By Anthony Mendicino
The Palacio Real de Madrid, or Royal Palace of Madrid, stands as the city’s largest building and one of its most historically important.
The largest palace in Western Europe, it was erected on the same location as the Alcázar (a Moorish castle that burned down in 1734). Phillip V decided to rebuild the palace and employed one of the best architects in Europe at the time, Filippo Juvarra, to design it. The palace was also damaged during the Spanish Civil War, but restorations made after the war repaired the damage and reinstalled all broken decorations and damaged walls as exact reproductions of the originals.
The palace itself is made up of a series of domes without a single piece of wood. The final stone was put in place in 1751, and the palace was open for business, although the exterior grounds were not complete until 1759. While the exterior of the palace is imposing and beautiful, the inside is even more spectacular. High vaulted ceilings, grand stairways, even grander rooms and priceless pieces of art fill out the inner quarters of the palace.
Paintings and frescos by Tiépolo, Velázquez and, most notably, Goya line the walls of the building. Every room contains some priceless piece of art. The palace has 1.45 million square feet of floor space and a grand total of 3,418 rooms, making it the largest palace in Europe by floor area.
The sizes of the rooms differ depending on their use; one is big enough to house a huge table that can be modified to seat up to 140 people and is only used when the king is present, another much smaller room is totally made up of Chinese porcelain. One room even houses the world’s only complete Stradivarius string quartet. The rest of the rooms are used for a wide range of things: a room specifically for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner, one for royal meetings with guests and others to accommodate royal audiences. The Royal Armory of Madrid is also located within the palace walls.
The courtyard on the inner grounds of the palace is huge, roughly the size of two full soccer pitches and houses the Almudena Cathedral directly across from the palace. The square courtyard was the brainchild of architect Enrique María Repullés who laid out the plans in 1892. However, the space itself dates back to 1553 when King Phillip II ordered a building to house the royal stables.
According to our guide Mauricio Macarron Larumbe,the palace is not frequently used much these days. Although the palace is still the official residence of the King of Spain, he rarely uses it, and it is more of a tourist attraction than anything. But when the king returns, it can still be fully functional for any occasion.
For example, in 2004, the wedding of then Prince and now King Felipe and Letizia Ortiz took place in its courtyard. Larumbe said the 1,500 guests barely fit.
The exterior of the palace is a wonder of architecture and landscaping. The Plaza de Oriente connects the eastern side of the palace to the Teatro Real (royal theatre). The rectangular park is divided into three different parks: the Central Gardens, the Cabo Noval Gardens and the Lepanto Gardens. Each garden consists of up to seven flowerbeds with varying types of flowers.
The Campo del Moro Gardens are located outside the palace walls and were constructed in the Romanticist style of the times. Amongst the various gardens are fountains brought from the Royal Palace of Aranjuez. The current king will periodically use this space to host receptions and dinners during the summer.
Finally, the Sabatini Gardens were designed in 1933 under the last Republican government of Spain. They are named after architect Francesco Sabatini, who designed the royal stables. The main attraction of the gardens is a large, rectangular pond surrounded by fountains and statues of royal kings. The Sabatini Gardens are located on the north side of the palace.