Walking Tour of Hapsburg Madrid

Photo by Beebe Bahrami

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At the Height of the Spanish Empire

The Hapsburg Dynasty ruled Spain from 1506 to 1700. It had five kings in total. The first, Carlos I, was the best. Each successive monarch after him became worse and worse. The last, Carlos II, could hardly managed his own life, let alone that of a global empire. Ruling between the two Carlos’ were three Philips: Felipe II, Felipe III, and Felipe IV.

The Hapsburg Dynasty ruled over the rapidly expanding and global Spanish Empire. It also was a time of profound problems that arose from such an ambitious undertaking. Through poor management and with the decline of the empire, the Hapsburgs left Spain in severe economic and social crisis.

Felipe II made Madrid the Empire’s capital in 1561. Hapsburg buildings here are some of the city’s most remarkable, easily transporting a person back to the 16th century.

Hapsburg architecture was strongly influenced by the Hapsburg origins and rule over Austria, Flanders, and Germany. These structures reflect northern and central European aesthetics. These are especially evident in the symmetrical double towers, solid stone walls with brick inlay, and black slate roofs.

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A Walking Tour of Hapsburg Madrid

This itinerary makes for a wonderful walking tour, which best begins by stepping first into the Plaza Mayor. This central square is among the best surviving and beloved of Hapsburg works in Madrid.

Other achievements you’ll encounter along the way are some government buildings and many churches, convents and monasteries. These latter institutions house some of  Spain’s greatest artistic treasures, from the 16th century and after.

Just south of the Plaza Mayor is the church dedicated to Madrid’s patron saint, the Iglesia Colegiata de San Isidro Labrador. Near it you’ll find the important Hapsburg government building, the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores. Immediately to Plaza Mayor’s west is among Hapsburg Madrid’s important convents, the Convento de las Carboneras. It remains active and the resident sisters sell their famous cookies from a rotating wheel inside the entrance.

North from here, then west, walk along the main ceremonial street, the Calle Mayor, leading you straight to the Royal Palace, and near its northern end, the monastery, Monasterio de la Encarnación.

Just east from this monastery, you can continue to the nearby Convento de las Descalzas Reales, and the Hapsburg church, the Iglesia de San Ginés. This places you just north of the Plaza Mayor, completing a full, slightly meandering, circle.

One final Hapsburg site, the church, Iglesia San Jerónimo El Real, is further afield from from the Plaza Mayor and is best visited when you plan a trip to its neighbor, the Prado Museum. A beautiful church well worth the effort to get there, it also serves as a refreshing way to clear your head after soaking in so much of the incredible art next door.

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