PLAZA PUERTA DEL SOL/PLAZA MAYOR
We start our walk at the Plaza Mayor (#1). Although because of a recent renovation the Plaza Mayor looks new, it is actually over 380 years old. The Plaza Mayor opened in 1619. In the center is a statue of King Philip III seated on his horse. He was the king who had the Plaza Mayor built. Over the years it was the Plaza was used for such events as bullfights, jousting, and public executions. The Plaza could be arranged to hold up to 100,000 people. Today there are still events such as concerts, theatre shows and special exhibits. During December a Christmas fair is held in the Plaza.
Directly behind the Plaza Mayor is the Casa de la Panadería. This was the guild house of the bakers of Madrid and the Royals had luxurious apartments above overlooking the Plaza Mayor. Today there is a registry office in the building and many people in Madrid come here to be married.
Just southeast of the Plaza Mayor is the Plaza de la Provincia. Unlike the Plaza Mayor this is an open plaza. Located her is the Palacio de Santa Cruz (#10). It was built around 1620 and since 1850 has been the location of Spain's Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores (Foreign Ministry), however, it was originally used as a prison.
Heading west down the Calle de la Bolsa we enter the Plaza Jacinto Benavente. This possibly is named after Jacinto Benavente y Martínez (1866- 1954) who won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1922. He mainly wrote plays. His masterpiece is considered to be "Los intereses creados" (The Bonds of Interest) written in 1907.
From here we head north to the Casa de Correos. Built in the 18th century it was originally the Royal General Post office and then from 1847 - 1979, the headquarters of the Ministry of Home Affairs and since 1985 the location of the President of the Communidad de Madrid.
We now enter the Plaza Puerta del Sol (#13). The Plaza del Sol (Gateway of the Sun) marks the site of the eastern entrance to the city once occupied by gatehouse and castle. In the 19th century the Plaza was turned into a square and became a focal point of the city.
The Plaza is shaped like a half-moon. On the northern side at the corner of the Calle de Carmen is the symbol of Madrid the bronze statue the "Bear and the Strawberry Tree" ("El Oso y El Madroño"). Located in front of the Casa de Correos is the Kilometer Zero, which is considered to be the starting point of Spain's main highways.
Just Northwest of the Plaza Puerta del Sol is the Convento de las Descalzas Reales (Convent of the Royal Barefoot Franciscans)(#16). This convent was founded in 1557 and was provided with artistic treasures by the daughter of Emperor Charles V and her sister the Empress Maria of Austria. Since then it has added to its collection which include works by Velázquez, Goya, El Greco, Rubens, Zubarán and others. It's museum is open to the public, but it remains a convent. The nuns remain hidden from the museum visitors only emerging once the visitors have left for the day.
The Calle de Espoz y Mina located in the southeast corner of the Plaza is named after Francisco Espoz y Mina (1781 - 1836). He was an outstanding guerrilla leader during the Spanish War for Independence (1808 - 1814).
East from the Plaza Puerta del Sol along the Calle de Alcalá is the Ministerio de Economica y Hacienda (Treasury Ministry). Next door is the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (#22). The Real Academia was started in 1744 by Felipe V. In 1774 Charles III bought the present location, originally a private home, to house the collection that includes paintings by Goya, Zurbarán, Rubens, Van Dyck and Velázquez. The collection is considered to be one of the richest in Madrid.
The Inglesia de las Calatravas (#23) was built in the 17th century and is a fine example of Baroque architecture. Of particular interest is the dome and high altarpiece.
Just past the Ministerio de Educacíon is the Ciculo de Bellas Artes. In this six-story building there are exhibits, movies, musical concerts and other activities.
South from there is the Teatro Lírico Nacional La Zarzuela (The National Lyrical Theatre of the Zarzuela) (#19). The Zarzuela is a uniquely Madrid form of comic opera. It derives its name from the royal hunting palace of King Philip IV which was named the Palace Zarzuela because it located in the countryside amongst brambles (zarzas). King Philip IV was present at the first performance of a zarzuela in 1657. After that many zarzuelas where performed at the Zarzuela Palace. The current Royal Family uses the Zarzuela Palace as their normal residence.
Heading just down the block is the Palacio de las Cortés (#24), which is home to the Congreso de los Diputados (Congress of Deputies) of Spain. The Congress of Deputies is the lower house of the Spanish Parliment. The upper house is the Senate which is located in a separate building in the Plaza de la Marina Española. (The Senate is discussed in the section on the Palacio Real).
While both the Congress of Deputies and the Senate are the Cortés, the Congress of Deputies is the much more powerful of the two bodies and is often referred to as the Cortés. The Cortés has actually been in existance since the 11th century, but of course back then it was representatives of the various leaders who shared power with the King. However, as early as 1169 it was representing the common man. It was really only until the 19th century that it has become a true independent legislative body. The present Cortés is based on the constitution of 1978, which declared Spain a parliamentary monarchy.
The present building was constructed in 1842. To the left of the main entrance is a high, spiked, black iron fence, with a simple courtyard inside. Through this gate is the usual entrance for the deputies. Behind this courtyard is a tall curved, glass-clad structure which is the offices for the deputies. On Saturday mornings you can visit the Cortés without an appointment. However, you will learn and see much more if you arrange to be part of a guided tour.
Heading south down the Calle San Agustin we can take a right (west) onto Calle de Cervantes and visit the Casa- Museo de Lope de Vega (#18). Lope de Vega (1562 - 1635) is considered to be Spain's greatest playwright. In his life he wrote over 2,200 plays. He began writing poetry at age 5. In 1588 he joined the Spanish Armada, but fortunately was on one of the few ships to return. His most popular work is Fuente Ovejuna (the Sheep Well).
The house is interesting to visit because it show's Madrid's only 17th-century domestic interior. However, it is very tiny, with only 10 people being able to visit it a one time. The house was built in 1578 and has been opened as a museum since 1935. The reason that this street is not named after Lope de Vega is because not only is his house located here, but the house where Cervantes lived was also located here, just down the block near the corner of Calle Léon. Unfortunately his house was torn down hundreds of years ago, but a small plaque marks the site. The Calle Lope de Vega is located one block south.
Back west to the Calle San Agustin and south toward the Calle de las Huertas (crossing the Calle Lope de Vega) we come to the Convento Trinitarias (#15). While you cannot visit here it is of interest because the urn containing the ashes of Cervantes were taken here, but then they were misplaced. They know that his urn is one of the ones that are here, but they are not certain which one it is.
Containing west along the Calle de las Huertas we pass the Real Academia de la Historia (Royal Academy of History). Turning right (north) onto the Calle Léon we come to the Ateneo de Madrid. This section of Madrid was home to many literary figures of the 20th century . One of the places they would gather was the Ateneo. Today it contains a public library and holds literary events.
Continuing west along the Calle del Prado at the corner of Calle de Principe we can turn north to visit the Teatro Español. Though the present building is from the 18th century there has been a playhouse here back to 1583. Although not shown on the map located very close is the Teatro de la Comedia, built in 1875. This is the home for the Companía Nacional de Teatro Clásico. They present three to four classical Spanish works (16th to 17th century) each year.
Continuing west along the Calle del Prado we turn south at the Calle Núñez de Arce. Gaspar Núñez de Arce (1834 - 1903) was most known as a poet, but he also served as Overseas Minister and Secretary General of the Cabinet. His most famous work is La Visión de Fray Martín (The Vision of Fray Martin). Although is is not old, the original church burned down in 1936, Lope de Vega is buried here and Cervantes death, which occurred the same day as Shakespeare, is registered here.