Madrid Autonomous Community


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Puerta del Sol: It's nearly impossible to visit Madrid and not pass through this semi-circular space, if only because it is very much the hub of the public transport system. From here, too, the Calles Arenal and Mayor lead away to the Plaza Mayor and the Palacio Real, while to the west Calle Alcalá and the Carrera de San Jerónimo run to the Huertas area, the Paseo del Prado and the main museums. It is called a Puerta (gate) because this was indeed the main, easternmost gate of fifteenth-century Madrid. Under the Habsburg Kings it was surrounded by churches and monasteries, and the space between them supplanted the Plaza Mayor as the city's main meeting place. It was rebuilt in its present form in 1854-62. It still is Madrid's most popular meeting point. Plaza Mayor: Madrid's grand main plaza was the city's hub for centuries. It was first built in the fifteenth century as a humble market square, then called the Plaza del Arrabal (Square outside the Walls). After Madrid was made capital of Spain by Philip II Juan de Herrera drew up plans for it to be completely rebuilt, but the only part built immediately was the Casa de la Panadería (The Bakery). Dominating the square, with two pinnacle towers, it was completed under the direction of Diego Sillero in 1590. Large sections had to be rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1790. Bullfights, carnivals and all the great festivals and ceremonies of imperial Madrid were held here.  Palacio Real (Palacio de Oriente): You are unlikely to catch sight of Spain's royal family here, as this 3,000-room official residence is only visited by them for occasional state functions requiring additional grandeur. The rest of the time the palace, commissioned by Philip V after the earlier Alcázar was lost to a fire in 1734, is open to view.