This period begins with the first Bourbon king, Felipe V, in the early 1700s and ends around the 1850’s. Today’s king, Felipe VI, is also a Bourbon, though, Madrid‘s mood and style of has changed significantly. (As have the skills of kingship, much for the better.) The early Bourbon dynasty brought in ideas from Europe’s Enlightenment to Spain while still retaining a monarchy.
The influence of Bourbon Madrid dominates the city. You see it in the grand boulevards and buildings with Parisian styles. It is also seen in the city’s Neoclassicism, Romanticism, and Baroque.
The Bourbon period, especially in the 18th century, was a a time when Spain’s rulers wanted to elevate the country. They strove to bring about the same industrial and commercial development as seen in the rest of Europe. This was especially crucial after end of the Hapsburg period, which left devastating poverty and few public works.
In Bourbon Madrid we are especially in King Carlos III’s Madrid (1716-1788). Under him, the city went from severe underdevelopment to being compared with Enlightenment Paris. Madrid still calls King Carlos III ‘the city’s best mayor.’
Bourbon sites in Madrid reflect the Enlightenment era and its investment in the arts and sciences. The Bourbons built beautiful public spaces and parks that citizens continue to enjoy today. These are scattered all across central Madrid, from the Royal Palace on one end and the Puerta del Alcalá and Retiro Park at the other. They include world-class museums and large parks.
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The best place to begin is where it began for many Madrileños during this era, the Palacio del Arzobispo, where people registered all the city’s births, marriages, and deaths. From here, head east toward the Royal Palace. Then, loop from there back west to the famous kilometer zero point of the nation at the Puerta del Sol.
From the Puerta del Sol, continue west on the Calle de Alcalá. This will take you past the stunning fine arts museum, Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, two Bourbon churches, Iglesia de las Calatravas and Iglesia de San José, two palaces, the Palacio de Buenavista and Palacio de Linares, and conclude at the Puerta de Alcalá.
From here you have a few choice. One is to backtrack to the Paseo del Prado and turn south to take in its three mythic fountains. These are the Fuente de la Cibeles, Fuente de Apolo and Fuente de Neptuno. Next, visit the Museo del Prado. Or, head straight to the Parque del Buen Retiro, and from there, the wilder and more intimate botanical gardens, the Jardín Botánico.
Be sure to check out the Madrid Food and Wine itinerary for very Madrileño suggestions for where to eat and drink, and rest a bit, while taking on this epic aspect of Madrid’s past and present.