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To wander around this part of Madrid is to be constantly reminded of its regal associations. The Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales and the Monasterio de la Encarnación are both royal foundations, dating from the Hapsburg era, while work on the Palacio Real began in the reign of Felipe V. Joseph Bonaparte was king of Spain for only four years (1808–12), but he laid the plans for the Plaza de Oriente. Further afield, the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida was commissioned by Carlos IV.

The Virgin of Almudena

A niche in the wall next to the cathedral contains a statue of the Virgin. According to legend, the original was hidden from the Moors in the 8th century. More than 300 years later, it was re-discovered by Alfonso VI when part of the city wall fell away. On 9 November the statue is carried from the cathedral in solemn procession.



Sights

  1. Palacio Real

    Spain’s magnificent Royal Palace dominates the landscape in this part of the city, its sparkling, colonnaded façade looking out on to the lush grounds of the Campo del Moro .

    Palacio Real
  2. Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales

    This 16 century former royal palace and convent is a treasure trove of art and sculpture .

    Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
  3. Museo de América

    Spain’s links with the American continent have a long history, and this wonderful museum displays artifacts from all eras .

  4. Museo Cerralbo

    Don Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, Marqués de Cerralbo (1845–1922) was a poet, a politician and a compulsive collector, searching the world for artistic treasures that would adorn his palatial home. He bequeathed his collection to the state so that it could be enjoyed by others. Highlights include a majolica Nativity by Renaissance artist Andrea della Robbia (Porcelain Room) and El Greco’s Ecstasy of St Francis (Sacristy), but the pièce de résistance is Juderías Caballero’s History of Dance in the dome of the ballroom .

    • Calle de Ventura Rodríguez 17

    • Closed for restoration (call for opening times)

    • Dis. access

    • Adm (except Wed & Sun)

  5. Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida

    The hermitage dedicated to St Anthony of Padua was completed in 1798. Goya began work on his sublime frescoes in June and by December they were finished. It was on St Anthony’s Day (13 June) that a procession of unmarried girls would come to the hermitage to ask the saint to find them a husband.

    • Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida 5

    • Open 9:30am–8pm Tue–Fri, 10am–2pm Sat–Sun

    • Closed Mon, public hols

    • Dis. access

    • Free

  6. Monasterio de la Encarnación

    The convent was founded in 1611 by Margarita de Austria, wife of Felipe III, for daughters of the nobility. It was also the church of the Alcázar – a picture gallery linked the two buildings. Unfortunately, when the castle was destroyed by fire in 1734 the conflagration spread to the convent and many of its treasures were lost. A great deal remains however: 17th-century paintings by Ribera and Lucas Jordan; impressive sculptures, such as Christ Recumbent by Gregorio Fernández; embroidered vestments and liturgical gold and silverware. The guided tour takes in the cloister with its decoration of Talavera azulejos; the reliquary, where visitors are shown the phial containing the congealed blood of St Pantaleon; the carved stalls in the choir; and the church, designed by Ventura Rodríguez.

    • Plaza de la Encarnación 1

    • Open 10:30am– 12:45pm, 4–5:45pm Tue– Thu, Sat, 10:30am–12:45pm Fri, 11am– 1:45pm Sun; Closed 1 Jan, 6 Jan, Easter week, 1 May, 15 May, 27 Jul, 9 Nov, 24 Dec, 25 Dec, 31 Dec

    • Adm (except Wed for EU residents)

  7. Teatro Real

    The city’s state-of-the-art opera house re-opened in 1998 after a lengthy and expensive restoration. There were so many delays in constructing the original theatre that the architect, Antonio López Aguado, was long dead before the official opening in 1850 on Queen Isabel II’s birthday. Giuseppe Verdi wrote his opera The Force of Destiny for the Teatro Real in 1863 – he stayed at No. 6 Plaza de Oriente. The dimensions of the remodelled opera house are truly impressive: the architects calculate that the backstage area is large enough to contain the Telefónica building on Gran Vía .

    • Plaza de Oriente

    • Open for tours 10:30am–1pm Mon, Wed–Fri, 11am–1:30pm Sat, Sun

    • Closed Aug, 20 Dec–7 Jan

    • Dis. access

    • Adm

    Teatro Real
  8. Catedral de la Almudena

    There were plans to build a cathedral on the superb hilltop site since 18th century, but it was not until 1879 that the Marqués de Cubas got the go-ahead for his ambitious design; even then, only the Romanesque-style crypt was actually built. The cathedral was finally completed in the 1980s by architect Fernando Chueca Goitia and opened by Pope John Paul II in 1993. The Gothic interior comes as a surprise, as the exterior is Neo-Classical to harmonize with the Palacio Real. The magnificent bronze doors were installed in October 2000.

    • Calle de Bailén

    • Open 9am–8pm daily

    • Dis. access

    • Free

    Museum & dome

    • open 10am–2pm daily

    • adm

    Catedral de la Almudena
  9. Plaza de Oriente

    The focal point of this beautiful square is the bronze equestrian statue of Felipe IV, moved here from the Buen Retiro palace in 1842. The sculptor Pietro Tacca took advice from Galileo on the modelling of the rearing horse – the figure of the king was based on sketches by Velázquez. The statues of Spanish rulers were intended for the balustrade of the Palacio Real but they did not meet with royal approval.

    Plaza de Oriente
  10. Plaza de España

    A set piece of the Franco era, the huge square at the bottom of Gran Vía is dominated by Madrid’s first skyscrapers. The Edificio España (Gran Vía 86) was designed by the brothers Julien and Joaquín Otamendi in 1953. Four years later, the same architects built the even taller Torre de Madrid (Plaza de España 5). The building is currently unoccupied because it is up for sale. The monument at the centre of the square commemorates Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.

    Plaza de España
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