors to the park. The monument was constructed by King Alfonso's mother in 1922 and has a semicircular colonnade with an equestrian statue of the king in front.
There is also the Palace of Velazquez that was used to house the Exhibition of Mining in 1883. The style of the palace is Mudejar, with brick facing and plenty of decorative ceramic tile everywhere. The architect was Francisco Velazquez Bosco. Beside it is the Crystal Palace, built in 1887 to house an exhibition about the Philippines, which was a colony of Spain at that time. It was conceived as a tropical greenhouse for exotic tropical plants and its designer was also Francisco Velazquez Bosco. He copied the Crystal Palace of London. Both palaces are now used for art and other exhibitions. There is a little artificial lake in front of the Crystal Palace.
There is a Rose Garden that has many showy roses during spring. There is a famous statue called the Fallen Angel, done by the sculptor Ricardo Bellver y Ramon in 1885, and which interprets Milton's Paradise Lost, showing Lucifer falling from heaven. Another famous statue is the Equestrian Monument to General Martinez Campos, done by the sculptor Mariano Benlliure. General Campos led a successful revolution in 1874 against the First Spanish Republic and restored the Bourbon Dynasty.
There is a walkway that is known as the Paseo de las Estatuas (Statue Walk), whose official name is the Paseo de la Argentina. It has many statues of the kings and these were done between 1750 and 1753. The main entrance to the park is beside the Alcala Gate, at the Plaza de la Independencia. The Forest of the Departed (Bosque de los Ausentes) is a somber memorial monument to remember the 191 victims of the March 11, 2004, train attacks on Madrid.
This park is gorgeous and is a very enjoyable place to visit and see beautiful gardens and enjoy nature. During weekends it is filled with Madrileños and their families having fun.
9. Cathedral de la Almudena
Across the square of the Palacio Real is the Almudena Cathedral. This was the church where Prince Felipe married Letizia in 2004, in a very big state wedding. Before that wedding, the church was closed for many years because the church construction was not finished. The church is dedicated to Madrid’s patron saint, Santa Maria de la Almudena. The church construction started in 1883 and the design was Neo Gothic. The architect between 1879 and 1892 was the Marques de Cubas, and the architect between 1900 and 1916 was Enrique Maria Repulles. Construction went slowly and stopped completely during the Spanish Civil War. Construction continued in 1944 with new architects (Carlos Sidro and Fernando Chueca Goitia) who restyled the church as a neoclassic building, to go with the style of the nearby Palacio Real. The church was finished in 1993 and was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. The church has a lot of light and is one of the most beautiful churches in Spain, especially because of the modern designs of the big stained glass windows. There are also many side chapels with very modern sculptures and designs. Below the statue of the Virgin is a niche where the late King Alfonso XII and his wife Maria Mercedes de Orleans Borbon are buried.
The Crypt of the Cathedral de La Almudena - The crypt is a beautiful Neo-Romanesque church that was built in 1883 and finished in 1911 and the architect was the Marques de Cubas. The facade has a medieval look and three large doors. The central nave has 50 monolithic columns and the capitals of these columns have different designs. There are two other naves with a total of 365 columns. There are ten side chapels that belong to the most prominent Spanish families, many decorated with great art, with sculptures done by artists like Mariano Benlliure. There is a mural painting of Nuestra Señora de la Flor de Lys, and this is the most famous work of art in the church. The church also has the remains of Queen Maria de las Mercedes, the wife of Alfonso XII. She was denied burial in the Monastery of El Escorial in the pantheon of the Borbons because she was not the mother of a king.
10. Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida (Goya’s Pantheon)
This small church is not well known by tourists, but is of great interest to those who enjoy art because the church has its ceiling frescoes done by Goya. There is also a cupola at the ceiling, also with frescoes by Goya. The paintings show the miracle done by Saint Antonio de Padua. Saint Antonio’s father was accused of killing a man and the saint tried to convince the judges that his father was innocent but they did not believe him. So Saint Antonio asked to have the corpse exhumed to interrogate him, and the saint revived the dead man. Of course the saint’s father was declared innocent. The paintings show the people of Madrid looking on. This is Goya’s Sistine Chapel, in a small scale, but the paintings are beautiful. Goya invented something in this church because he painted female angels. In Catholic tradition, all angels are male, but Goya decided to paint the angels as females.
11. The Royal Palace of El Pardo
The Royal Palace of El Pardo is located about 14 km away from Madrid and is easy to get to because there is frequent bus service to the palace. The trip from Madrid takes only about 15 minutes. One goes to the Moncloa Intercambiador and looks for Bus 601 at Darseña 14.
The Palace is set in a wooded area that is known as El Monte de El Pardo. This area has oak trees and is a hunting reserve. The medieval kings enjoyed hunting here. Henry III built a small hunting lodge here in 1405. In 1543 Carlos I had a big palace created by the architect Luis de Vega. The new building had a rectangular ground plan and was made of stone and brick, with four corner towers. Felipe II had the roofs tiled with slate and had works of art installed in the palace. In 1604 a fire destroyed half of the building. Felipe IV and Felipe V added additions to the Pardo.
Carlos III was the king who did the most for the palace. He had six children and he wanted palace additions to house all of his family after the death of his wife Maria Amalia of Saxony. He chose Francisco Sabatini for this work, which was finished in 1776. Sabatini replicated the building and turned it into an 18th century palace. The galleries in the courtyards were glassed-in. Sabatini also designed the interiors. Tapestries were needed to insulate the insides of the building, since the Royal Family lived here also during winter, so the Royal Santa Barbara Tapestry Factory was ordered to produce these tapestries. This palace is the one with the most tapestries and the tapestries are in very good condition and the majority are not faded. One can see that the tapestries were custom made for the rooms, because in many cases they occupy whole walls of the rooms. Many of the tapestries were made using the cartoons of Francisco Goya, the court painter.
Kings after Carlos III all enjoyed this palace and occupied it, making several alterations. In 1940 the dictator Francisco Franco lived in this palace until his death in 1975. Since 1982 the palace is the Residence for Foreign Heads of State, and when a head of state is in the palace, the palace is closed to the public.
There are extensive gardens around the palace, with small fountains, but the best manicured are those directly in front of the main facade and across the side door that gives entry to the palace to visitors. This last garden has a fountain with a figure surrounded by ducks, which is quite unusual.
