IT’S one of the most visited attractions in Madrid and probably the one of the most name changes in its history, not to mention it took ages to finish—almost half a century, and let me throw in the reconstructions and restorations the place underwent after it suffered a series of unfortunate “blazing” incidents.
Plaza Mayor is the name we know the place to be today, a rectangular-shaped, enclosed public space with nine entrances, surrounded by three-story residential buildings with 237 balconies facing the plaza that displays the 1616-created equestrian statue of King Philip III sculpted by French Renaissance artist Giambologna aka Jean Boulogna (completed by his assistant Pietro Tacca), a string of quaint and traditional shops and cafes under its porticoes, and dominated by the impressive, frescoed building of Casa de Panederia (yes, the Bakery House. The lower levels housed the main bakery then until the building was repurposed to its municipal and cultural uses). The plaza’s location is close to another famed plaza, the Puerta del Sol.
Built during the reign of Philip III (1598–1621), the Plaza Mayor has been the scene of countless events— from markets to bullfights, sporting events to public executions including the supposed heretics condemned to death after the "autos de fe" (the act of faith) rituals during the Spanish Inquisition. Fetes for Madrid’s patron saint, San Isidro, is held in this square as well.
Now let’s get to the name game. The plaza’s original name was “Plaza del Arrabal”, a busy and chaotic area then. It became “Plaza de la Constitucion” after it was decreed that all major plazas in Spain be named as such to honor the Constitution of 1812. It became “Plaza Real” after the Borbon King was restored in 1814, the back to “Plaza Constitucion” in 1820. In 1873, it became "Plaza de la República," but not for long when it was reverted back to "Plaza de la Constitución" in 1876 when Alfonso XII was restored to dictatorship. Following the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, the plaza was renamed "Plaza Mayor", the name it bears today. When it will be renamed, only time will tell.
What I know is that the Plaza Mayor is a nice, cool stop to have a sip of coffee, shop for trinkets and souvenirs, sit and people watch, and pass time before exiting to probably the most important doorway of the plaza, the way that leads to the restaurant where we were all looking forward to having lunch, a food bucket list entry-- the Casa Botin.
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