The Madrid of Los Austrias
Plaza Mayor square in Madrid
Royal Collegiate Church of San Isidro. Madrid
Tavern in Plaza de Puerta Cerrada square
Plaza de La Villa square in Madrid
Casa y Torre de los Lujanes - Lujanes House and Tower, Madrid
Royal Monastery of La Encarnación in Madrid
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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.
The quarter known as the Austrias neighbourhood in the centre of Madrid has a number of sites and monuments dating from the 16th and 17th centuries when the court of the Austrian monarchs was in Spain's capital. The architecture of the houses lining its narrow and irregular streets is sober and austere, in keeping with the character of these monarchs. The best way to discover all the shops and traditional taverns in this part of the city is by walking. The route we suggest can be covered on foot in a morning or an afternoon.
We start at the Plaza Mayor square, which in its time has been the venue for all kinds of events: markets, bullfights, popular entertainment, auto-da-fés, and much more. In the centre stands the equestrian statue of Philip III, the king who ordered its construction to remodel the space occupied by the old Plaza del Arrabal square. Its current appearance 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 is decorated with fresco paintings featuring mythological and flower motifs, and characters from the history of Madrid. Opposite we see the Casa de la Carnicería, which used to store meat and today houses municipal offices. In the arcade on this same side we can see the Cuchilleros Arch, and the entrances to the square on our route towards the Santa Cruz Palace, the site of 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, which takes us to the Royal Collegiate Church of San Isidro. The construction of this church began in 1622, and it adjoins the prestigious Imperial College built in the early 17th century, and today a secondary school.
The street known as Cava Baja runs parallel to Calle Toledo. We can walk up towards the Plaza de Puerta Cerrada square, which leads to Calle Cuchilleros street. This is the site of the popular Restaurante Botín, which according to the Guinness Book of World Records is the oldest restaurant in the world and was founded in 1725. If we go down Calle Maestro Villa street we come to Plaza del Conde de Miranda square. Here we find the convent of Corpus Christi, built in the early 17th century and 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 the Plaza de la Villa square. We can carry on walking up to Calle Mayor street and past the renovated San Miguel market, or we can continue down the winding Calle del Codo street. There we'll be met by the statue of Admiral Álvaro de Bazán, with Mudéjar, Plateresque and Baroque-style 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 located until 2011.
We walk back up Calle Mayor to Calle Bailén street and go towards Plaza de Oriente square, where we see the Almudena cathedral and the Royal Palace, standing on the site of the Alcázar –an imposing royal residence destroyed in a fire in 1737. We turn on to Calle de San Quintín street towards the final destination on our route, the Royal Monastery of La Encarnación, the first Baroque building in the city. Founded in 1611, it contains an important art collection.