One can visit the palace, but only with the professional tour guide of the palace. There is always a guard who brings up the rear of the group to close the lights and to safeguard the palace. There are two large courtyards that are completely covered with glass and awnings to control the amount of sunlight that is needed. One of these is used for banquets for visiting heads of state. Usually the heads of state eat only breakfast at the palace, so the breakfast is provided by the kitchens of the Ritz Hotel.
The palace has many beautiful and one of a kind French chandeliers. All the ceilings are decorated with paintings and frescoes, as well as big gold medallions. There are large gold framed mirrors on the walls, and French style furniture, all in very good condition, with recent refurbishing of the materials. The curtains are beautiful and match the furniture fabrics. There is a large clock collection that Carlos III owned, all of the clocks being in running condition. Many times the carpet designs match the ceiling designs. The amount of art work in the palace is very impressive, including paintings and sculptures. There is a small chapel in the palace where a few people can pray and hear Mass. There is a big royal chapel in a separate building that is also beautiful and many times this chapel is used for concerts and cultural events. All in all, the palace is one of the most beautiful of the royal palaces in Spain.
One can see the apartments where heads of state stay, which has some modern sofas. It is worthy of being the Residence for Foreign Heads of State, and visiting heads of state will not find fault with anything in the palace.
Across the palace there is a small square that has a small tearoom called La Marquesita, which is a very cute tearoom that has many wonderful pastries. There are many restaurants near the palace where one can eat very well also.
12. The Palacio de Linares
The Palacio de Linares is located at the Plaza de Cibeles (Paseo de Recoletos, 2) and is the most beautiful palace used as a residence that can be seen by the public, although it is open to the public only on Saturdays and Sundays. One has to buy the tickets ahead of time in the El Corte Ingles for guided tours. The building is now owned by the foundation Casa America, which tries to foment cultural ties between Latin America and Spain.
At the end of the 19th century, the Paseo de Recoletos was the place where rich businessmen and aristocrats decided to build their palaces. The land was cleared and buildings previously constructed in the area were expropriated and demolished. The Palacio de Linares was one of these palaces built in the area, ordered by the financier Jose Murga, the Marques de Linares. His father was Mateo Murga, another wealthy financier. The father educated his son to marry only for love, without regard for the wealth or social position of the woman chosen. So Jose Murga married for love and he married Raimunda. What he did not know was that he married his half-sister, because his father had an affair with the woman selling newspapers at the kiosk, and the fruit of that relation was Raimunda. The father lived in London when his son informed him of the imminent wedding, but the heart broken father did not have the courage to tell his son the truth. In 1857, just before he died, the father wrote his son the truth. Pope Leon XIII issued a special bull allowing Jose and Raimunda to marry, but they had to remain chaste after the wedding. The couple may or may not have obeyed the Pope, but they never had children.
To alleviate his pain, Jose decided to build the most opulent palace in Madrid. It took 16 years to finish the palace, using three architects, namely Carlos Colubi, Manuel Anibal Alvarez, and Adolphe Ombrecht. The curved facade has a French design and Colubi was in charge of this, while Ombrecht was to do all the interiors. Alvarez designed the gardens and the Doll House. Jose was to live on the first floor, together with his library and his office. His wife was to live on the second floor. The main staircase going to the second floor shocks one with its beauty and originality and was designed by Jeronimo Suñol. The balustrade is made of white Carrara marble. The paintings were done by Manuel Dominguez and there are panels on the walls that are dedicated to the Arts, the Sciences, Agriculture and Industry. Floating above them are the Muses and the vaulted ceiling depicts the Four Seasons.
The floors are made of marble of different colors, with beautiful and very intricate designs and different colors inset in marble with other colors. Many of the walls are also made of marble. The furniture is very rich and there are lamps and bronzes from Paris, Antwerp glass, and rugs from the Royal tapestry Factory of Spain. The chandeliers are spectacular and there are huge mirrors everywhere. There are also many paintings by Francisco Pradilla, Manuel Dominguez, and Alejandro Ferrant. The rugs were custom built and most of the time reflect the decorations of the ceilings. There is a large number of sculptures of bare breasted women done in gilt. The ballroom and grand dining room are spectacular. After the visit, one is in a state of shock, after seeing so much beauty. This palace is what an unlimited amount of money, interest, and the finest taste buys. Yes, it was well worth the effort!
13. The Church of Santa Barbara
The Church of Santa Barbara is also called Salesas Reales and is located at Calle de Barbara de Braganza, 3. It is one of the most beautiful churches in Madrid and Queen Barbara de Braganza, the wife of Fernando VI, ordered it built. It consisted of a monastery and a church, which she would use as a refuge for herself if her husband died before her. The queen bought a large tract of land in 1749 and ordered the French architect Francois Antoine Carlier to built it, and this was finished in 1758. Carlier studied in Paris and in 1726 he was given the Architecture Prize at the Academy. He returned to Madrid and became the architect of the king. The facade of the church is very impressive and is filled with beautiful sculpture. In the pediment there is a coat of arms of Barbara de Braganza. Above the main door is a medallion with the theme of La Visitacion, and there are many angel sculptures too. The main altar is impressive with green marble Corinthian columns. There are paintings by the Italian artist Francesco de Mura, known as Francischiello. One of them is La Visitacion at the main altar, and the other is La Virgen y El niño con San Francisco Javier y Santa Barbara, close to the sepulcher of Fernando VI. There are many other good paintings in the church. When the queen died, the monastery was occupied by nuns called las Salesas Reales. There is also a sepulcher for the queen, beside that of her husband. The architect Francesco Sabatini and the sculptor Francisco Gutierrez worked on the pantheon. The pantheon is one of the best examples of Neoclassicism. There are two beautiful sculptures of women, one called La Abundancia, and the other is called La Justicia. Today the church still stands and the monastery is now the seat of the Supreme Court.
14. The Church of San Gines
The Church of San Gines is located on Calle Arenal, 13, downtown near the Puerta del Sol. The facade is quite plain, but what characterizes this church is the loggia in front, which is like a covered porch. The architect was Juan Ruiz and it was built in 1645. There was a terrible fire in 1824 that destroyed much of the church, but between 1870 and 1872, the architect Jose Maria Aguilar reconstructed the church. The main altar has a copy of The Martyrdom of San Gines, the original having been destroyed in the 1824 fire. There are impressive green marble columns at the main altar. The Santisimo Cristo Chapel has a crucifix of ivory done by Alonso Cano, as well as the painting of Cristo de la Humildad. There is a painting by El Greco, Expulsion de los Mercaderes del Templo. Lucas Jordan painted La Presentacion de Nuestra Señora. There are also four angels done in bronze by Pompeyo Leoni, and these were gilded by Juan Ortiz. All in all, San Gines is a beautiful church.
