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Royal Palace of Madrid
Palacio Real de Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid
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General information
Architectural style Baroque, Classicism
Town or city Madrid
Country Spain
Coordinates 40°25′05″N 3°42′51″W / 40.417974°N 3.714302°W / 40.417974; -3.714302
Construction started April 7, 1738
Client Philip V of Spain
Technical details
Floor area 135,000 m2 (1,450,000 sq ft)
Design and construction
Architect Filippo Juvarra (first of many)
Spanish Property of Cultural Interest
Official name Palacio Real de Madrid
Type Non-movable
Criteria Monument
Designated 1931[1]
Reference no. RI-51-0001061

The Palacio Real de Madrid (literally: Royal Palace of Madrid) is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family at the city of Madrid, but is only used for state ceremonies. King Juan Carlos and the Royal Family do not reside in the palace, choosing instead the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid. The palace is owned by the Spanish State and administered by the Patrimonio Nacional, a public agency of the Ministry of the Presidency. The palace is located on Calle de Bailén (Bailén Street), in the Western part of downtown Madrid, East of the Manzanares River, and is accessible from the Ópera metro station. Several rooms in the palace are regularly open to the public except during state functions. An admission fee of €11 is required except for residents of the Iberian Peninsula.

In Spanish, it is sometimes incorrectly called "Palacio de Oriente" by confusion with the "Plaza de Oriente", the square which lies to the East (Oriental) side of the palace.

The palace is on the site of a 9th-century fortress, called mayrit, constructed as an outpost by Muhammad I of Córdoba and inherited after 1036 by the independent Moorish Taifa of Toledo. After Madrid fell to Alfonso VI of Castile in 1083, the edifice was only rarely used by the kings of Castile. In 1329, King Alfonso XI of Castile conveved the cortes of Madrid for the first time. Philip II moved his court to Madrid in 1561.

The old Alcázar ("Castle") was built on the location in the 16th century. It burned 24 December 1734 and King Philip V ordered a new palace built on the same site. Construction spanned the years 1738 to 1755[2] and followed a Berniniesque design by Filippo Juvarra and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in cooperation with Ventura Rodríguez, Francesco Sabatini, and Martín Sarmiento. Charles III first occupied the new palace in 1764.

The last monarch who lived continuously in the palace was Alfonso XIII, although Manuel Azaña, president of the Second Republic, also inhabited it, making him the last head of state to do so. During that period the palace was known as "Palacio Nacional". There is still a room next to the Real Capilla, which is known by the name "Office of Azaña".

The palace has 135,000 square metres (1,450,000 sq ft) of floorspace and contains 3,418 rooms.[3][4] It is the largest palace in Europe by floor area. The interior of the palace is notable for its wealth of art and the use of many types of fine materials in the construction and the decoration of its rooms. These include paintings by artists such as Caravaggio, Velázquez and Francisco de Goya and frescoes by Corrado Giaquinto, Juan de Flandes, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Anton Raphael Mengs. Other collections of great historical and artistic importance preserved in the building include the Royal Armoury of Madrid, Porcelain, Watches, Furniture, Silverware and the world's only complete Stradivarius string quintet.

History of the building

Historical evolution of the Royal Alcazar of Madrid.

The direct antecedent of the Royal Palace is the Royal Alcazar, a fortress built on the same site where the baroque building stands today. Its was the subject of several renovations (especially the facade), because King Henry III of Castile made it one of the most popular residences, and thus, the site gets the adjective "real", or "royal" in English. His son John II built the Capilla Real and several dependencies. However, during the War of the Castilian Succession (1476) the troops of Joanna la Beltraneja were besieged in the Alcázar, causing severe damage to the royal building.

When Habsburg Emperor Charles V ascended the throne in 1516, he undertook a major restoration of the Alcazar in the Renaissance style to transform the outdated medieval residence into a palace suitable for his court. Philip II continued the work and showed special emphasis on the decoration of the building, by employing craftsmen from Italy, France and the Netherlands. However, the most important contributions of this monarch were the Golden Tower and the Royal Armory, demolished in 1894. Later Habsburg monarchs (Philip III, Philip IV and Charles II) continued the project of Philip II, particularly related to the footprint of the building and the facades.

When Philip V of Bourbon ascended the throne of Spain in 1700, the Alcázar of the Habsburgs was austere in comparison to the Palace of Versailles where the new king spent his childhood and he began a series redesigns led by Teodoro Ardemans and René Carlier. On the other hand, the main rooms were redecorated in the style of French palaces by the Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy and the Princess of Ursins.

