Plaza de la Villa & Around

sights / Squares & plazas

Plaza de la Villa & Around information

Location
Madrid , Spain
Getting there
Metro: Ópera
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There are grander plazas in Madrid, but this intimate little square is one of Madrid’s prettiest. Enclosed on three sides by wonderfully preserved examples of 17th-century Madrid-style baroque architecture (barroco madrileño ), it was the permanent seat of Madrid’s city government from the Middle Ages until recent years when Madrid’s city council relocated to the grand Palacio de Comunicaciones on Plaza de la Cibeles .

The 17th-century Casa de la Villa (old town hall), on the western side of the square, is a typical Habsburg edifice with Herrerian slate-tiled spires. First planned as a prison in 1644 by Juan Gómez de Mora, who also designed the Convento de la Encarnación , its granite and brick facade is a study in sobriety. The final touches to the Casa de la Villa were made in 1693, although Juan de Villanueva, of Museo del Prado fame, made some alterations a century later. The Salón del Pleno (council chambers) were restored in the 1890s and again in 1986; the decoration is sumptuous neoclassical with late-17th-century ceiling frescoes. Ask at the Centro de Turismo de Madrid about guided tours to the Casa de la Villa. Look for the ceramic copy of Pedro Teixeira’s landmark 1656 map of Madrid just outside the chambers.

On the opposite side of the square, the 15th-century Casa de los Lujanes is more Gothic in conception with a clear Mudéjar (a Moorish architectural style) influence. The brickwork tower was ‘home’ to the imprisoned French monarch François I and his sons after their capture during the Battle of Pavia (1525). As the star prisoner was paraded down Calle Mayor, locals are said to have been more impressed by the splendidly attired Frenchman than they were by his more drab captor, the Spanish Habsburg emperor Carlos I.

Currently closed to the public, the Casa de Cisneros , built in 1537 by the nephew of Cardinal Cisneros, a key adviser to Queen Isabel, is plateresque in inspiration, although it was much restored and altered at the beginning of the 20th century. The main door and window above it are what remains of the Renaissance-era building. It’s now home to the Salón de Tapices (Tapestries Hall), adorned with exquisite 15th-century Flemish tapestries.

The section of Calle Mayor that runs past the plaza witnessed one of the most dramatic moments in the history of early 20th-century Madrid. On 31 May 1906, on the wedding day of King Alfonso XIII and Britain’s Victoria Eugenia, a Catalan anarchist Mateu Morral threw a bomb concealed in a bouquet of flowers at the royal couple. Several bystanders died, but the monarch and his new wife survived intact, save for her blood-spattered dress. During the Spanish Civil War, Madrid’s republican government briefly renamed the street Calle Mateu Morral.

Just down the hill from the plaza are the 18th-century baroque remakes of the Iglesia del Sacramento , the central church of the Spanish army, and the Palacio del Duque de Uceda , which is now used as a military headquarters (the Capitanía General), but is a classic of the Madrid baroque architectural style and was designed by Juan Gómez de Mora in 1608.