15. The Church of San Antonio de los Alemanes
The Church of San Antonio de los Alemanes is downtown in a hard to locate street called Corredera Baja de San Pablo, 16. The architect of this church was Pedro Sanchez, who worked on the church between 1624 and 1633. The facade of the church is plain and simple, but when one enters the church, one finds an ellipsoidal design, which is unique in Madrid churches. All the surfaces have fresco paintings of the life of San Antonio de Padua, a Franciscan monk who was born in Portugal in 1195 and died in Padua in 1231. The main altar is Neoclassic in design and has angels by the sculptor Francisco Gutierrez. An altar to the right of the main altar has a painting of El Calvario, by Lucas Jordan. The left chapel shows La Trinidad, by Ruiz de la Iglesia. There are other paintings by Lucas Jordan that show the life of the saint. The vault has the painting of La Apoteosis de San Antonio, done by Carreño de Miranda. This little church is one of the most beautiful churches in Madrid.
16. Museo Sorolla
The museum is situated in the house where the painter Joaquin Sorolla lived and had his art studio. Many of his paintings are exhibited. Joaquin Sorolla lived between 1863 and 1923. He is recognized to have been the greatest impressionist painter of Spain. One of his greatest masterpieces was the series Visions of Spain that is found in the Hispanic Society in New York City. There are 14 paintings in these series, each painting representing one region of Spain, depicting men and women in their regional costumes. He was born in Valencia and became famous as a portrait painter and a painter of landscapes with people by the seashore. His paintings are filled with light and are very beautiful.
In 1910 he built his house and he separated his 3 studios from the family quarters. There are gardens around the house, with fountains. This house is now the Sorolla Museum. When Sorolla died, his widow Clotilde Garcia del Castillo donated the house to the Spanish Government so that there could be a museum dedicated to her late husband. She died in 1948 and the house was then transferred to the government. A foundation was created to run the museum and this museum opened in 1973.
The museum has 38 paintings done by Sorolla, many of them with big formats, most of them donated by his widow. There are also 11 sculptures by Sorolla and many ceramics that he collected.
17. Lazaro Galdiano Museum
Dr. Jose Lazaro Galdiano lived from 1862 to 1947. He was an intellectual, financier, publisher and book lover. He accumulated more than 20,000 books. He also loved art and accumulated one of the best private art collections of Europe. His Spanish art collection was one of the largest and he regarded the collection as a search for clues to national identity. He got married to an Argentinian lady and built a mansion called the Palacio Parque Florido. He had no children and when he died he left his estate to the government. His house is now a museum, located on Calle Serrano near the American Embassy.
On the first floor are the jewels of Galdiano’s wife. Many of the jewels have huge diamonds and represent the culture at the start of the 20th century. Most of the jewels are very beautiful and artistic. The first floor also has hundreds of objects d’art, all beautiful and historic. The second and third floors have hundreds of paintings. The ceilings are painted with beautiful allegorical frescoes, and rooms have beautiful Venetian chandeliers. Among the Spanish painters represented are Goya, El Greco, and Velasquez. Every room has a theme, such as English painters, Italian painters, French painters, etc. The quality of the art that Jose Lazaro Galdiano accumulated is impressive because he had the most exquisite taste of his time.
Among the collections are those connected with archaeology, ceramics, porcelain, arms, jewelry, miniatures, sculpture, paintings, silver, crystal, watches, fans, furniture, and miniatures. If one had an unlimited amount of money, one would choose what is in this beautiful museum. The best thing is that few people visit this museum and one can visit it in peace and quiet, the better to enjoy looking at the beautiful objects. It is like visiting the mansion of a prominent person of the past with wonderful taste.
18. Museo del Traje
The Museo del Traje is the Costume Museum of Madrid, one of the least known museums, but one of the most enjoyable museums of the city. The museum is located in the Moncloa district, next to the university. The building is a modern building built around 1970 and is in the shape of a U, with a plaza in the middle of the two-story building. The building won a prize for the two architects who designed it.
Inside the museum are costumes of Spain since the 16th century, in a beautiful and very educational exhibition. The lighting is very subdued because strong light destroys cloth. The exhibition shows the changes in costume and dress from the 16th century to the present. It says that dress is not only used for protection against the elements, but is used to denote social class and is a statement of one’s status in society. There are beautiful dresses and men’s clothes from every era, and the exhibition explains in great detail how changes were made, and for what reason.
19. Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
This is another little known museum in downtown Madrid that receives few tourists. This art school was founded in 1752 by King Fernando VI. It is one of the most important art museums in Spain and has European art from the last 4 centuries. Many famous Spanish artists studied here because the school had original art that the students could copy and learn from. In 1975 it became part of the Universidad Complutense of Madrid and it opened as a museum in 1986. It owns 1400 paintings, 600 sculptures, and 15,000 drawings (many from its students), and a big collection of decorative arts. So one can see practically the whole history of Spanish art in this museum.
20. Museo Arqueológico Nacional (National Archaeological Museum)
The National Arquaeological Museum is the largest in Spain and covers all the history of Spain. It is the place where the Dama de Elche, a sculpture that now represents Spain, is found. The Roman and Moorish collections are impressive.
Queen Isabel II founded the National Archaeological Museum in 1867. Its mission was to conserve, classify, and exhibit archaeological material, decorative arts, and coin collections that the kings of Spain had accumulated. In 1895 the museum moved to its present location beside the National Library. There are three floors of exhibits and 27 large rooms. Exhibits cover prehistoric remains and go to the modern age.
One of the big attractions in this museum is a recreation (found underground in the garden) of the cave of Altamira, with prehistoric cave paintings that show horses, bison, and boars. One cannot go to the original Altamira cave because few people are allowed to see it because the authorities fear it may deteriorate further. The original cave is in Cantabria.
