Welcome to my "Plaza Mayor" description page, for photos & videos of this site click --> HERE.
The Photo pages and videos of the Plaza are sponsored by Academia =elemadrid=, please visit them if you are interested in studying Spanish, be it at home or in Spain. Thanks, Jeremy...
Today's Plaza Mayor wasn't in the original walled city of Madrid; it was just outside one of the gates in the 12th century Christian walls. Having developed into an unpaved and basically unconstructed market square, it was finally included inside the city walls in the 15th century. The square has had a number of official names: Main Square, Royal Square, Constitution Square, Republic Square, sometimes changing back and forth between official names with the ebb and flow of political tides. But for most people, it has always been the Plaza Mayor (Main Square).
The first built-up square was finished in 1619, and can be considered first "apartment buildings" in the city, as previous buildings were single family dwellings, palaces or smaller residences. There were serious fires in the square in 1631, 1672 and 1790, all three lasted several days and a number of people were killed in each. Ironically, all three times the water storage tanks under the square (now a parking lot) were empty. After the last fire most of the market was moved to other squares and the Plaza Mayor became a square for strolling and socializing.
As a market square and center of commerce, the square and the surrounding area had a certain organization, with each type of goods or crafts in a certain area. While much of the traditional commerce has disappeared, if you look a bit you may still find hints of this layout in the older stores or in the street names. If you speak some Spanish, you'll notice that many of the streets near the Plaza Mayor bear names of professions like Latoneros (Tin workers), Tintoreros (dyers), Herradores (blacksmiths), Botoneros (Button makers) or Bordadores (embroiderers). Some of this commerce was located in the area outside the first city walls because the manufacturing process was smelly, noisy or created a fire hazard.
Besides the market, the Plaza Mayor was also used for celebrating royal weddings, bullfights, auto-da-fes for the Inquisition and other important ceremonies, often long celebrations lasting all day. For these occasions, the balconies were rented out to nobles in the afternoons to give them a ring-side seat; the mornings the square's tenants (who rented the apartments from clergy and nobles) were allowed to enjoy the use of their own balconies. With the balconies full, the square could supposedly seat around 50,000 people.
The square as we now see it was completed in 1854 in a neoclassic style. The statue of Felipe III was placed about the same time, ending the mega-events in the square. Gardens were in the square between 1873 and 1936, as can be seen in some older pictures. Nowadays, the square has regained its importance for public celebrations: the end of Carnaval and King's Day parades, concerts during Madrid's local fiestas (see my carnavales photos and videos), the weekly coin/stamp fair, the Christmas booths and various other official and unofficial events. On top of all that are the terraces, usually set up between March and November, great places for a drink, dinner or people-watching (hence the multimadrid live PlazaCam!).
Trivia about the Plaza Mayor: it measures 120 x 90 meters, has four towers, 114 arches (of which 8 are accesses) and 377 balconies. Almost symetrical, it has enough quirks to keep the eye quite busy.
Try to see the square at different times and different seasons. With ever-changing light and people, it is never the same. If you can't come to Madrid often to experience it in person, just connect to the Live Plaza Mayor WebCam on my homepage.