Walking around my neighborhood you see a lot of these signs that start with “Visita G. Manzana” and then a number:
Naturally I needed to figure this out. It turns out that the signs are the vestiges of a system created when Madrid first became the capital of Spain in the 16th century. King Felipe II, after finding that the city lacked adequate housing for all of the members of his entourage, passed a law that required residents with more than one level in their house to designate part of that space to members of the royal court. This law was called the Quartering Ordinance and it required inspections of each city block and subsequent numbering to make sure that residents were adhering to the law. If they didn’t have space for the members of the court, they were required to pay a tax.
Needless to say, Madrileños were not happy about this law. Many people began to build one-story houses. If they did have a second story, they designed the windows so that it was impossible to be able to tell how many stories the house had from the outside. These houses that were created to fool the king are nicknamed “casas a la malicia” (houses of malice) and some of them still exist in the city today.
In 1751, tax-collecting was so difficult because of the labyrinth of streets and confusion of houses, someone came up with the idea to number each city block. Thus, tiles were placed on the corner of each building. “Visita G” stands for Visita General de la Regalía de Aposento (Quartering Ordinance) and “Manzana” means city block.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that Madrid streets were properly named and signposted with the help of city historian Ramón de Mesonero Romanos. Before then, letters to residents would be something like “Sr. Rodrigo Corral, Street behind San José church, next to Leon brothers bakery”. Romanos and the mayor, Marqués Viudo de Pontejos, named over 240 streets with the names of important historical events and figures, identified with a plaque on every corner building. Also, each doorway was marked with numbers beginning closest to the Puerta del Sol with even numbers on the right and odd numbers on the left.
There are still 31 different designations for types of streets in Madrid, with nomenclature such as callejón, travesía, plazuela, ronda, paseo, pasadizo, corredera, cava, costanilla, glorieta, etc. So it might take me a little longer than I expected to get to know my way around.
Research credits to the awesome book Ocultos Madrid and this blog.