The other famous exhibit is the beautiful bust of La Dama de Elche, a wealthy Iberian woman who lived in the 5th century BC. This is considered the jewel in the crown of Iberian art. She was found in a garden in Elche in Alicante in 1897. She wears large wheel shaped head pieces and very large jewelry. She is powerful, serene and hypnotic. Her gaze is enigmatic through her almond shaped eyes. The sculpture is 56 cm tall and is painted limestone. The man who found it was called Manuel Campello and he sold it to the Louvre for 40 dollars. In 1941 there was an exchange of cultural items with France and the statue went to the Prado and stayed there for 30 years before being brought to the National Archaeological Museum. Salvador Dali called her “the most beautiful woman of the world”.
Another similar statue is the Dama de Baza, found in an Iberian cemetery in Cerro de Sanctuario near Baza in 1971. This statue is 1.3 meters high and is made in soft limestone.
There are also Visigothic gold crowns that were discovered in 1859 near Toledo, and these date back to the 8th century. There are many other Visigothic remains in the museum.
The Islamic collection is very good and they have 7 huge ceramic vases that came from Andalucia. Other collections are Celtic, Iberian, Greek, Roman, and Christian antiquities. The Roman collection includes sculpture and the Greek Collection has many beautiful vases. There is a beautiful church choir stall from a palace in Palencia from the 14th century. There are also collections of Talavera pottery, Retiro porcelain, and 16th and 17th century Andalusian glassware. It is also surprising to see an Egyptian collection, with mummies and sarcophagi.
21. Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
Descalzas Reales means Barefoot Royals and the monastery is a convent of Franciscan nuns. The daughter of Carlos I and Isabel of Portugal was the Princess Juana, and she founded the convent in 1557. Juana married Juan Manuel, who was the heir to the Portugese throne, but he died early and Juana had to return to Madrid.
The convent building is a 16th century Renaissance palace in the heart of Madrid. It has an impressive façade and was remodeled in 1556 and 1564 by Anonio Sillero and Juna Bautista de Toledo.
When women joined the convent, they had to bring a dowry with them. If they had to leave the convent, their dowry would be given back to them so that they would have a means of subsistence. If they died in the convent, they left their dowry to the convent. Since many young noblewomen joined the convent, the convent accumulated a lot of riches, much of it in art.
In the 20th century, the majority of the nuns were poor, but they could not sell the treasures of the convent. The government intervened and the Pope granted the nuns a special dispensation to open the convent as a museum. The museum opened in 1960. Today there are still nuns living in the convent, so tours are given at hours that do not interfere with the lives of the nuns. Visitors have to be accompanied by the tour guide and cannot go exploring by themselves.
The art treasures include floor to ceiling frescoes and paintings by Rubens, Titian and Murillo. There are beautiful Flemish tapestries designed by Rubens. Other artists found in the convent are Sanchez Coello, Brueghel and Luini.
22. The Royal Convent of La Encarnacion
La Encarnacion is located near the Royal Palace. It was founded in 1611 by Philip III and Margaret of Austria. It was Queen Margaret who was very interested in building the convent, after seeing the results of the Las Descalzas Convent. The royal architect Juan Gomez de Mora was given the job of building the convent. Queen Margaret was the one who chose the nuns to occupy it.
When one visits the convent today, one has to be guided by the official guide in a group and one cannot go wandering by himself. If one is very lucky, one will have a very good guide by the name of Felipe Martinez. He is a tall and handsome man with a regal bearing, impressive in his long navy blue double breasted jacket with gold buttons. What is great about him is his friendliness and his knowledge of art of that time. One can ask him all types of questions and he always will have a friendly answer. From experience, guides in the royal palaces and convents do not have a sense of humor, but Felipe does.
What is very noticeable are in the convent are tiles on the bases of the walls, in a blue and white pattern, with the acanthus motif. They are the same Talavera de la Reina tiles from Toledo that can be seen in El Escorial, since both buildings were built around the same time.
The Hall of the Kings is an impressive room with full length paintings of many kings, queens, and their children. It is unsure who some of the less important people are. There was a very strict protocol when artists painted kings and queens. They had to have a serious mien and the clothes depicted had to be very elaborate to show their regal status. The dresses of the queens seemed to be very rigid because of this protocol. Now one can understand why all the other paintings of royal people in other museums follow the same protocol.
The Relics Chapel is the most interesting part of the convent. It contains the relics of hundreds of saints. During the Reformation, many countries that became Protestant did not want to keep the relics of the saints, since they no longer believed in them. So this convent collected all that they
could. There are display cabinets around the room that contain compartments and caskets containing the relics. The room has a beautiful painted ceiling and also contains 700 items, including reliquaries, oil paintings on copper, polychromed wood, ivory and alabaster carvings, medals and rosaries. St. Pantaleon was an early Christian martyr during the Diocletian persecution of 303 AD. There is a reliquary that holds a flask with his blood, according to tradition. The blood supposedly liquefies on July 27 of every year. Interesting, isn’t it?
The church of the convent is one of the most beautiful in Madrid. It was refurbished by Ventura Rodriguez. The ground plan of the church is in the form of the Latin cross. There is a dome which lets in a lot of light. The paintings on the high altar and two side altars were done by Vincenzo Carducci in 1616. The center painting is The Annunciation and the side paintings are of St. Philip and St. Margaret, in memory of the founders of the convent. This convent is a must see for people interested in art and history.
23. Caixaforum Madrid
The Caixaforum Madrid (located at Paseo del Prado, 36) is a new social and cultural center that has many art exhibitions throughout the year and admission is free to visitors. It occupies the renovated Mediodia Electrical Power Station, having been completely redesigned by the Herzog and De Mueron Studio. The building has 10,000 square meters of space, distributed over 7 floors. There is also a restaurant-cafeteria in the building.
There is a vertical garden outside that is the work of the French botanist Patrick Blanc, and this is the first one in Spain. The garden measures 24 meters high and has 460 square meters of garden, with 15,000 plants of 250 different species. This is truly a unique work of art.
La Caixa is a very large bank and the Caixaforum Madrid is a way to channel its social and cultural outreach projects. The activities it schedules combine popularising art with the discovery of the most up-to-date questions in art, music and thought.
24. The Cason del Buen Retiro
The Cason del Buen Retiro is a historic building that belongs to the Prado Museum, situated between the Prado Museum and the Retiro Park. The building has ceiling frescos painted by Luca Giordano and is used for special exhibitions.
