If you just visited Spain’s beautiful capital for the first time, you might want to go straight to Plaza Mayor Madrid; there’s no doubt that this popular enclosed and pedestrianized square is one of the city’s most important attractions.
Known before as the Plaza Arrabal, the square was first an arena where ancient bullfighting games were held, and so, you can only imagine how noisy the square used to be then, what with the boisterous spectators of the game. I myself was surprised upon knowing about the initial purpose of the square. Obviously, a substantial part of Spanish bullfighting history occurred in this place.
During the early days, fiesta and carnival activities were commonplace scenes in the plaza. Also, at the height of the dreaded Inquisition, heretics and other criminals were persecuted within the area. Those found guilty were put to death by burning or strangulation.
Today’s Plaza Mayor Madrid
One thing you would notice is the uniform appearance of the facade of the structures found on all sides. The buildings also possess the same structural feature, specifically porticoes (porch) at the their front or roof structures over walkways. The thick columns provide support to these structures as they surround the whole square.
The appearance of the plaza was not always like it it now. In the late 1800’s, it was ravaged by a series of fires, and was only restored to its former greatness via the work of Senor Juan de Villanueva, Spain’s respected modern classical architect.
Things to do when in Plaza Mayor Spain
Did you know that the plaza takes on the shape of an almost perfect square? And that all its gates form beautiful aches? Thousands of people can be accommodated at the plaza, and because it is one of the most popular and accessible tourist sites in Centro Madrid, it never runs out of people.
Here are fun things that you can do inside the Mayor Plaza:
1. Dine at any of the plaza’s many restaurants (must get table at the terrace)
Plaza Mayor’s sides are lined with many popular restaurants and cafes. I suggest that you opt for the restaurante that offers terrace dining, as it meant the chance to enjoy the best views of exciting goings-in inside the plaza as you relish bocadillos, paella, or other delicious traditional Spanish cocido.
2.Eat bocadillo as you marvel at the beauty of the square
On a hurry to see the plaza? Can’t wait to have a bite on a delicious bocadillo de calamares? Pleasure, contentment, and satiated hunger are easily achieved just by snacking on some hot, take-away bocadillo as you check out the square at the same time. Sandwich bars and cafes are aplenty; these establishments are found on all sides of the square, with prices of bocadillos ranging from 2.70 to 5 euro apiece.
3. Have a picture of you in a chulapo
Do you want to see yourself garbed in a chulapo? Find those headless mannequins that are dressed in such costumes. All you need to do is pose behind any of these mannequins and have someone take your photo, and Voila! You have a souvenir pic of yourself looking smart in this particular traditional Spanish costume. All for a fee, of course.
4. Visit the Tourism Information Center Office
Housed at the Casa de la Panaderia, the city tourism agency they will help you come up with the best tour itinerary. They also provide free maps and brochures. Needless to say, the tourist information centre at the square is the most modern tourism information agency in the country. It offers assistance to local and foreign tourists all days of the year, starting at 9:30AM.
5. Purchase Madrid souvenir items to remember your visit by
Souvnir paradise, that’s what Mayor Plaza is – the place is where you’ll find Madrid mugs, dolls, abanicos, Real Madrid shirts, Flamenco figurines, and so many more. You will have a grand time choosing souvenirs as there are just many shops around to go to. Most offer fine quality souvenir items, all of which will help you cherish your Madrid Spain vacation.
6. Have a dose of rich Spanish history
I. Arco de los Cuchilleros
There are more or less ten entrance gates to the square, the most popular of which is Arco de Cuchilleros (Arch of Catlers) on the southwestern corner of the square that leads to street of the same name. In this street, the knive-makers’ factories were found, and were there wares are made, to be sold to the butchers that worked in the plaza (Casa de la Carniceria)
II. Felipe III and horse bronze statues
A very impressive sculpture, a creation of Giambologna and Tacca, the Philip III statue and his horse statues are two highly valued art creations of the 17th century. The original location of the statues was actually not at Plaza Mayor, but Casa de Campo. In 1848, it was transferred to the square upon the request of Reina Isabel II. She intended it to be seen and appreciated by more residents of Madrid.
III. Casa de la Panadería
Casa de la Panaderia, built by Sillero by the end of the 16th century, reveals an original portion that separates it from the rest of the buildings that surround the square. Actually the only original parts of the building was the first floor and cellar. Still, as you can observe, the buildings around the square are identical in design — they were patterned after that of Casa de la Panaderia.
IV. Gate Arch at Plaza Mayor
The arched entrance that opens to the Calle de Toledo experiences high pedestrian traffic since it is one of the touristy streets of the city
7. Join Free Tour
Take advantage of free tours that will take you to importnat spots and corners inside the square, but to other attractions of Madrid. Be alert for those who hold umbrellas the say “Free tours!”
8.Book at any of the hotels near Plaza Major Madrid
Hotel Plaza Mayor Madrid
Hotel Plaza Mayor Madrid is actually not inside the square premises but a few meters outside, at the corner of Calle de Atocha. Still it is the choice of many tourists who want to be just a stone’s throw away from the plaza and other important attractions like Puerta del Sol and Palacio Real. The facade is quite simple, yet you know a lot of history has transpired in this building since it has been in existence since the 1700s. A mix of traditional and modern design in its interior, the hotel is complete with high-tech facilities like modern lighting and free WiFi
Another must-book hotel if you want to stay near the Plaza is the Petit Palace, just along Calle de Arenal. It is strutegically located, right in the midst of of the city. In fact, you are only a few steps away from Plaza Mayor, which is why it is an ideal place to book a room if you want to be near to the square. It offers vital amenities like free Internet and an iPad for use in your room.
9. Meet up with friends, hang out at the plaza
Plaza Mayor is much like Puerto del Sol, it is also an ideal place to meet up with your friends if you’re in the city. After checking out every nook and corner of the square, your group can later proceed to other major Madrid attractions, like Plaza de Isabel II, Museo de los Canos del Peral, or even Jardines de Sabatini, to name a few. Many of these touristy sites are in close proximity to the place
10. Experience a merry Christmas at the square
Be a part of Christmas joy in Madrid by visiting its xmas bazaar. As the Yuletide season nears, the place transforms itself into a sort of wonderland for the whole family, where multi-colored lights, kiddie rides, street performances for the kids, and bazaars can be found in the square. The story of the Navidad is usually depicted in the form of clay figures of the men and women during the birth of Jesus, including the Holy Family itself. A miniature town of Bethlehem, where within these figures are positioned to play out the Nativity scenes, are on display in the middle of the square, for everyone to see.