AREAS OF MADRID MADRID CENTER
"Madrid de los Austrias" & La Latina
The area known as Austria's Madrid, or the Madrid of the Hapsburg, after the Austrian royal dynasty who reigned in Spain until 1700 is the oldest section of the city, so it's packed with historical attractions. You'll feel the charm of old medieval-reinassance Madrid in the narrow quiet streets around Plaza de la Villa, plaza de la Paja and, of course, at the Plaza Mayor.
This area also hosts the major Madrid festivals of San Isidro and Paloma festival where people dance in the traditional madrileño style called chotis.
A good place to start is Calle Mayor, which meets the southwest corner of Puerta del Sol. Calle Mayor is one of Madrid's oldest streets, but instead of continuing all the way down, first duck into any of the Plaza Mayor's many entrances on the southern side of the street.
The Plaza Mayor is probably the most important architectural and historical landmark in Madrid. This almost perfectly preserved, beautiful austere seventeenth-century arcaded square, was planned by king Philip II and the architect Juan Herrera as the public meeting place of the new capital: autos-da-fé (trials of faith) were held by the Inquisition here, kings were crowned, festivals and demonstrations staged, bulls fought and gossip spread. The more important of these events would be watched by royalty from the frescoed Casa Panadería, named after the bakery that it replaced, the colorful allegories of the frescos covering the facade date all the way back to...1992.
Today, the plaza still performs several public functions: in summer, it's an outdoor theatre and music stage; in autumn, a book fair... Just before Christmas it becomes a bazaar for festive decorations and religious regalia. Families take their children to see nativity scenes and madrileños of all ages buy wacky wigs sold around the plaza. The Christmas wigs have no religious or cultural significance -- Spaniards just seem to like them. There's also a tourist office right on the square --at the Casa de la Panadería- and numerous overpriced, touristy restaurants with outdoor seating perfect for people-watching.
Again at the calle Mayor, there is the Mercado de San Miguel a cute 1913 iron market.
Plaza de la Villa
About two-thirds of the way along calle Mayor is the Plaza de la Villa, almost a casebook of Spanish architectural development. The oldest survivor here is the Torre de los Lujanes, a fifteenth-century building in Mudéjar style, where the king of France was kept when he was made prisoner in 1525; next in age is the Casa de Cisneros, built by a nephew of Cardinal Cisneros in sixteenth-century Plateresque style; and to complete the picture is the Town Hall, begun in the seventeenth century, but later remodelled in Baroque mode. Baroque is taken a stage further around the corner in calle San Justo, where the church of San Miguel shows the unbridled imagination of its eighteenth-century Italian architects.
Right by the plaza, at calle Mayor 69, is the old Palacio de Cañete, where some of the first recorded stories of paranormal events in the city occurred, attributed to the wandering soul of the Marquis of Cañete in the 17th century, right where the Tourist Office headquarters are located.
El mercado de San Miguel
Coming out of the Plaza Mayor through the archway calle Ciudad Rodrigo we come across the Mercado de San Miguel Market, a cute 1913 iron market that houses the Gastródomo de San Miguel, a gourmet market of Spanish delicatessen, where you can taste and buy high quality products, and also have a bite, either tapas or a meal, with the advantages of an extended timetable.
Our tour of ancient Madrid continues to the end of Calle Mayor, crossing Calle Bailén and directly down Cuesta de la Vega. Here you'll find a section of the Muralla Árabe, one of the rare surviving artifacts of Islamic Madrid. Don't expect much -a small section that dates to the 9th century and another to the 12th, when Madrid was under early Christian rule.
The Arab Wall faces the Cathedral de la Almudena, so head back up Cuesta de Vega and turn left to find the main entrance. Just past the Cathedral is the much more noteworthy Royal Palace. The elegant square in front of the Palacio is Plaza de Oriente, with the Teatro Real -Madrid's opera house- as its focal point. See section Puerta del Sol & Opera.
The Royal Palace is on Calle Bailén, and from this street you can reach the Viaducto de Segovia, which suspends Bailén street high over calle Segovia and makes it easy to go the beautiful baroque Iglesia de San Francisco el Grande on the other side.
The viaduct is one of the city´s recognisable landmarks, unfortunately, it is one of the places most frequently chosen for acts of suicide, and the raising of security screens has dampened the superb views over Madrid´s rooftops that it used to have.
From here, head up Carrera de San Francisco. Above lies the most happening part of Hapsburg Madrid, La Latina.
The Latina area is an attractive and often ignored part of old Madrid. In and around this area are the origins of Madrid. Its difficult to put precise boundaries on La Latina, because, like its immediate neighbours, streets are narrow and wind a lot, but for convenience, we will define its boundaries as the calles Bailen and Toledo, the Plaza Mayor and the Puetra de Toledo. Apart from being one of the most attractive parts of the city to wander about in, it is home to many particularly fine tapas bars, restaurants, and many spots for nightlife and social life centered in the plazas de San Andres, de la Cebada and de la Paja.
From San Francisco el Grande church, go up Carrera de San Francisco street. At the plaza de San Andrés, dominated by the dome of the Capilla de San Isidro, is the San Isidro Museum which shows the different of Madrid through the ages, from its beginnings as a Muslim stronghold to its birth as a metropolis. San Isidro Museum provides an account of Madrid´s archaeological past and the material, social and spiritual heritage of the various cultures that have lived here. It also contains an exhibition of the art and traditions associated with the patron saint of Madrid, Saint Isidro.
The street Cava Baja nearby has excellent restaurants, among which the reknown Lucio, and fashionable bars.
At the Plaza de la Cebada is the local covered market originally made of iron and glass, it was demolished in 1956 and rebuilt as we can see today. Look out for the calle Almendro and the famous tavern with the same name.
Not far is the Plaza de Cascorro, heart of the popular Sunday street market, or Rastro.
Plaza de la Paja
Here the visitor will be reminded that while the Plaza Mayor was once a small dusty square on the edge of town, the Plaza de la Paja (Hay) was were the real city centre lay. Its name derives from the fact that it served as the auctioning centre for hay being resold by the caretakers and foremen of convent lands, who thus paid their use of lands with a tithe, for the privilege of using church lands.
It is a quiet atmospheric place with cafés and terraces.
The walled garden of the Prince of Anglona is located next to the like-named palacio. It is a haven of tranquil repose from which to observe the goings-on in the Plaza de la Paja.
From this square one can seen the Mudejar-style tower of the church of San Pedro El Viejo (the Elder), from the 14th century. Besides the artistic and religious interest it inspires, there is a legend surrounding the church: it says that the first bell to ring from the tower bellfry raised and hung itself up in the tower unaided. The story tells that when it was hoisted on many backs and the attempt was made to bring it up, it got stuck among the tower walls. The workers gave up and went to take a break from their labour; when they returned the next day, to their great surprise, the belll was already hanging in its designated place.
The charming plaza del Alamillo (small poplar tree) is not far. It is where the seat of the Arab court was thought to have stood, in the days when Madrid was Mayrit, the Arab city founded in the 9th century. There is a mexican restaurant on the corner with a priviledge terrace during the good weather days.
On this section
Almudena Cathedral and Arab walls
La Latina theatre
Typicalc calamari bocatas in tapas bars around Plaza Mayor
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