Plaza Mayor

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The Center of Madrid Since the 16th Century

It was Felipe II who commenced the construction of the Plaza Mayor. Prior to this, the Plaza Mayor lay outside the city gates. (See Puerta de Guadalajara in the Medieval Madrid itinerary.)

The area of teh Palza Mayor had long been used as a market ground for food and wine merchants to bring their wares to the city for sale. It also helped them avoid sales taxes they would incur if they sold their goods within the city’s walls.

Part of Felipe II’s incentive was to include the Plaza Mayor into the city limits and extend the tax region.  Another incentive was to standardize the quality of food stuffs sold here, to guarantee that citizens got a good deal and fresh food. In this effort, Felipe II had two buildings designed to stand opposite each other on the square.

To one side, the building with the colorful mythic murals and its twin slate-roofed towers, you will see the Casa de la Panadería, the bread baker’s guild, which was the place where breads were weighed and tested for purity of ingredients before it could be sold at market. The Panadería was completed in 1619 by Felipe III—whose statue stands in the center of the square—and then was destroyed twice by fire, in 1670 and 1790, and rebuilt each time.

The murals are more recent additions, Belle Époque creations by Enrique Guijo in 1914. More
recently, the paintings were restored by Carlos Franco in 1992. Exactly across the plaza from the Panadería stands its mirror-image cousin, but without murals, the Casa de la Carnicería, the butcher’s guild, whose parallel purpose was to check the quality and weight of meat.

The Plaza Mayor was completed and enclosed under Felipe III’s rule, commissioning the design and work of architect Juan Gómez de Mora. These were, and in some ways still are, coveted apartments in which to live.

During Felipe II’s rule, when a public event was held in the square, such as a bull fight, a festival, or less appetizingly, an auto de fé, test of faith, of the Inquisition, people who owned an apartment with a balcony overlooking the square had to allow nobility to use them for prime seating to witness the spectacles below. (This also explains some of the ghost stories that come from the Plaza Mayor.)

If you are walking your way through Royal Madrid I – Hapsburg Madrid, your next stop is the ministry of external affairs, Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores (and location of the old Hapsburg jail).

At A Glance

Plaza Mayor

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