Few details of the palace interior are known, but documentation of its gardens and exterior exists. One is a drawing made in 1534 by Cornelius Vermeyen which shows a rectangular building, medieval appearance that was structured around various dependencies like the Capilla Real de los Trastámara, the Patio del Rey to the west and the Patio de la Reina to the east. Its patios (courtyards) were open to the public for many years and housed open-air markets. The drawing also highlights the art gallery of the Alcázar, with works by Tintoretto, Veronese, Ribera, Bosch, Sánchez Coello, Van Dyck, El Greco, Annibale Carracci, Leonardo da Vinci, Guido Reni, Raphael, Jacopo Bassano and Correggio, many which were lost in the disaster of 1734.[citation needed]

The baroque palace

View of part of the Royal Palace from Cuesta de la Vega, by Fernando Brambila (c. 1790-1832). Preserved in the collection of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.[5]

On Christmas Eve 1734, the Alcázar was destroyed by a fire originating in the rooms of the French painter Jean Ranc. It was not detected quickly, due the warning bells being confused with the call to mass. For fear of looting, the doors of the building remained closed, hampering rescue efforts. Many works of art were lost, such as the Expulsion of the Moors, by Diego Velázquez. Others, such as Las Meninas, were rescued by tossing them out the windows. Fortunately, many pieces were saved because the king ordered that much of his collection be moved to the Buen Retiro Palace shortly before the blaze. This fire lasted four-days and completely destroyed the old Alcázar, whose last walls were finally demolished in 1738.

Filippo Juvarra oversaw work on the new palace. The Italian architect devised a lavish project of enormous proportions inspired by Bernini's plans for the Louvre. This plan was not realized due to Juvarra's untimely death in January 1736. His disciple, Giambattista Sacchetti also known as Juan Bautista Sacchetti or Giovanni Battista Sacchetti,[6] was chosen to continue the work of his mentor. He designed the structure around a large square courtyard and resolved the sightline problems by creating projecting wings.

In 1760, Charles III called upon Sicilian Francesco Sabatini, a Neoclassical architect to enlarge the building. The original idea was to frame the Plaza de la Armería with a series of galleries and arcades which would accommodate the various dependencies and the construction of two wings around the same square. Only the extension of the southeast tower known as la de San Gil was completed. Sabatini also planned to extend the north side with a large facade that echoed the style of the building and included three square courtyards in size somewhat smaller than the large central courtyard. Work on this expansion started quickly but was soon interrupted, leaving the foundations buried under a platform on which the royal stables were later built, these were demolished in the 20th century and replaced by the Sabatini Gardens. Charles III first occupied the palace in 1764.

Ferdinand VII, who spent many years imprisoned in the Château de Valençay, began the most thorough renovation of the palace in the 19th century. The aim of this redesign was to turn the old-fashioned Italian style building in a modern French-style palace. However, his grandson Alfonso XII proposed to turn the palace into a Victorian style residence. The plans were designed by the architect José Segundo de Lema and consisted of remodeling several rooms, replacing marble floors with parquet and the adding of period furniture.

The restorations made during the twentieth century repaired damage suffered during the Civil Wars in Spain by repairing or reinstalling decoration and decorative trim, replacing damaged walls with faithful reproductions of the original.

Exterior of the palace

Detail of the facade. Reccared II and Liuva II, Visigoth kings, flanking the arms of Spain. The statues do not match the names on the bases.

The main facade of the Palace consists of a two-story rusticated stone base, from which rise Tuscan and Composite pilasters framing the windows of the three main floors. The upper story is hidden behind a cornice which encircles the building and is capped with a large ballustrade. The ballustrade was adorned with a series of statues of saints and kings, but these were relocated elsewhere under the reign of Charles III to give the building a more classical appearance.

The restoration of the facade in 1973 returned some sculptures, partially restoring the appearance of Sachetti's design. In the original plan, Sachetti placed fourteen vases along the ballustrade with statues of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II and the Inca emperor Atahualpa, works by Juan Pascual de Mena and Domingo Martínez, respectively. Representations of Honorius, Theodosius I, Hadrian and Trajan occupy the corners of the three bays of the facade near the bases of the pilasters. A cartouche with classical figures is centered along the ballustrade.

