The plaza was created as a city center for the new capital, Madrid, where the Spanish royal court relocated from Toledo in the mid-16th century. Construction began in 1617, during the reign of King Philip III, who is memorialized by an equestrian statue in the center.
The square was built on the site of the market at Plaza del Arrabal, and was later called Plaza de la Constitución, Plaza Real, Plaza de la República and finally Plaza Mayor.
The plaza has seen almost as many fires as it has names. It had to be rebuilt after blazes in 1631, 1670 and 1790. It now consists of three stories, nine archways and 237 balconies.
The site of bullfights, coronations and executions during the Spanish Inquisition, the plaza is now home to shops, restaurants and an annual Christmas market.
Madrid has marked this year’s anniversary with lectures, screenings and music and dance performances. For a few days recently, the plaza was also covered with grass. “I wanted to recover the spirit of that green space,” the artist behind the project, SpY, told El País, citing the plaza’s history as earth and garden.
This portico lined square is situated at the heart of Hapsburg Madrid, the old part of the city and one of the capital’s most charming districts.
Before Madrid became a capital city, with its wide avenues and boulevards, its footprint consisted of narrow streets, alleys and passageways, which today take us back to the times of swashbuckling swordsmen and medieval rogues.
The foundations of Plaza Mayor were laid, when Philip II's court moved to Madrid, on the site of the former Plaza del Arrabal, where the town's most popular market was located towards the end of the 15th century. In 1617, architect Juan Gómez de Mora was commissioned to create a greater uniformity amongst the buildings in this location, which for centuries had hosted popular entertainments, bullfights, beatifications, coronations and the occasional auto de fe.
Casa de la Panadería
Casa de la Panaderia was built by Diego Sillero around 1590, but only the cellar and the ground floor of the original building remain today. It nevertheless served as the model copied by the rest of the buildings around the square. Included amongst the numerous functions it has held in the past is that of the principal bakery of the town, which fixed the price of bread so that the neediest residents could afford to buy it. It has also been the venue of royal lodgings, the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and the History Academy. At present it is home to the Plaza Mayor Tourist Center. The decoration we can see today on the façade was not always the same in the past due to numerous reforms and restorations. The murals on the façade, the work of Carlos Franco, represent mythological figures connected to the history of Madrid, such as the goddess Cybele.
Arco de Cuchilleros
On several occasions, fire has played a major role in configuring the square's appearance. The most devastating one occurred in 1790, which led to its reconstruction by architect Juan de Villanueva who lowered the building fronts by two storeys, enclosed the square at its corners and constructed nine entrance arches. Due to its monumental appearance, the most well-known of the arches is the Arco de los Cuchilleros with its steep steps leading up to the square. The picturesque buildings along this street catch the eye due to their height and leaning façades serving as buttresses. Its name, Cuchilleros, derives from the cutlers' workshops once located here who supplied the knives to the butchers in Plaza Mayor, where Casa de la Carnicería, at one time the general meat deposit, is located.
Statue of Philip III
The statue of the king on horseback is one of the most valuable works of art to be found on the streets of Madrid. Designed by Giambologna and completed by Pietro Tacca in 1616, it watched over the entrance to Casa de Campo for centuries until, in 1848, Queen Isabel II borrowed it for the city, placing it in Plaza Mayor. Only during the two Republics has the statue been removed from what is perhaps Madrid's most emblematic square.
For four centuries Plaza Mayor has been Madrid’s courtyard, a square that is both uniform and diverse, a rendezvous for locals and visitors to the city, a place like no other.
2017 marks 400 years since the first stone was laid and the events organised to commemorate this special anniversary will serve as a reminder of the square’s undeniable role as one of the city’s main cultural hubs. The jubilee’s programme will comprise cultural, artistic, commercial and social initiatives which will breathe new life into this popular square that is at once beautiful and harmonious, courtly and popular, plain and lively. Madrileños and visitors alike are invited to celebrate together 400 years of history.
A Comprehensive Programme
Commemorations kicked off on 17 February with an immersive 360º projection mapping to illustrate the history of the square.
The impressive event was just the start of what promises to be an action-packed official programme, though. In 2017 the city’s biggest events (San Isidro, Veranos de la Villa, Jazz Festival and Christmas) will make a stop at the square because this year Plaza Mayor is undoubtedly the place to be seen. For now, jot down these dates in your diary because you won’t want to miss out:
The four seasons (June, July, September and December. Upcoming dates: 28 to 30 Sep and 1 Oct): Coinciding with each of the four seasons, four prestigious innovative artists will be invited to intervene in the space of the Plaza Mayor and turn it into a kind of artistic playground for all ages, providing exceptional live artistic experiences for citizens.
