Architecture in Madrid, Spain

Category: Madrid

The sheer number of tourists and guests that flock to Madrid, Spain every year—with numbers that reach into the millions—may sound surprising to people who have yet to experience this marvel of a city, but once they are treated to its beauty and the pride and friendliness of its people, their doubts would almost certainly fade away. There are literally thousands of things to do and see in Madrid, including world class museums and galleries; lush, picturesque parks; a lively and immensely entertaining nightlife; and hundreds of local festivals. But perhaps the city’s most alluring characteristic, the one that sets Madrid apart from other world capitals, is its splendid and majestic architecture, some of which dates back centuries.

Architecture in Madrid: History and Descriptions

Contrary to what many people might assume given the city’s long history, there are only a few buildings in Madrid whose origins date back to medieval times. Gone are the walls that once enclosed the city and its medieveal castle—the Alcazar—which history tells once stood in the same place as the current Royal Palace occupies today. Today the only Madrid structures that can be traced back to those early times have been well-preserved for the sake of locals and tourists; structures that include the San Pedro el Viejo and San Nicolas Church, the palaces of the Lujan family in the Plaza de la Villa, the Gothic church of St. Jerome and the Bishop’s Chapel. Truth be told, even Renaissance-influenced structures are fairly rare in Madrid, limited now to the Bridge of Segovia and the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales, whose minimal exterior gives very little hint as to the treasure within.

Many of Madrid’s historic buildings have origins from the Hapsburgs reign—during the 16th and 17th centuries. During that important period, brick buildings with modest facades and elaborate interiors were the norm, evidenced by the still-standing structures designed by Juan Gomez de Mora, including the Casa de la Villa, Royal Convent of La Encarnacion and Prison of the Court. In Parque de Retiro, Madrid’s version of Central Park, you’ll find the beautiful Buen Retiro Palace, a 17th century marvel designed by Alonso Carbonel, and the Imperial College, with its domed roof, became the model for many similarly designed churches throughout the city.

The Royal Palace is one of Madrid’s most significant architectural pieces, one that signified the arrival of the Bourbons. It was during this time that the Alcazar was burned, so King Philip V sought out to build a new palace worthy of Madrid that would also demonstrate the increasingly popular French tradition. He hired Filippo Juvarra to head up this project, an architect who had designed palaces throughout Europe, and although Juvarra died before the palace was completed, the building marked a new era in Madrid architecture. Other buildings raised in this time period include St. Michael’s Basilica and the Convent of Santa Barbara.

There is no building in Madrid that showcases the shift in styles of the early 20th century quite like the Gran Via, a majestic structure with patterns ranging from the Vienna Secession style to Art Deco. It was this building that is often pointed to as Madrid’s attempt to free itself from the “old town,” a building that ultimately led to structures showcasing a variety of stylistic differences, including the French-styled Metropolis Building, the expressionist Carrion, and the art deco-based Telefonica Building, with baroque ornaments.

Today the architecture of Madrid can best be described as a beautiful and seamless mixture of the old and the new, representing both the rich traditions of the city and its evolution into a bustling modern-day metropolis. As a tourist you could literally spend weeks in the city and still barely scratch the surface in terms of seeing all of the wonderful architecture Madrid has to offer, but one thing is for sure: with something for everyone’s tastes, the journey would be worth it.