Statues of Philip V, Maria Luisa of Savoy and Elisabeth Farnese, and that of Ferdinand VI and his wife Barbara of Portugal. Also found flanking both sculptural series an allusion to Zodiac of the Greeks occupied spaces on the southern front.

Many of the sculptures that adorned the palace at the time of Ferdinand VI are the work of Juan Domingo Olivieri and his workshop. He was also the creator of many of the masks and other allegorical figures of Greek mythology, that not occupy less visible locations.

Plaza de la Armería

Night view of the facade that faces the plaza.

The square as it exists now was laid-out in 1892, according to a plan by the architect Enrique María Repullés. However, the history of this square dates back to 1553, the year in which Philip II ordered a building to house the royal stables.

The Almudena Cathedral faces the palace across the plaza. Its exterior is neo-classical to match its surroundings while its interior is neo-gothic. Construction was funded by King Alfonso XII to house the remains of his wife Mercedes of Orléans.[7] Construction of the church began in 1878 and concluded in 1992.

Narciso Pascual Colomer, the same architect who crafted the Plaza de Oriente, designed the layout of the plaza in 1879, but failed to materialize. The site now occupied by the Plaza de la Armería was used for many decades as anteplaza de armas. Sachetti tried to build a cathedral to finish the cornice of the Manzanares, and Sabatini proposed to unite this building with the royal palace, to form a single block. Both projects were ignored by Charles III.

Ángel Fernández de los Ríos in 1868 proposed the creation of a large wooded area that would travel all around the Plaza de Oriente, in order to give a better view of the Royal Palace. A decade later Segundo de Lema added a staircase to the original design of Fernández, which led to the idea of Francisco de Cubas to give more importance to the emerging church of Almudena.

Plaza de Oriente

The Plaza de Oriente is a rectangular park that connects the east facade of Palacio Real to the Teatro Real. The eastern side of plaza is curved and bordered by several cafes in the adjoining buildings. Although the plaza was part of Sacchetti's plan for the palace, construction did not begin until 1808 when King Joseph Bonaparte, who ordered the demolition of approximately 60 medieval structures, that included a church, monastery and royal library, located on the site. Joseph died before construction was completed, it was finished by Queen Isabella II who charged architect Narciso Pascual Colomer with creating the final design in 1844.[8][9]

Statues of the Gothic kings in the Plaza de Oriente.

Pathways divide the Plaza into three main plots: the Central Gardens, the Cabo Noval Gardens and the Lepanto Gardens. The Central Gardens are arranged in a grid around the central monument to Philip IV, following the Baroque model garden. They consist of seven flowerbeds, each bordered with box hedges and holding small cypress, yew and magnolias and annual flowers. The north and south boundaries of the Central Gardens are marked by a row of statues, popularly known as the Gothic kings— sculptures representing five Visigoth rulers and fifteen rulers of the early Christian kingdoms in the Reconquista. They are carved from limestone, and are part of a series dedicated to all monarchs of Spain. These were ordered for the decoration of the Palacio Real and were executed between 1750 and 1753. Engineers felt the statues were too heavy for the palace ballustrade, so they were left on ground level where their lack of fine detail is readily apparent. The remainder of the statues are in the Sabatini Gardens.[10][11]

Campo del Moro Gardens

View of Paseo Principal, part of Campo del Moro Gardens.

These gardens are so named because the Muslim leader Ali ben Yusuf allegedly camped here with his troops in 1109 during an attempted reconquest of Madrid. The first improvements to the area occurred under King Philip IV, who built fountains and planted various types of vegetation, but its overall look remained largely neglected. During the construction of the palace various landscaping projects were put forth based on the gardens of the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, but lack of funds hampered further improvement until the reign of Isabel II who began work in earnest. Following the taste of the times, the park was designed in the Romanticist style. Fountains brought from the Royal Palace of Aranjuez were installed and curving pathways constructed. With the fall of Isabel II, the gardens suffered a period of abandonment and neglect during which parts of the design were lost. Under the regency of Maria Christina of Austria, rehabilitation work began which created the current design following the layout of the English gardens of 19th century.

Periodically, King Juan Carlos uses the garden to hold receptions and gala dinners during the summer months.[citation needed]

Sabatini Gardens

Sabatini Gardens.

