Manzanares el Real, Madrid, Spain

Category: Madrid

Madrid, Spain, the country’s largest and capital city, boasts thousands of fascinating sites and fun attractions, but there are also many interesting sites to see just outside the city limits in the many villages and towns that surround it.  One of these towns is the Manzanares el Real, located in the northern area of the autonomous Community of Madrid.  This town of roughly 7,300 people is located at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains, and situated near the embalse de Santillana, or Santillana reservoir. The entire town is contained within the Cuenca Alta del Manzanares Regional Park, by the Pedriza, a protected park that is listed in the Worldwide Biosphere Reserves and one that offers some of the most stunning landscapes in the entire Madrid region.

History of Manzanares el Real

Based on recent archaeological evidence—evidence that points to rituals being performed for the religious festivity of the Virgin de Pena Sacra—many historians now believe that the region now known as Manzanares el Real may have been occupied as early as 1000 B.C. by the Druids.  There is also evidence of a Roman settlement in the region. However, it was not until the end of the Visigoth and Arab periods, roughly in 1248, that the village finally emerged.  It was at this time that the Madrilenians went to re-conquer Seville, and the Segovians resettled in Manzanares, a chapter of history that appears on the testimony of a missive written by King Fernando III.

The period between the 15th and 16th centuries is known to be the Golden Age of Manzanares El Real, a period in which ownership of the town was transferred to the Mendoza family.  The town prospered during this period, and although it later belonged to other members of the nobility due to marriages, in the 18th century the ownership was returned to the Mendoza family, to whom King Felipe V granted permanent/perpetual possession.

Today Manzanares el Real belongs to the Community of Madrid and is seen as a very important component of the Madrilenian economy.  This is primarily due to the large Castle located in the town, which over time has been the site for many important events, including a 1982 celebration of the Assembly of the Members of Parliament and the Appointment of the Statute of Autonomy.

Sites and Attractions in Manzanares el Real
As mentioned above, the (new) Castle of Manzanares el Real is the most prominent site in the town and the best preserved castle in the Community of Madrid.  Construction commenced on the new castle in 1475, at a time when Madrid was just a tiny town.  The castle boasts a quadrangular plant with four towers on the corners, three of which are cylindrical, and the other, known as Torre del Homenaje, or “Homage Tower,” featuring a squared layout.  The central courtyard is surrounded by corridors with arcades, showcasing the late Gothic style with Mudejar influence. The entire structure is surrounded by a barbican wall with a single entrance:  a stunning gate facing the west side that is guarded by two towers.  The castle has been featured in a number of motion pictures, most notably the ever-popular movie, El Cid.

Another important site in Manzanares el Real is the Old Castle, located just over the Rio Manzanares (Manzanares River) by the old cemetery.  Although there is very little known about the origin of this castle, we know it had a square perimeter on which four towers were built on the corners, similar to the castle that stands today.  Today only two walls of the Old Castle remain, and they have been integrated into a beautiful garden on the site.  Perhaps the most unique architectural feature of the Old Castle is an arrow slit cut into its east wall, which was no doubt used for defense purposes when the structure came under siege.

Finally, if you plan to visit to Manzanares el Real you should definitely check out both the Church of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves and the Hermitage of Nuestra Señora de la Peña Sacra.  The church was originally built in the 14th century, but because part of it had to be rebuilt at the end of the 15th century due to damage, it features a fascinating combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture.  The Hermitage, also built towards the end of the 15th century, is located at the top of the Pena Sacra (Sacred Stone), one kilometer north of the village on the right bank of the River Manzanares.  Aside from offering beautiful architecture to explore both inside and outside of the Hermitage, this location offers an excellent view of the Pedriza below.