25. Royal Botanic Gardens - Beside the Prado Museum on the Paseo del Prado, there is the Plaza of Murillo, where the entrance to the Royal Botanic Gardens is. In 1755 King Fernando VI ordered the gardens, but it was during the reign of the next king, Carlos III, when the gardens were finished at their present site in 1774. The architects were Francesco Sabatini and Juan de Villanueva. Sabatini was the king’s architect and Villanueva designed the Prado Museum. The aim of the gardens was to teach botany, and there are three greenhouses which exhibit many tropical plants. The gardens were closed for many years and were finally restored and reopened in 1981.
Today there are many trees from the original garden from the 18th century. In total there are more than 30,000 different species of plants in the gardens. Every tree is labeled correctly, so one can learn while roaming the gardens.
The gardens are laid out in the formal style, using very geometrical patterns. The flowers are spectacular in spring and one can see many beautiful flowering trees. In spring there are tulips of many different colors planted in geometric patterns in the parterres. People who enjoy nature and flowers will really enjoy these beautiful gardens.
26. The Temple of Debod
In 1968 the Egyptian government gave the Temple of Debod to Spain in gratitude for helping to save the Abu Simbel Temple from flooding by the Aswan Dam. This small temple was rebuilt in the Rosales Park, in the center of Madrid near the Plaza de España.
27. The Decorative Arts Museum
This little known museum is housed in the mansion of the Duchess of Santoña, which was constructed in the 1880's. The state bought this mansion in 1941. Two floors were added to the 4 story mansion, so there is a lot of display space. This museum is one of the first created in Europe and follows the example of the Victoria and Albert Museum of London. The museum was created in 1912 as the National Museum of Industrial Arts, which wanted to be a place to teach artisans and artists the industrial arts. There are 70 salons which show 15,000 objects, but museum has a total of 40,000 objects. There are many antiques from China. Among the collections are ceramics, glass, textiles, Spanish carpets, Spanish furniture, and jewels and metals.
Very interesting are the rooms that show how the Spanish lived from the 15th to the 19th centuries in Spain. They had all sorts of collections, like the fan collection. Fans originally came from China, but were later made in Europe. Every century had a preference in fans, so styles changed constantly. The museum has a lot of beautiful furniture. Of importance is the beautiful tiled kitchen from Valencia that dates from the middle of the 18th century. The kitchen has tiles that show how servants prepared chocolate and pastries for the woman of the house. The kitchen also has the image in tile of the Virgen del Carmen.
28. The Church of San Jose
The Church of San Jose is located on Calle Alcala, 43, and it was built between 1730 and 1742 by the architect Pedro de Ribera. The style of the church is Baroque and above the main door is a statue of the Virgen del Carmen by Robert Michel, done in 1750. The ground plan is the Latin cross with a central nave and lateral naves with chapels. The main altarpiece is dedicated to the Virgen del Carmen. One side chapel at the front of the church has a very beautiful altarpiece of San Jose, with a sculpture made by Luis Salvador Carmona in the 18th century. This is another beautiful church downtown.
29. Museum of Natural Sciences
The Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (National Museum of Natural Sciences) was founded by Carlos III in 1771, with a different name and is located at Jose Gutierrez Abascal, 2. Carlos III was a man who was interested in many things and he had wonderful collections of almost everything, and one of his collections of natural sciences became the basis of the museum. Today in this museum, there are 6 million pieces in the collection. What are interesting are the stuffed animals, which cover a very wide range of species. This is the biggest museum of its type in Spain and a very interesting place to visit, especially for children, because they are enchanted with the stuffed animals.
30. Museo de America
The Museo de America has vast collections that come from the different cultures of the American continent. There are beautiful works of art that are unique and can only be found in this museum. This museum was created in 1941 and housed temporarily at the Museo Arqueologico Nacional. Later they built a new building and the new museum was opened in 1965. Remodeling was done and the new museum was again reopened in 1994.
The museum tries to show how knowledge of the Americas was gained through expeditions. It explains how the Americas were populated and the mixture of races that happened. The development of societies from the primitive tribes to modern societies is explained. There are also explanations for the history of religion in the Americas. Another explanation is about the development of language and how Spanish became the common language there.
The most important pieces of art that the conquistadores found are displayed in this museum. These range from articles of gold, stone and metal sculpture, ceramics, masks, codices, textiles, costumes, and paintings. Many of these items are pre-Hispanic, while others came after the Spanish conquest. These collections are some of the best in the world about the Americas.
31. Puerta de Alcala
The Puerta de Alcala is a huge gate that is a monument in the Plaza de la Independencia, close to the El Retiro Park. It was built by Carlos III in 1778 and is one of the symbols of Madrid. At that time the nobility was building their palaces on the Paseo del Prado. It was decided to build a magnificent entrance to the city to adorn this neighborhood. The architect chosen was Francisco Sabatini, and he worked on this project between 1769 and 1778. His idea was a Baroque structure from the city of Rome. Robert Michel was chosen as the principal sculptor for the project, and Francisco Gutierrez also did many of the sculptures. They were the best sculptors of that time. All the sculptures used white stone from Colmenar de Oreja, a town near Chinchon. On the face of the gate looking toward the outside, there is an angel with a coat of arms and a little boy on top of the pediment. The capitals on the columns are copies of what Michaelangelo made for the Roman Capitol. There are figures of four little boys on top of the monument and they represent four cardinal virtues. The boy with his right hand on the bit of a horse represents Moderation. The boy with the helmet, lance, and shield represents Strength. The boy with the bundle of rods (fasces) represents Justice. The boy looking at himself with a mirror represents Prudence. The inside facade of the monument has the head of a lion on top of each of the three arches. There are also reliefs with cornucopias, signifying prosperity. During the War of Independence with the French, this monument suffered a lot of damage. The restoration was made in 1904.
32. Gran Via
This is one of the main streets in downtown Madrid, famous for its early 20th century architecture. It has many hotels, shops, theaters, and movie theaters. The street was constructed starting in 1910 and many buildings and houses that occupied it at that time were demolished. One of the most beautiful buildings that can be found on the street is the Edificio Metropolis (Alcala,49), built by Jules and Raymond Fevrier in 1905. On top of its cupola is a sculpture of Winged Victory, sculpted by Federico Collaut Valera.
