Philip II ordered the construction of this plaza which was formerly known as “Plaza del Arrabal”,. The original was built it in the exact same location as it is now, but it was not the same Plaza Mayor that we can see today. It wasn’t 3 floors high, but 5 floors high, it was something like the Empire State building for them. However, the only way for them to build that high without it being extremely expensive, was to use lighter materials, in this case wood. The weather in Madrid is amazing but when winter strikes, for 2 or 3 months the temperatures go subzero. In the days of no central heating, the only way to warm up your house, was to light up the fireplace. Well as you can imagine, having fires in a big building built of wood, isn’t exactly a great combination, which they learnt the hard way…During the first winter, Plaza Mayor was burnt to the ground after a series of enormous fires.
The one you can see today is built from bricks and stones and reformed by Juan de Villanueva, who was the architect also responsible for the Prado Museum. The first bullfights ever in Madrid, took place here, religious ceremonies, even public executions but overall, the main use for Plaza Mayor was as the city’s food market which was open everyday except for Sunday. At one point, all the food in the city came from this market. So when they finally understood that sanitation was an important issue, they decided to create two very important institutions to regulate the city’s food market. The 1st is building with the mural on the north side with two Flemish style towers and spires, this was called the bakery house (Casa de la Panadaería) where everything related to baking was stored, weighed and taxed. The 2nd building on the opposite side between the two towers, was the butcher’s house (Casa de Canircería), where everything related to meat was stored, weighed and taxed. Its funny how times have changed, because this place is still kind of a market, but not for people living in Madrid, more like, souvenirs! If you have a look at the people sitting in the plaza restaurants, you won’t see many Spanish faces. This has become a market for tourists, which is incidentally the main industry in Madrid these days. It’s our bread and butter, so what used to be the bakery house is now conveniently a tourist information centre. Check it out for yourselves.
129 metres long and 94 metres wide, Plaza Mayor has 9 gateways or arcs of which the most famous located at the southwest corner, “Arco de Cuchilleros” (The Cutler’s Arc). It was built to compensate for the level difference between the square and the connecting street “La Cava de San Miguel”, (Saint Michael’s Cellar Street). This outside wall of Plaza Mayor is very impressive and is and home to many popular restaurants including the oldest one in the world! If you are planning on going to Botin then I recommend getting a reservation beforehand!
If you want to live here then there are 237 balcony windows in Plaza Mayor and they are mostly apartments that can go for 1 million Euros a pop just for a one bedroom place with a view! This is a really crowded tourist area so please watch out for the pickpockets that may be lurking around, otherwise you might not have the money to place that deposit on that nice apartment.