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Taking a walk in the capital of an empire

In the 16th century the House of Austria decided to move the imperial court to Madrid. King Philip II began the first construction works but it was his son Philip III who promoted urban development fit for the new capital. Despite having changed since then, after so many centuries the historic centre of Madrid still conserves the architectural marks of that time.

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The so-called Austrias neighbourhood, in the centre of Madrid, is the area in which many places and monuments built in the 16th and 17th centuries can be found, when the court of the Austrias was in the capital of Spain. Its narrow and irregular streets are lined with houses with sober and austere architecture, in keeping with the character of those monarchs. The best way to discover this part of the city, with its many shops and traditional taverns, is on foot. The route we propose can be covered on foot, in one morning or afternoon.  
We start at the Plaza Mayor square, a place in which all kinds of events took place back then: markets, bullfights, popular shows, autos-da-fé, etc. In the centre we find the statue of Philip III on horseback, the king that commissioned its construction to finalise the remodelling of the space where the old Plaza del Arrabal square used to be. The current look is the result of the renovation carried out by Juan de Villanueva, after a fire in 1790.
The Casa de la Panadería survived the fire. Its façade has fresco paintings featuring mythological and flower motifs, and characters from the history of Madrid. Opposite we can see the Casa de la Carnicería, which used to store meat and today it houses municipal offices. In the arcade on that side we can see the Cuchilleros Arch. The entrances to the square can also be seen on the route towards the Santa Cruz Palace, which houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Situated in the neighbouring Plaza de la Provincia square, it was built during the reign of Philip IV to be the court's prison.
Then we walk down Calle Imperial street to Calle Toledo. If we walk down this street we get to the Royal Collegiate Church of San Isidro. The construction of this church began in 1622, adjoining the prestigious Imperial College built in the early 17th century. Today, this building is a high school.
Cava Baja is parallel to Calle Toledo. We can walk up towards the Plaza de Puerta Cerrada square. This place leads to Calle Cuchilleros street, where we can find the popular restaurant Casa Botín which, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the oldest restaurant in the world. Established in 1725, today it is called Sobrino de Botín. If we go down Calle Maestro Villa street we get to Plaza del Conde de Miranda square. Here we find the Convent of Corpus Christi, built in the early 17th century, known popularly as Las Carboneras. The church has hardly changed since then, and you can also buy traditional cakes made by the nuns.   
The next stop is Plaza de la Villa square: we can carry on walking up to Calle Mayor street, and go past the renovated San Miguel Market; or we can continue down the winding Calle del Codo street. We are welcomed by the statue of Admiral Álvaro de Bazán, with the Mudejar, Plateresque and Baroque styles of the buildings around it: the Casa Torre de los Lujanes house and tower (15th century), Casa Cisneros house(16th century) and Casa de la Villa house (17th Century), where the Town Hall was situated until 2011.
We walk back up Calle Mayor to Calle Bailén street and we go up towards Plaza de Oriente square. We'll see the Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace, erected in the same place where the Alcázar used to be - an imposing royal residence that disappeared in a fire in 1737. We turn onto Calle de San Quintín street towards the end of our route, the Royal Monastery of La Encarnación, which was the first Baroque building in the city. Founded in 1611, it conserves an important art collection.



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