33. Plaza de España
The Gran Via ends in the Plaza de España, which has a large square and two very tall skyscrapers, the Edificio de España and the Torre de Madrid. These two skyscrapers were built in the 1950s by the Otamendi brothers. In the southern part of the plaza are tow beautiful 20th century palaces, the Real Compañia Asturiana de Minas, constructed by Manuel Martinez Angel, and the Casa Gallardo, constructed by Federico Arias Rey. The gardens in the plaza contain the Monument of Cervantes, designed in 1915 by Teodoro Anasagasti and Mateo Inurria. The statue of Cervantes at the base of the monument shows him sitting down, while below him are the bronze statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
34. Puerta del Sol
This is the center of Madrid. There is a 'Kilometro 0' plaque, marking the center of the Spanish road network, from where all the highway distances are measured. The area was in the outskirts of the city in the 15th century and was surrounded by a wall with a gate facing the sun. That is how the plaza got its name.
During the reign of Queen Isabel II in 1856, the architect Juan Bautista Peyronnet was asked to design the plaza, which turned out to be in the shape of an ellipse. Many buildings, especially convents, were expropriated and demolished. In 1859 Lucio del Valle gave the rules for the new construction. The ground floor was supposed to be used for stores and commerce. There would be three floors above this for apartments. There would be an attic with terrace for photographers, who would take advantage of the light of the plaza. The most famous building on the plaza is the Casa de Correos (post office), which was built by the French architect Jaime Marquet in 1766. This building is the only one that remained intact during the construction of the plaza. This building has a clock tower with the famous clock that was given to the city by the famous clockmaker Losada. The New Year’s Eve celebration takes place on this square to the sound of the clock striking a bell just before midnight, and one grape is eaten for each ringing of the bell, as is the custom.
In the middle of the square is a large equestrian statue of King Carlos III. The plaza has the Mariblanca statue which marks a former fountain at one end. At one corner, opposite the Calle del Carmen, is a statue in bronze of the bear and the strawberry tree (el oso y el madroño), which represents the coat of arms of the city of Madrid.
35. Arco de la Victoria
In the Plaza de la Moncloa is the Victory Arch built in 1956 by the dictator Franco. On top of the high arch is a sculpture of a four horse chariot. This has a Latin inscription, “Anno MCMXXXVII”, meaning the Year 1937, which Franco considered a victorious year for his Nationalist forces. The Victory Arch architects were Lopez Knoll, Arregui, Paschal Bravo and Jose Ortells. Many call this the Puerta de Moncloa so as not to bring back bad memories of the Civil War.
This is the name of the new business district along the Castellana, north of the old city center. There are many skyscrapers located here, and across the Castellana is the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home of the Real Madrid Futbol Team.
37. Plaza de Cibeles
One of the most important fountains in Madrid is found in the Plaza de Cibeles where the Paseo de Recoletos meets the Paseo del Prado and the Calle de Alcala. Cibeles was the Greek god of fertility and the fountain shows her in a carriage that is drawn by a pair of lions. The designer was the architect Ventura Rodriguez and it was built at the end of the 18th century on orders of King Carlos III. The goddess and chariot are the work of Francisco Gutierrez and the lions by Roberto Michel. The whole design is done in white marble and the sculpture is 8 meters tall and 32 meters in diameter. The goddess holds a scepter and the keys to the city.
Whenever the Real Madrid wins a futbol match, their followers meet at this fountain to celebrate it. What makes this plaza so impressive are the beautiful buildings that surround it, including the Banco de España, the Buenavista Palace (Army Headquarters), the Linares Palace (now known as the Casa de America), and the Correos y Telegrafos Building (now the City Hall). The fountain is now the symbol of Madrid.
38. Fountain of Neptune
The Fountain of Neptune is located at the Plaza Canovas del Castillo along the Paseo del Prado. King Carlos III ordered its construction and it was designed by the architect Ventura Rodriguez. The sculptor Juan Pascual de Mena started it in 1780 and in 1786 his disciple Jose Rodriguez finished the project.
The statues shows a nude Neptune, the god of the sea, with a trident in one hand and a coiled snake in the other. He stands on a chariot shaped like a shell that is drawn by two sea horses and surrounded by dolphins. Beside him can be seen seals and dolphins that act as picturesque water spouts. This fountain tried to symbolize the maritime power that Spain had in previous times, a power that the Bourbon king wanted to recover with the reform of the Spanish navy.
The fountain and statue are a counterpoint to the Cibeles fountain. Near it, the Atletico de Madrid Futbol Club celebrates its victories. Around this plaza are famous buildings such as the Prado Museum, the Palace Hotel, the Ritz Hotel, the Villahermosa Palace, the Congreso de los Diputados (House of Commons), and the San Jeronimo el Real Church.
39. Fountain of Apollo
This fountain is located in the middle of the Paseo del Prado and is not well known because it is a bit hidden. Apollo was the god of art and medicine. The sculpture shows him holding a lyre in his left hand and has a cloak around him. The fountain is decorated with the allegorical figures of the Four seasons and also has three shells as decorations.
Ventura Rodriguez was the architect who designed this fountain and it is the third fountain he designed, the other two being the Fountain of Cibeles and the Fountain of Neptune. The construction of the fountain started in 1780 during the reign of Carlos III. The sculptor Alfonso Giraldo Bergaz did the figure of Apollo in 1802. Manuel Alvarez did the Four Seasons sculptures. This Neoclassic fountain was inaugurated in 1803.
40. Plaza de Colon
The Plaza de Colon is between the Paseo de Recoletos and the Paseo de la Castellana. The Plaza has its Gardens of Discovery, bounded by Calle Serrano and Calle Goya. In 1885 a monument to Columbus was constructed with a statue of Columbus done with Italian marble, on top of an octagonal pillar that sits on a square base. The sculptor was Jeronimo Suñol. The square base has reliefs about the life of Columbus and in one of them it shows Queen Isabela.
Four life size heralds stand on the corners of the base. Nearby are cascading fountains and below the fountains there is a cultural center underground. On the side beside Calle Serrano is a modernistic sculpture done by the sculptor Joaquin Vaquero Turcios, which has some inscriptions by philosophers.
41. Kio Towers - These are two towers that lean toward each other, like the Tower of Pisa. They were built by the Kuwaiti Investment Office in the 1980’s and are on either side of Plaza Castilla.
42. Cuatro Torres Business Area
There are 4 new skyscrapers at the Paseo de Castellana near the old Ciudad Deportiva del Real Madrid. The towers are the Torre Caja Madrid (the tallest building in Spain with 250 m height), Torre Sacyr Vallehermoso, Torre ce Cristal, and the Torre Espacio. The Internacional Convention Center will be across the street from the towers.
