The current Royal Palace was built by the first Bourbon king, Felipe V, after the prior Alcazar was destroyed in 1734 by a fire. (The term alcazar carried over in Spanish from Arabic, al-qasr, meaning castle or palace, and was often used long after the Muslim presence in Spain to refer to royal residences.)
The current palace reflects the Enlightenment era and Parisian influences of the 18th century. Inside, the 18th century décor has been retained. The royal family does not live here but they do use it for high profile ceremonial events.
Felipe V died before the palace was completed. If he had not, it would likely have been larger than the current vastness of some 2,800 rooms. His son, Carlos III continued the work with his appointed royal architect, Francisco Sabatini, a native of Italy who worked much of his life in Spain.
One of Sabatini’s ideas was to place all along the outer edges of the roof the 108 kings of Spain, beginning with the Visigothic king Ataúlfo, from AD 417.
These 108 kings were commissioned and carved and ready to be placed on the palace roof but the proposed plan took place around the same time as the earthquake of 1755, which destroyed Lisbon in Portugal and Meknes in Morocco, so it had to have been felt in Spain.
The queen mother, Isabel de Farnesio, had nightmares of all these statues tumbling and crushing her to death and saw it as a bad omen for the royal family. As such, the plan was
abandoned: Honoring his mother’s wishes, in 1760 Carlos III had the statues placed in storage vaults beneath the palace.
There they remained until 1842 during the reign of Isabel II, who had the statues distributed around Madrid and other cities to beautify parks and public spaces. Many are in the Plaza de Oriente and the Retiro Park, among other popular public spots in Madrid.
Some statues are also holding court in the open air in Toledo, Burgos, Logroño, and Vitoria.
A favorite of mine is Ramiro II of León (AD 931-951) who gazes longingly at the royal palace from the nearby Plaza de Oriente.
If you are walking, your next stop is the Puerta del Sol, kilometer zero of Madrid and Spain.