Top historic sites in Madrid

Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor was built during Philip III"s reign (1598–1621) and is a central plaza in the city of Madrid. It is rectangular in shape, measuring 129 m × 94 m and is surrounded by three-story residential buildings having 237 balconies facing the Plaza. It has a total of nine entrance ways. The origins of the Plaza go back to 1577 when Philip II asked Juan de Herrera, a renowned Classical architect ...
Founded: 1617 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Royal Palace of Madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid) is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family at the city of Madrid, but it is only used for state ceremonies. Several rooms in the palace are regularly open to the public except during state functions. The palace is located on the site of a 9th-century Alcázar (Muslim-era fortress), near the town of Magerit, constructed as an outpost by Muhammad I of C ...
Founded: 1738-1755 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Almudena Cathedral

When the capital of Spain was transferred from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the seat of the Church in Spain remained in Toledo and the new capital had no cathedral. Plans to build a cathedral in Madrid dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena were discussed as early as the 16th century but even though Spain built more than 40 cities in the new world during that century and plenty of cathedrals, the cost of expanding and kee ...
Founded: 1879 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Oratorio del Caballero de Gracia

Oratorio del Caballero de Gracia is one of the best hidden architectural treasures in Madrid. This church looks small from the outside, but inside it unfolds into a neoclassical temple by Juan de Villanueva, which looks like a Roman basilica. Among its most noteworthy internal features are the single-piece granite columns, the vault and the sculptures of the Virgen del Socorro, signed by Francisco Elías in 1825, and of ...
Founded: 1786-1795 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is an art museum in Madrid, located near the Prado Museum on one of city"s main boulevards. It is known as part of the 'Golden Triangle of Art', which also includes the Prado and the Reina Sofia national galleries. The Thyssen-Bornemisza fills the historical gaps in its counterparts" collections: in the Prado"s case this includes Italian primitives and works f ...
Founded: 1992 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Museo Reina Sofía

The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS, also called the Museo Reina Sofía) is Spain"s national museum of 20th-century art. The museum was officially inaugurated in 1992, and is named for Queen Sofía. The museum is mainly dedicated to Spanish art. Highlights of the museum include excellent collections of Spain"s two greatest 20th-century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Cer ...
Founded: 1992 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Convent of Las Descalzas Reales

The Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, literally the 'Monastery of the Royal Barefooted', resides in the former palace of Emperor Charles V and Empress Isabel of Portugal. Their daughter, Joanna of Austria, founded this convent of nuns of the Poor Clare order in 1559. Throughout the remainder of the 16th century and into the 17th century, the convent attracted young widowed or spinster noblewomen. Each w ...
Founded: 1559 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Temple of Debod

The Temple of Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid. The shrine was originally erected 15 kilometres south of Aswan in Upper Egypt, very close to the first cataract of the Nile and to the great religious center in Philae dedicated to the goddess Isis. In the early 2nd century BC, Adikhalamani (Tabriqo), the Kushite king of Meroë, started its construction by buildin ...
Founded: 1972 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Puerta de Alcalá

The Puerta de Alcalá is a Neo-classical monument in the Plaza de la Independencia in Madrid. It is regarded as the first modern post-Roman triumphal archbuilt in Europe, older than the similar monuments Arc de Triomphe in Paris and Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Puerta de Alcalá was a gate of the former city walls built by Philip IV. It stands near the city center and several meters away from the main entra ...
Founded: 1778 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Museo del Prado

Museo del Prado is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It is widely considered to have one of the world"s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and the single best collection of Spanish art. Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture in 1819, it also contains important collection ...
Founded: 1819 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Sabatini Gardens

The Sabatini Gardens (Jardines de Sabatini) are part of the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, and were opened to the public by King Juan Carlos I in 1978. They honor the name of Francesco Sabatini (1722–1797), an Italian architect of the 18th century who designed, among other works at the palace, the royal stables of the palace, previously located at this site. In 1933, clearing of the stable buildings was b ...
Founded: 1933 | Location: Madrid, Spain

National Archaeological Museum of Spain

The National Archaeological Museum of Spain was founded in 1867 by a Royal Decree of Isabella II as a depository for numismatic, archaeological, ethnographical and decorative art collections of the Spanish monarchs. The museum was originally located in the Embajadores district of Madrid. In 1895, it moved to a building designed specifically to house it, a neoclassical design by architect Francisco Jareño, built ...
Founded: 1867 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Museum Cerralbo

The Museum Cerralbo houses the art and historical objects collections of Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, Marquis of Cerralbo, who died in 1922. The museum, which is housed in the former residence of its founder, opened in 1944. The building was built in the 19th century, according to Italian taste, and it was luxuriously decorated with baroque furniture, wall paintings and expensive chandeliers. It retains to a large e ...
Founded: 1944 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Basilica of San Francisco el Grande

The Royal Basilica of San Francisco el Grande is a Roman Catholic church in central Madrid. The main façade faces the Plaza of San Francisco, at the intersection of Bailén, the Gran Vía de san Francisco, and the Carrera de san Francisco. It forms part of the convent of Jesús y María of the Franciscan order. The convent was founded in the 13th century at the site of a chapel. The basilica was designed in a N ...
Founded: 1761-1768 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida

The Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida is a Neoclassical chapel, best known for its ceiling and dome frescoes by Francisco Goya. It is also his former burial place. The chapel was built in the general location of two prior chapels built in the 1730s, which were on the land of a farm called La Florida. The present structure was built by Felipe Fontana from 1792 to 1798 on the orders of King Carlos IV, who ...
Founded: 1792-1798 | Location: Madrid, Spain

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.