43. The Basilica of Our Lady of Atocha
Not too far from the Atocha train station (Avenida de la Ciudad de Barcelona, 3) is the Basilica of Our Lady of Atocha. This is the favorite church of the Royal Family and it is a tradition that whenever one of them has a child, the child is presented to the image of the Virgin a few days later. When Felipe married Letizia, they went to this church after their wedding at the Cathedral to present Letizia's corsage of flowers to the Virgin, as a sign of respect and tradition. In the 7th century, the statue of the Virgin was found in a field and the statue had the Virgin carrying the Child Jesus in her left arm and holding an apple with her right hand. The Virgin caused many miracles and devotion to her started. A small chapel was built and in 1523 a big church took the place of the small chapel and the Dominicans occupied it. In 1808 during the French occupation, the French troops destroyed the church. The church was restored by the Royal Family, but again during the Civil War, the church was again destroyed. Luckily the statue was hidden by a devout family until the end of the war. The present church dates from 1951 and is in the Neo-classic style. The church measures 52 x 34 m at the base and the central nave reaches a height of 13.25 m. The most impressive part of the church are five stained glass windows that are at floor level on the side of the main altar. These are exceedingly beautiful.
44. The Basilica of San Isidro
This church is located downtown at Calle Toledo, 37. The Basilica of San Isidro was used as the cathedral of Madrid from 1885 until the Almudena Cathedral was completed. The Jesuit architect Pedro Sanchez designed the church as a twin-towered Baroque church. Later another Jesuit architect, Francisco Bautista built it in the 17th century. The Jesuits built it using money left to them by the sister of Felipe II, Doña Maria, Empress of Austria. For that reason, the church has a wrought iron gate that has a two-headed eagle, the symbol of the dynasty of the House of Austria. The interior decoration of the church was done by Ventura Rodriguez in the mid 18th century. The church has a Latin cross plan and a dome supported by a tambour with eight windows, covered with slate and lead. The church was completely destroyed by a fire in 1936 and had to be rebuilt. There is a niche at the center of the church with images of the patrons of the city, San Isidro and his wife Santa Maria de la Cabeza. Their remains are found in twin urns on the main altar.
The church has important images of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad and the Santísima Virgen de la Almudena. There are several side chapels that are very beautiful. On the Thursday of Easter week, the two images of the patron saints are taken out in a procession around the streets of the city.
45. The Church of San Manuel and San Benito
This church is located at Alcala, 83, beside the El Retiro Park, and in the Barrio Salamanca. The church is Neo-Byzantine and was designed in 1902 by the architect Fernando Arbos Tremanti. The church was completed in 1910 and restored in 1975 by the architect Jose Antonio Arenillas. The church has the plan of the Greek cross. While the main impression is that the style is Byzantine, there are also Neo-Gothic influences. There is a large dome crowned by a pavilion and a tower with three sections. The Four Evangelists are shown on the dome. Behind the main altar, one finds the dome, which has nine Gothic stained glass windows with little design, and above this are the Byzantine mosaics showing the figure of Christ towering over twelve saints. From the outside, one can see little towers around the dome that look like small minarets. This church is one of the most unusual modern churches in Madrid and one of the most beautiful.
46. Juan March Foundation
The Juan March Foundation is located at Castelló, 77. The late Juan March Ordinas was the founder and owner of the Banca March, one of Spain's largest banks. He had an extensive art collection, which he left with the Juan March Foundation. The Foundation was started in 1955. The Foundation holds modern art exhibitions throughout the year and entrance is free to everyone. The Foundation also holds conferences and has music concerts, and many other cultural events. The building is a beautiful white marble modern building in the Salamanca district. The Foundation has 1600 works of Spanish artists and the art exhibitions are mostly about art of the 20th century. The Foundation received the Medal of Honor of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in 1976 and the Gold Medal of Merit of Fine Arts by the King of Spain in 1980. Check the website to see what art exhibition is being held.
47. Sala Alcala 31
The Alcalá 31 exhibition hall is located at Alcala,31, in the landmark building designed by Antonio Palacios for a former bank. The hall exhibits contemporary art and is owned by the Community of Madrid. All the exhibitions are free.
48. Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre
The Open Air Museum of Sculpture is located at Paseo de la Castellana, 41. In 1970 a new bridge was built over the Paseo de la Castellana at Calle Juan Bravo. It was decided to have an open air museum of sculpture under the bridge. Many prominent artists volunteered to donate a work to the new museum. This new museum opened in 1972. There are three levels starting from Calle Serrano to the Paseo de la Castellana, and the area occupied is 4200 square meters.
Among the artists represented are Eusebio Sempere, Martín Chirino, Francisco Sobrino, José María Subirachs, Rafael Leoz, Andreu Alfaro, Marcel Martí, Gustavo Torner, Amadeo Gabino, Jesús Soto, Gerardo Rueda, Pablo Palazuelo, Joan Miró, Eduardo Chillida, Julio González, François Baschet, and Pablo Serrano.
The museum is free and one can go even at night to see the sculptures. This museum is a little known museum, but it has some very beautiful modern sculptures.
49. Panteon de Hombres Ilustres
The Pantheon of Illustrious Men is located at Julian Gayarre, 3, and is part of the Basilica de Atocha. Several men important in the history of Spain have their pantheons in the building. The widow of King Alfonso XII, Maria Cristina, decided that this mausoleum be built and a contest was held in 1890 to pick the architect. The architect selected was Fernando Arbos y Tremanti. His design was in the Neo-Byzantine style and the building was finished in 1899. A good reason to visit this monument is to see some of the best sculpture from the early 20th century.
Mariano Benlliure was one of the best Spanish sculptors of that time. He built the pantheons for Jose Canalejas, Praxedes Mateo Sagasta, and Eduardo Dato. Jose Canalejas was the prime minister in 1910 but was assassinated in 1912 while he was in office, and the assassination took place in the Puerta del Sol. Praxedes Mateo Sagasta was a prime minister eight times, the last time during the Spanish-American War of 1898. He was blamed for the loss of Spanish colonies as a result of that war. Eduardo Dato served as prime minister three times and was assassinated by anarchists at the Puerta de Alcala in 1921.