The Sabatini Gardens adjoin the north side of the Palacio real and extend to the calle de Bailén and the cuesta de San Vicente. The garden follows the symmetrical French design and work began in 1933, under the Republican government. Although they were designed by Zaragozan architect Fernando García Mercadal, they were named for Francesco Sabatini who designed the royal stables that previously occupied this site. These gardens feature a large rectangular pond which is surrounded by four fountains and statues of Spanish kings which were originally intended to crown the Royal Palace. Geometrically sited between its rides, there are several fountains.[12]

The Republican government under Franco constructed the gardens to return the area from control of the royal family to the people, the public was not allowed in the gardens until 1978 cr when they were opened by King Juan Carlos I.[13]

Interior of the palace

Ground Floor

Royal Library

The Royal Library was founded during the regency of Maria Christina, using funds that the royal family had accumulated for centuries. Most of the shelves were purchased by Charles IV and Alfonso XII.

Highlights of the collection include the Book of hours of Isabella I of Castile, a codex of the time of Alfonso XI of Castile, a Bible of Doña María de Molina and the Fiestas reales, dedicated to Ferdinand VI by Farinelli. Also important are the maps kept in the library, which analyze the extent of the kingdoms under the Spanish Empire. Also on display a selection of the best medals from the Royal Collection.

Royal Pharmacy.

The bookcovers demonstrate evolution of binding styles by era. Examples in the holdings include Rococo in gold with iron lace, Neoclassical in polychrome and Romantic with Gothic and Renaissance motifs.

The Archives of the Royal Palace contains approximately twenty thousand articles ranging from the Disastrous decade (1823-1833) to the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931. In addition, it holds some scores of musicians of the Royal Chapel, privileges of various kings, the founding order of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the testament of Philip II and correspondence of most of the kings of the House of Bourbon.

Royal Pharmacy

During the reign of Philip II the Royal Pharmacy became an appendage of the royal household and ordered the supply of medicines, a role that continues today. The bottles were made in factories of La Granja de San Ildefonso and the Buen Retiro, there are also other items of 17th century made in Talavera de la Reina pottery.

Royal Armoury

Royal Armory

Along with the Imperial Armoury of Vienna, the armory is considered one of the best in the world and consists of pieces as early as the 15th century. The collection highlights the tournament pieces made for Charles V and Philip II by the leading armourers of Milan and Augsburg. Among the most remarkable works are full armour and weapons that Emperor Charles V used in the Battle of Mühlberg, and which was portrayed by Titian in his famous equestrian portrait housed at the Museo del Prado. Unfortunately, parts of the collection were lost during the Peninsular War and during the Spanish Civil War. Still, the armoury retains some of the most important pieces of this art in Europe and the world, including several signed by Filippo Negroli, one of the most famous designers in the armourers' guild.[citation needed]


The wedding banquet of Prince Felipe and Letizia Ortiz took place 22 May 2004 in the central courtyard of the Palace.


See also

  • Palacio del Buen Retiro, (another royal palace in Madrid, now mostly demolished)


  1. Database of protected buildings (movable and non-movable) of the Ministry of Culture of Spain (Spanish).
  2. "Palacio Real de Madrid". 
  3. "Palacio Real". Retrieved 2012-11-30. 
  4. Yahoo! Inc. (2004). "What is the biggest palace in Europe?". Yahoo! Inc.. Retrieved 2011-07-29. 
  5. Fernando Brambalia. "View of part of the Royal Palace taken from la Cuesta de la Vega". Spain Ministry of Economy and Public Administrations. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  6. Autonomous University of Madrid date=6 May 2003. "Calle del Arenal 13". Madrid Histórico. Retrieved 2012-11-30. 
  7. "Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena". Retrieved 2012-11-30. 
  8. "Plaza de Oriente". Retrieved 2012-11-30. 
  9. "Plaza de Oriente, Madrid". Retrieved 2012-11-30. 
  10. Álvarez Rodríguez, Miguel (2003). Memoria monumental de Madrid: guía de estatuas y bustos. La Liberia. ISBN 84-95889-61-7. 
  11. Salvador Prieto, María del Socorro (1990). Escultura monumental en Madrid: calles, plazas y jardines públicos (1875–1936). Alpuerto. ISBN 84-381-0147-X. 
  12. Slavito (5 February 2008). "Sabatini Gardens: Chilling With the Kings". Retrieved 2012-11-30. 
  13. "Jardines de Sabatini". Retrieved 2012-11-30. 

External links

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