Easter: Flamenco Saetas: Three Generations (14-15 April): Five flamenco singers from three different generations will reveal the evolution and wealth of this art and will offer their songs to the four brotherhoods that will pass through the Square in procession on Easter Friday, culminating their offering with an outstanding newly created choral.
Madrid Capital of Peace. Screening 2017. Imagining other possibilities (20-21 April): Activity within the Madrid Capital of Peace Forum, a worldwide meeting on urban violence and education for coexistence and peace. In order to bring photography onto the street and become an annual outdoor screening event in the heart of Madrid, this first edition kicks off in the Plaza Mayor: under the theme of imagining other possibilities, with a large screen offering an international selection of contemporary videographic pieces.
The Words Market (2 and 9 September, 14, 28 and 29 October): The Plaza Mayor will host this open air market on different dates, with stands inviting passers-by to participate. They will find a different and innovative proposal to get closer to words: listening, guessing, completing, imagining, buying and selling without money, exchanging, tasting…
Zarzuela in the Street. The Zarzuela Theatre sings in the Plaza Mayor (15 May) The Zarzuela Theatre, which has so much in common with the essence of our Square, joins in the celebration of its 4th Centenary by coming out onto the street: to mark the San Isidro festivities, we will be able to enjoy a show with singers, dancers, choir and orchestra, written and presented by Enrique Viana and with musical direction by Óliver Díaz.
Andante. Performing arts meeting in the street (2, 3 and 4 June): a programme of new circus, object theatre, humour, music, dance shows… Multi-disciplinary artists who make the street their stage and get the spectator to see a different view on a journey that will take them through different shows that are both surprising and unexpected.
Get your Portrait Madrid! A PHotoEspaña activity in the Plaza Mayor (5 July to 31 August): a photographic set, two Spanish photographers and numerous improvised models: this is the proposal of this playful and dynamic activity in which the people of Madrid and visitors will be able to portrayed by leading photographers who will capture their friendliest, most pleasant and funniest side....
Music for the 4th Centenary. Concert by the Bankia Symphonic Orchestra (24 June): orchestra, made up of young professional musicians, commemorates the 400 years of the Plaza Mayor, offering a concert which combines classical and popular music.
Screening of the zarzuela, Luisa Fernanda (1 July): A giant screen will enable us to enter the Royal Theatre without leaving the Plaza Mayor: this is a unique opportunity to see one of its most renowned international performances, in coproduction with the Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera. One of the world’s greatest performers can be hears and seen in high definition and in the open air: Plácido Domingo and Nancy Herrera who, along with José Bros and Mariola Cantarero, will star in Emilio Sagi’s brilliant production of the great zarzuela by Moreno Torroba, directed by Jesús López Cobos.
A Film Concert (8 July): screening of over fifty clips, from the 1950s to the present day, in which the Plaza Mayor plays an important role, with a live tribute concert to our films by the Municipal Symphonic Band.
Veranos de la Villa Summer Festival: Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (12 July): the Veranos de la Villa festival joins the programme with a very special performance: the Spanish National Choir, directed by Miguel Ángel García Cañamero, is to offer a concert of one of the great symphonic-choral works of the twentieth century in the Plaza Mayor: Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff (1895-1982), in its version for two pianos and percussion.
TEDxMadridSalon (14 July): At sunset, you will be able to listen to 7 speakers explaining, performing, experiencing the many squares of this square. The Square is a place of harmony and pooling of different voices, opposing voices, understood as a place of assembly and symbol of democracy.
Liceu a la Fresca (21 July): Live screening of Il Trovatore from the Barcelona Liceu free of charge, in order to bring culture, and particularly opera, closer to the whole of Spain. Live retransmission of Liceu a la Fresca, the latest production of the opera by Verdi, staged by Joan Anton Rechi.
Tour Guide School (3, 10, 17 and 24 September. 1, 15, 22 and 29 October): Are you aged between 8 and 14 years old? Would you like to discover more about Madrid’s Plaza Mayor in a fun way? Would you like to be the one to teach your friends and family all about it? Secrets, curious facts and mysteries await you…
Literature in the Square. Poetic Jousting (15, 16 and 17 September): to mark the opening of the Plaza Mayor and coinciding with the beatification of San Isidro Labrador, Lope de Vega was responsible for organising some poetic jousting, literary events that brought writers together in order to stimulate the creativity of novel poets. Four centuries later, the art of the word is back in a proposal that will bring together literary groups and writers.
Spanish National Dance Company: Don Quijote Suite & Minus 16 (23 September): José Carlos Martínez’s company is to perform two of the most successful works in its repertoire in the Plaza Mayor.