Another pantheon was built for Manuel Gutierrez de la Concha, who was the Marques del Duero, and the sculptors were Arturo Melida y Alinari and Elias Martin. Gutierrez was born in Argentina but later came to Spain and became a general and put down the Carlist insurrection. Antonio de los Rios Rosas was a politician and became the President of Congress in 1863. His pantheon was the work of Pedro Estany. Antonio Canovas del Castillo was born in Malaga and became a historian and the President of the Council of Ministers. Unfortunately he was assassinated at a spa in Mondragon, Guipuzcoa, by an Italian anarchist in 1897. His pantheon was created by Agustin Querol in 1906. So many politicians assassinated by anarchists!
50. Real Fabrica de Tapices
The Real Fabrica de Tapices (Royal Factory of Tapestries) was founded by Philip V in 1721 and is located at Calle de Fuenterrabia, 2. At that time Spain had no knowledge of creating tapestries, so craftsmen were hired from Flanders. Goya worked in the factory from 1775 to 1792, creating paintings for the craftsmen to copy into tapestries. The building was finished in 1889 by Jose Segundo de Lema, in the Neo-Mudejar style. In 2006 it was declared a Site of Cultural Interest.
The tour guide explains the history of the factory and also explains how tapestries and rugs are made. The factory has 70 employees and among these are 30 weavers. There are young people who apprentice for two years in the factory. The guide explains the difference between a Turkish knot and a Spanish knot. The materials used are wool and silk, which gives a luminescence to the tapestries and carpets. One square meter takes one month of work for the team that works on the tapestry or carpet and costs between 1500 and 2500 euros. The work is difficult because the team of about 8 people working on the piece have to work standing up. The guide shows the cartoons created by artists that the teams are following. The factory also repairs tapestries or rugs that need it. One can order a tapestry or carpet to a design or painting that one has, or can have the artists of the factory create a special design for one. The guided tour shows how difficult it is to create a tapestry or carpet and makes one more appreciative of this decorative art.
51. Gran Via
On April 4, 2010, the Gran Via was 100 years old. One hundred years before this date, King Alfonso XIII approved the papers to demolish many buildings on the route of the present Gran Via to be able to construct it. The street was supposed to copy the avenues of Paris created by the Baron Haussmann, but it turned out that it turned out to copy the streets of New York City.
One hundred years ago, where the Gran Via is today, there was a very dense city, with many buildings and very narrow streets. There were no big public spaces. This was the result of building within the old city walls.
In 1901 the city architects Andres Octavio and Jose Lopez Salaberry proposed joining Calle Preciados and the Plaza del Callao with Calle de Alcala. The City Hall approved the project and later the National Government. There was a bidding contest that would allow a company to expropriate old buildings in the way of the new street to construct the new road. In 1909 the French banker Martin Albert Silver won the bid to start the project. It was in 1910 that the King Alfonso XIII inaugurated the demolishment of 334 old buildings in the right of way of the new street.
The Gran Via joined Calle de Alcala with the Plaza de España and Calle Princesa. This street soon became the street of large stores, hotels, luxurious offices, movie halls, jewelry stores, clubs, casinos, private clubs, luxurious bars and restaurants.
There are several beautiful buildings on the Gran Via. The Edificio Metropolis is at Alcala, 49, at the corner of the Gran Via. The architect of this building was Jules et Raymond Fevrier. This building has a cupola that has the sculpture of Winged Victory (Victoria alada) that was created by Federico Coullaut Valera in 1975.
The Telefonica Building is located at Gran Via, 28. It was constructed in 1929 by the architect Ignacio de Cardenas. The upper portion has touches of the Giralda Tower of Seville, and this building was the highest building in Europe for many years.
The Edificio Grassy is located at Gran Via, 1 and 3. The architect of this building that was completed in 1916 was Eladio Laredo. The top of this building is graced with a two story temple that has slender columns. This building has the shape of the prow of a ship.
The Edificio España is a tower at the Plaza de España, at the end of the Gran Via that is 117 meters high. Its style is Neo-Baroque and the architects were Joaquin and Julian Otamendi, and the building was finished in 1953.
The Torre de Madrid is another tower at the Plaza de España, and is 150 meters high. It was built between 1954 and 1960, and the architects were Julian and Jose Maria Otamendi. It used to be the tallest building in the world for a few years.
The Gran Via is also the Broadway of Madrid because it has many theaters, such as the Coliseum.
52. Oratorio del Caballero de Gracia
This little known chapel is located at Gran Via, 17B. It was designed by the architect Juan de Villanueva, the architect who designed the Prado Museum, for the Real Congregacion de Esclavos del Santisimo Sacramento. The style is Neoclassic and like the Roman basilicas during the time of the Emperor Constantine, with a basilical ground plan, a semicircular apse, and three naves separated by 14 Corinthian columns. This work is one of the most beautiful buildings designed by Juan de Villanueva. There is a very large cupola over the main altar that allows much light to shine on the altar. There is a statue of Christ called the Santisimo Cristo de la Agonia, made in the 17th century, by the artist Juan Sanchez Barba, and this is considered as one of the most important Spanish sculptures of the 17th century. The silver tabernacle is attributed to the silversmith Domingo de Urquiza.
The Caballero de Gracia was Jacopo Gratii, an Italian noble born in Modena. He lived between 1517 and 1619 and was a relative of Pope Urban VII. In his youth he lived the life of a Don Juan, trying to seduce many women. He fell in love with a lady and asked the lady's maid to put an elixir of love into the lady's cup so that she would fall in love with him. Unexpectedly, he saw a vision of heaven that told him to repent and abandon his vices. This changed his life completely and he spent his fortune in building monasteries and convents. He also became a priest. He founded a convent in Madrid and founded an association which had the mission to promote the devotion to the Eucharist. He wanted to construct his chapel in Madrid, but died before completing his dream. Carlos III finally ordered it built by Juan de Villanueva in the 18th century. It was started in 1786 and finished by his Villanueva's disciple Custodio Moreno. This church is very quiet and people go there to meditate.
Museo del Romanticismo
The Romantic Museum has been closed since 2001 while it was being renovated. It reopened in 2009.The museum was created by Benigno de la Vega-Inclan, the second Marques de la Vega-Inclan, in 1921. The museum opened in his home in 1924 and received many donations from different people. The palace was built by the architect Manuel Rodriguez in 1776 in the Neoclassic style. The museum has a very large painting collection from the 19th century, furniture from that period, and objects of art. One can see how wealthy families from that period lived and what they collected. Best are the paintings by Federico de Madrazo, one of the best Spanish painters of that period.