Plaza Mayor – This Madrid Square has been the Scene of Many Historical Events:
Plaza Mayor is one of Madrid’s main tourist attractions. This Madrid square is the most likely venue for visitors having a drink at one of the many cafes and enjoying the Spanish sunshine. However, things have not always been so peaceful on this square.
Plaza Mayor in the Past
Over the centuries events that have drawn crowds to the Madrid’s Plaza Mayor have ranged from political battles and gory public executions to fiery bullfights and soccer games, as well as lively festivals such as the celebrations for San Isidro. Fortunately, present day visitors no longer have to be very concerned about witnessing any beheading or an “auto de fé” (a ritual of public penance by heretics, after a judicial sentencing by the Spanish Inquisition).
Established centuries earlier, the Plaza Mayor took its approximate current shape in 1790 after the most recent fire. The brainchild of Felipe II, as part of his effort to make Madrid the capital of Spain, it was completed in 1619 under the auspices of Felipe III. The equestrian statue in the centre of the Plaza serves as a reminder to all of its patron.
Although the square has also been called by many names over the centuries (originally it was called the “Plaza del Arrabal”) and subject to several fires, it retains its allure.
Plaza Mayor Today
Not large by some standards, Plaza Mayor measures about 129 x 94 metres and can hold some 50,000 spectators. Whether cheering and dancing during one of Madrid’s many festivals or gawking and horrified at one of Spain’s many public executions, Plaza Mayor has always served as a public square.While not an architectural work of art, Plaza Mayor is one of the best places in Madrid to relax and watch the mix of locals and visitors. With its painted facades, the Casa de la Panadería, previously a bakery, is the fanciest part of the arcaded construction. The building now houses the Madrid Tourism Board and the Madrid tourist office on the ground floor.
The residential buildings surrounding the square provide convenient perches for those fortunate to live in the apartments and who want to look down on the events taking place below.
There are dozens of cafes, bars and restaurants on the square and the surrounding shops selling antiques, coins, souvenirs and military memorabilia and a variety of other choices also offer a good reason for a pleasant stroll. If you visit Plaza Mayor on a Sunday, the square is the venue for a collectors’ market.
What’s Nearby the Plaza Mayor
Just off Plaza Mayor there are many tapas bars and restaurants, especially in Calle Cava de La San Miguel. The famous Mercado de San Miguel and Madrid Rastro flea market are also within easy reach of Plaza Mayor.
Like any big city, petty crime is not unknown there. Tourists should be aware of their surroundings and take appropriate cautions to avoid being taken advantage of. Paranoia would be extreme, but prudence is definitely called for.
Though one is unlikely to see a royal coronation, looking around it isn’t difficult to imagine what the scene must have been like during some of the historical events centred at the Plaza Mayor.