Things you probably don’t know about Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor is the busiest place in Madrid, maybe with the exception of Plaza del Sol. There are a million tourists, street performers, Spaniards with their children, and of course the ever present pick-pockets. I was overwhelmed by this area when we first visited because places like this remind me of Times Square in New York – there is so much visual stimulation, so many sounds, and so many crowds of people, that you can’t understand anything else about the place. I prefer the quiet, off-the-beaten-track streets. Nonetheless, I was reading in my new favorite book about Plaza Mayor the other day, and decided to go on a historical tour.

First stop, however, was for a bocadillo de calamares. This is the spot to get them, except I heard that the best bocadillo de calamares can be found near the train station on Atocha. I’ll have to check that out. Bar La Ideal is just outside the Plaza Mayor on the Southeast corner. It’s the entrance that is closest to our house, thankfully, so I don’t have to walk too far for my bocadillo. I should mention that in English it’s a Fried Calamari sandwich. Yes, this is very normal in Madrid, to eat fried things on bread. One of my favorite things is fried calamari, and one of my other favorite things is bread, so I’m happy here.

This is what it looks like inside the joint.

This is some other stuff they offer, clearly not on my list of things to try.

There’s an interesting story about the equestrian statue in the center of Plaza Mayor. It’s a large cast-iron horse with Felipe III mounted on top, looking especially imposing with his sword and 17th century armor. But little do people know that the horse was actually a cemetery for dozens of sparrows who were “eaten” by the noble steed.

Now its mouth is soldered closed, but originally the horse’s mouth was open just enough for a tiny bird to fly in. Once the bird perched on the mouth and then flew inside, they fluttered around in the dark bowels of the horse trying to find a way out but their wingspan was too wide to make it back out. And so sealed their fate. For hundreds of years, no one knew about the sparrow death trap, until the militant uprising in 1931 when a small bomb was thrown inside the horse’s mouth and suddenly hundreds of bird bones filled the sky of Plaza Mayor.

Next on the tour is the narrowest house in Madrid, measuring 15 meters. It’s not that narrow, actually, compared to some of the tenement housing in New York City, but still an interesting landmark. And the decorative lights on the street are beautiful.

The address is Calle Mayor 61, and it is the former home of the Spanish author Pedro Calderón de la Barca. I mentioned the town historian Ramón de Mesonero Romanos in a previous post, who tried to save Cervantes house from being torn down. Well, after that defeat, he wasn’t going to take no for an answer this time. He was an old man by this time, and he literally went to the site of the house and physically blocked the demolition crew’s sledge-hammers by swinging his cane at them. He kept guard until nighttime and then drafted a petition in the morning, which successfully halted the demolition and thus preserved the historical building.

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

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