Madrid definitely has an eclectic mix of architecture, as I’ve already posted a few examples of (lizard and wedding cake buildings, most ostentatious belle epoque, and Herzog and de Meuron’s masterpiece). You can really get a feel for the history of Spain, just by walking around and observing different architectural influences over the centuries. Unfortunately, few examples remain of the rich mudéjar style developed by the Moors that I lavished in on my trip to Andalucía. Some of the only reminders of the Muslim origins of Madrid are the remaining pieces of the Muralla Árabe (Arab Wall).
There are some fascinating and seemingly forgotten old buildings if you can find them, tucked away next to sober dictatorship-era construction. One of the sites that caught my imagination was this ancient construction, which has been converted into the Biblioteca Escuelas Pías (Pious school library). It’s located in Lavapiés, the old Jewish barrio, where there are some sites related to Inquisition history that I will post about next.
And characteristic of Madrid, it’s juxtaposed next to this odd urban plaza straight out of a post-Modern dream. By the way, this is not a great neighborhood and I wouldn’t recommend walking around here at night, but this is a fascinating area with so much history and worthy of a daytime exploration.
Plaza de la Villa
The intimate Plaza de la Villa on Calle Mayor is one of Madrid’s more notable example’s of Madrid-style baroque architecture (barroco madrileño), with wonderfully preserved buildings on all three sides. This square was the permanent seat of the Madrid city government from the Middle Ages, until they relocated to the Palacio de Comunicaciones in recent years.
On the eastern side of the square is the 15th century Casa de los Lujanes, a Gothic construction with clear mudéjar influence. The brickwork tower is said to have housed the imprisoned French monarch Francois I and his sons after the Battle of Pavia in 1525. As the prisoner was paraded down Calle Mayor, it was said that locals were more impressed with the lavishly attired Frenchman than his captor the Spanish Habsburg emperor Carlos I.
This is the really cool and creepy door to the tower – it’s on the northern side of the building as you curve around a tiny street that feeds into the plaza.
Is anyone as obsessed as I am with the Google street maps photos option? It lets you see different viewpoints, times, and seasons simultaneously in one place, and it even tries to match the perspective of the photo, creating a new three-dimensional plane for the various contributions. How cool.