GUIDE TO MADRID
PROFILE OF MADRID
Madrid is a bustling, cosmopolitan city famous for its cultural activities and nightlife. Some of the country’s best theatres, museums, restaurants and nightclubs can be found in Madrid. Its centralized location within the Spanish territory grants it excellent access to other cities in Spain, and its ideal climate allows for clear sunny skies almost every day of the year.
Madrid surprises visitors with its majestic buildings, city squares and promenades. Here are some of the most prominent sights that should not be missed:
This portico lined square is situated at the heart of Hapsburg Madrid, the old part of the city and one of the capital’s most charming districts.
Before Madrid became a capital city, with its wide avenues and boulevards, its footprint consisted of narrow streets, alleys and passageways, which today take us back to the times of swashbuckling swordsmen and medieval rogues.
The foundations of Plaza Mayor were laid, when Philip II’s court moved to Madrid, on the site of the former Plaza del Arrabal, where the town’s most popular market was located towards the end of the 15th century. In 1617, architect Juan Gómez de Mora was commissioned to create a greater uniformity amongst the buildings in this location, which for centuries had hosted popular entertainments, bullfights, beatifications, coronations and revolts.
Palacio Real – Madrid Royal Palace
Home to the Kings of Spain from Charles III to Alfonso XIII, Madrid’s Royal Palace takes us on a journey through the history of Spain. Though it is no longer the royal family’s home, it continues to be their official residence.
Long before Madrid became the capital of Spain, Emir Mohamed I chose Magerit (the city’s Arabic name) as the site for a fortress to protect Toledo from the advancing Christians. The building was eventually used by the Kings of Castille until finally becoming what would be known as the Antiguo Alcázar (Old Fortress) in the 14th century. Charles I and his son Philip II turned the building into a permanent residence for the Spanish royal family. However, in 1734 a fire burnt the Palace of the Austrias to the ground, and Philip V ordered the construction of the palace that stands today.
Buen Retiro Park
The Buen Retiro Park is one of the largest parks of the city of Madrid, Spain. The park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. The Retiro Park captivates vistors with its lake, Crystal Palace, Statue of the Fallen Angel, Velázquez Palace and Galápagos Fountain.
Palacio de Cibeles
The stunning Palacio de Cibeles is not only the headquarters of Madrid City Council, it is also home to CentroCentro. A recent addition to the renowned Paseo del Arte, the cultural center boasts a packed program of activities that revolve around the city and includes exhibitions, workshops, conferences and concerts. Like the eighteenth century Cibeles fountain on the same square, the palace has become an emblematic monument of the city.
Madrid’s cathedral, which stands directly in front of the Royal Palace, has a short but tortuous history. The first plans for the church were drawn up in 1879 as pantheon for the late Queen Maria de la Mercedes. The foundation stone was laid in 1883, but when Pope Leo XIII granted a bull in 1885 for the creation of the Madrid-Alcalá bishopric, the plans for the church were changed in favor of a cathedral. The Almudena Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid. The cathedral was consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1993.
Puerta del Sol
This bustling square is one of the city’s most famous sites. With its semi-circular shape, it is a junction for many of the city’s historical and busiest streets such as Mayor, Arenal, Alcalá and Preciados, as well as the starting point for all major radial roads in Spain with marker km 0.
Puerta del Sol was originally the site of one of the city’s gates. Sitting atop the Casa de Correos building – the current headquarters of the Madrid regional government – you’ll find the famous clock that all eyes turn to on the last day of the year. For over a century now tradition has it that people across the country usher in the New Year by eating 12 lucky grapes to the twelve chimes of midnight struck beneath this clock.
Templo de Debod
If you want to take in the best views of Madrid, we recommend visiting the Mirador del Templo de Debod, where you can admire spectacularly stunning sunsets as well as an Egyptian temple dating back to the 2nd century BC, dismantled, transported and rebuilt in Madrid’s Cuartel de la Montaña Park. The shrine was originally erected 15 kilometers south of Aswan in Upper Egypt. As a sign of gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples, the Egyptian state donated the temple of Debod to Spain in 1968.
Paseo del Arte
Paseo del Arte (Art Promenade) is also known as the Golden Triangle of Art. Along a 2 kilometer stretch, three of the world’s finest art collections and art repository Museums are to be found – The Prado Museum with its fantastic royal collection of art, which comprises works from the Spanish, Flemish and Italian schools, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum housing a spectacular collection of the evolution of European painting from the Middle Ages to the late twentieth, and the Reina Sofia Modern Art Museum as a continuation of the Prado Museum, displaying artworks from the late nineteenth century to the present day.