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The history of Madrid

Medieval Madrid

14TH AND 15TH CENTURIES: Puerta del Sol-Calle Mayor-Plaza de la Villa. There are two buildings in the Plaza de la Villa dating from the Middle Ages: the Casa (house) and the Torre (tower) de los Lujanes (15the century), where King Francis I of France was held prisoner following the Battle of Pavia. The building to the right of it with a Mudejar doorway if the Hemeroteca Municipal, which contains more than 70.000 bound volumes of newspapers printed in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Puerta del Sol-Calle Mayor-Calle del Nuncio-Plaza del Marqués de Comillas. Just beyond the Plaza de la Villa, to the right of the Calle Mayor, there is an alley leading up to San Nicolás de los Servitas, the oldest church in Madrid. It has a Moorish style tower which evokes the days of the Arab occupation. There is another interesting church to the left of the Calle Mayor, beyond the Calle del Sacramento and the Calle del Nuncio: the church of San Pedro el Real or el Viejo, the belltower of which shows traces of the Mudejar style. Close by the Plaza del Marqués de Comillas. Formerly known as the Plaza de la Paja, a square that was very important in the Middle Ages. The Morería, or old Moorish Quarter, spreads between this square, the Plaza de la Cruz Verde, El Alamillo and the Ronda de Segovia, and ends up at the modern Viaduct.

Madrid under the Habsburgs

16TH AND 17TH CENTURIES: Puerta del Sol-Plaza Mayor. The Madrid that evokes the reign of the House of Austria is the first part to have achieved any architectural importance. It is centered round the Plaza Mayor, built by Philip III in 1619. There are nine arched gateways leading into this great square which was the hub of life in Renaissance Madrid. The finest building is the Casa de la Panadería ("Bakery"). In the early days bulls were fought on horseback in this square, and tournaments were held on one great occasion when five saints (St. Teresa, St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier, St. Isidro and St. Philip Neri) were simultaneously canonized. The square was also the scene of "autos de fe", the public punishments imposed by the Inquisition, and Philip V, Ferdinand VI and Charles IV were each proclaimed King there.

In the Plaza de Santa Cruz, is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was built by Crescendi in 1634. He along with Juan de Herrera, who built the Segovia Bridge over the Manzanares, was responsible for adding a distinct Spanish note to the early Renaissance formulas compounded in Italy. The Cathedral of San Isidro, in the nearby Calle de Toledo, was originally the Imperial Jesuit College. The Madrid Town Hall is set in the Plaza de la Villa and is the work of Gómez de la Mora. Near it is the Casa de Cisneros, built twenty years after the death of the famous Cardinal Regent of Spain. Just round the corner, in the Calle del Sacramento, is the Palacio de los Vargas, a 16th century building also called the House of San Isidro, which contains several curious relics. The Capilla del Obispo (Bishop's Chapel), in the Plaza del Marqués de Comillas dates from the same century and contains one of the finest reredoses produced in the Renaissance. Then, rather more out of the way, in the Avenida de la Ciudad de Barcelona, 1, there is the Basilica of Atocha, which is in the process of being rebuilt.
Puerta del Sol-Plaza de las Descalzas Reales-Plaza de Oriente. Turning off the Calle del Arenal to the right, up the Calle de San Martín, the visitor will find the Plaza de las Descalzas. This little square owes its name to the Convent founded there by Doña Juana de Austria, daughter of the Empeor Charles V. The convent in question is now an interesting museum. The Convent of La Encarnación, standing in the Plaza of the same name, is also open to visitors, and was founded by the wife of Philip III. The architect who built the church was Gómez de Mora (1616). The equestrian statue of Philip IV to be seen in the middle of the Plaza de Oriente is quite the finest piece of sculpture in Madrid. It was cast in bronze by the Florentine sculptor Tacca, from a design by Velázquez; it weights nine tons.

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