Lecture Series by the Institute of Madrid Studies (3 Oct to 19 Dec): Marking the IV Centenary of the Plaza Mayor, the Institute of Madrid Studies, in collaboration with Madrid City Council, is running a series of lectures at the Casa de Panadería delivered by different expert speakers, most of whom are members of the Institute.
Baroque festivities in Madrid de Los Austrias: Pagan Gods and Christian Saints (7 October): Like the great street theatre it was, venue for the parties of the city and the kingdom, the Plaza Mayor regains its essence with a great event: a majestic Baroque Party that reflects the history of Madrid, and the mythological comedies that were performed in the era of the Habsburgs.
Madrid’s First Book and Publishing Fair (27 Oct to 5 Nov): in the middle of autumn, Madrid will become a City of Bookstores and Publishing, running parallel to the Ñ Festival, turning the city into an unmissable destination for lovers of reading and books. The fair will bring together over 60 publishers and bookstores, showcasing the latest proposals from the literary market in Spain, focusing particularly on publishing in Madrid. Attendees can enjoy a range of firms and literary activities aimed at different audiences.
With the advent of Christmas, Madrid’s Plaza Mayor becomes a huge market where citizens and tourists can find all types of Nativity Scene figures, Christmas musical instruments, toys and jokes.
Christmas is coming and so is one of the greatest traditions: the Plaza Mayor Market, which is back to celebrate the festive season with all those who come and visit its 104 stands. This edition brings some important changes, such as the new image of the stands: a triangular roof and they will be painted in Christmas and changes in the interior and exterior lighting. All of this is to mark the 4th centenary of Madrid’s emblematic square.
In the 17th century, Santa Cruz Square hosted a Christmas market where fruit and vegetables could be purchased, as well as decorations and presents. In the 19th century, its venue was established in this place and a regulation was drawn up to regulate sales. Since then, the Plaza Mayor was the market that sold turkeys, nougat and sweets, whilst Santa Cruz Square focused on stands with Nativity Scene figures, Christmas musical instruments, toys and jokes.
In the 1980s, the awnings were replaced with houses, an important change which remains to the present day. It is an event organised by the Plaza Mayor Christmas Market Association.
Llegó el otoño y en la plaza Mayor de Madrid brotó el césped. Esta mañana la plaza presentaba un aspecto campestre, con el empedrado sustituido por el verde, algo surreal, algo marciano, algo futbolístico. Madrileños y visitantes se movían confusos y extrañados sobre la hierba. Algunos hacían uso del césped: se sentaban, se tumbaban, aunque la mayoría (es el signo de los tiempos) preferían hacerse selfis. El hombre invisible, un Minion y otros personajes de la plaza aprovechaban para sacar más rendimiento a la jornada. El caballo metálico de Felipe III parecía querer bajar a trotar. Una niña daba volteretas. “¿Pondrán césped en todas plazas?”, se preguntaba un peatón.
Combate poético en la plaza Mayor
La plaza Mayor albergará una feria del libro en otoño
FOTOGALERÍA El verde llena la plaza Mayor
La respuesta es no, aunque quizás habría que planteárselo, dada la dureza de muchas de las plazas madrileñas. El césped de la plaza Mayor, cuya presencia parece transformar todo el concepto del espacio, es una intervención del artista urbano SpY que se enmarca dentro de los eventos con los que el Ayuntamiento celebra el cuarto centenario de este corazón de Madrid. En realidad el césped, que es natural y huele a campo, no cubre toda la plaza (deja espacio para las tradicionales terrazas), pero sí ocupa una buena parte: un gran y perfecto círculo en la parte central de 70 metros de radio, que asilvestra una superficie de 3.500 metros cuadrados. Se puede disfrutar hasta el 1 de octubre.
“La idea la sugirió la propia historia de la plaza; empezó siendo de tierra, luego fue un jardín con árboles y fuentes… Quería recuperar el espíritu de ese espacio verde. El simbolismo del círculo invita al encuentro, un punto central en el corazón de la capital donde espero que la gente pueda descubrir nuevos modos de disfrutarla”, explica el artista. El madrileño tiene una dilatada experiencia en esto de las intervenciones urbanas, siempre dándoles otra vuelta de tuerca a los espacios, con una mezcla de ingenio y mensaje que se ha dejado ver en Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, París, San Petersburgo, Colonia, Santiago de Chile o Nueva York.
Ha intervenido enormes fachadas, colgado una media luna nocturna de una grúa, plastificado coches de policía, modificado las líneas de campos de fútbol o canchas de baloncesto o llenado una medianera de decenas de inquietantes cámaras de seguridad, como hizo en 2013 en el barrio de Tetuán. “Me gusta generar algún tipo de reacción con mi trabajo”, concluye el artista, “procuro despertar y crear una conciencia más lúcida con mis intervenciones”.
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