Plaza Mayor is a historical arcaded square in the heart of the Madrid de los Austrias (Hapsburg Madrid), the city’s old town. One of the city’s tourist icons that serves as a social and cultural meeting place.
Built on the site of the old late-15th century town market, in 1617 the architect Juan Gómez de Mora was commissioned to endow its buildings with a uniform structure in the style of Castilian architecture. A rectangular, cobblestoned square, 129 metres long by 94 metres wide, which is completely enclosed by three-storey residential buildings, with a total of 237 balconies overlooking the square.
It has nine entrance gates, of which the most well-known is the Arco de Cuchilleros, the Arch of the Knife Makers, in the southwest corner of the square. This entrance was created during the reconstruction carried out by the architect Juan de Villanueva in 1790, who reduced the façades by two floors and closed off the square at the corners.
Due to the monumental nature of this entrance arch, the steps that lead down the steep slope, the buttress-like inclined façades, and the picturesque buildings that surround it, this is one of the most photographed places in Madrid.
In keeping with its old market tradition, at the centre of the south side we find the Casa de la Carnicería (the Butcher’s House) and opposite it, the Casa de la Panadería (the Bakery’s House), an emblematic Baroque building which is currently the headquarters of the city’s main tourist office. Its façade is decorated with beautiful murals, full of mythological references, which reflect the history, traditions, and identity of Madrid as the capital of Spain. Of particular note inside are the Salón Real (the Royal Hall), one of the city’s historical sites and one-time apartments of the king, and the Sala de Bóvedas (the Vaulted Room).
Supported by granite pillars, the arcades contain bars and restaurants whose terraces cover the corners of the square. The statue of Philip III presides over the square from its very centre. This equestrian sculpture was designed by Juan de Bolonia and completed by Pietro Tacca in 1616. It is one of the most important pieces in bronze of monumental statuary in the Mannerist style.
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