The Plaza Mayor
The Plaza Mayor, (The Old Square), is one of the most visited areas in the center of Madrid; just a minute's walk from Puerta del Sol, the plaza began as an Arab market and was known at the time of the 16th century as the Plaza del Arrabal. In 1576 King Philip the first asked a renowned architect, Juan de Herrera to look at the old chaotic market, Plaza del Arrabal, with a view to modernization.
The eventual construction did not start until Philip III's reign in 1617, the Plaza Mayor that we see today was again reconstructed in 1790, by Juan de Villanueva after a series of large fires had destroyed the construction work carried out in the 17th century. Right in the middle of Plaza Mayor you will see the remarkable bronze statue of Philip III on horseback placed in recognition of his contribution to the work completed in the square. Philip ruled as king of Spain, Portugal and the Algarves, where he ruled as Philip II, from 1598 until his death in 1621.
The Plaza Mayor and around
With its beautiful Renaissance architecture, bordered internally with Shops, Cafes, Restaurants and Bars, the Plaza Mayor is a sun trap and a perfect place to have a coffee in one of the many covered terraced areas surrounding the inner walls of square, you will be amazed at the atmosphere and the incredible architecture, whilst watching many acts such as musicians and buskers as well as acrobats and all kind of entertainers ply their trade to the visiting public from all over the world.
Taking a walk through the Plaza Mayor, it is sometimes difficult to imagine some of the former uses in days gone by of the square, the Plaza Mayor held host to many different events, including markets, weddings, royal coronations, soccer games, bullfights and even public executions in its darker days of the Spanish Inquisition, which was known as, "auto de fé", (Act of Faith) against non-Catholics, which was intensified after the royal decrees issued in 1492 and 1501 ordering Jews and Muslims who would not change to Catholicism or leave the country, were subjected to a ritual of public penance by heretics including beheading, after a judicial sentencing, the Spanish Inquisition was finally abolished in 1834.
As well as many typical Spanish tapas bars surrounding the area, you will also find very close by las cuevas (the caves), these are specialist bars with one main theme and that is their specialty on food, for example La Casa de La Tortilla de Patata, (The House of The Spanish Potato Omelette) or La Casa del Jamòn, (The House of Cured Ham), definitely a must try experience. If you prefer a more home from home bar, you might want to visit the Irish theme bar "Ulysses", formerly known as Moores, right next to Plaza Mayor.