This marks where one of Madrid’s medieval city gates, considered the medieval city’s most important gate, once stood. It was called La Puerta de Guadalajára, the Guadalajára gate, because it opened in the direction a person left Madrid to travel toward the town of Guadalajára in the northeast. Try to imagine the gate, oriented east-west.
It marks the spot through which traffic not only left the city but entered the Plaza del Arrabal,
a plaza outside the city walls that existed in the 15th century. (Before that, it was an area sprinkled with puddles and lagoons, arrabales.)
By the reign of Enrique IV (1454-1474), the Plaza del Arrabal was the location of the Tuesday market. Over the next hundred years, more and more merchants, from butchers and fishmongers to bakers and produce sellers, began to sell their goods in the Plaza del Arrabal. By 1535 locals and merchants were calling this square the Plaza Mayor.
In 1591, Felipe II commissioned his court architect, Juan de Herrera, to improve the infrastructure of the Plaza Mayor. Felipe II’s improvements also brought the Plaza Mayor into the city proper where he could collect sales taxes on items sold. Until then, lying outside the city’s walls, goods sold in the Plaza Mayor were exempt from city taxes.
Work on the Plaza Mayor continued in 1617 with Felipe III and his architect Juan Gómez de Mora, thus completing Felipe II’s vision of a well-maintained main square for the city.