Plaza de Oriente, Madrid

Category: Madrid

If you plan to travel to Madrid, Spain in the near future, you will no doubt want to pay a visit to the Royal Palace, and if you do take a tour of this architectural treasure, you will also be treated to the monuments, statues and natural beauty that are the Plaza de Oriente.

The Plaza de Oriente is a pedestrian-only square located in Spain’s capital city of Madrid, a square that borders the Royal Palace.  It was originally designed in the mid 1800s and is neatly arranged with several small and fragrant gardens and a number of interesting and historically significant statues.  Its current design, however, stems from a redevelopment project in the latter half of the 20th century—a project that transformed the square into a pedestrianized zone where interested and weary tourists could stretch out and relax after paying a visit to the Royal Palace.  Plaza de Oriente is situated at a site that was once home to the city’s Hapsburg Palace, which was demolished due to damage to make way for the parking garage that now occupies the space below the square.
History of Plaza de Oriente

The history of the Plaza de Oriente can be traced back to the short reign of King Jose I, better known as Joseph Bonaparte, who was installed as King by his brother, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, during the war.  His desire was to open up the east side of the Royal Palace by creating a new square and a long boulevard that would extend all the way to the Plaza de Cibeles.  As a result of the project’s construction, several buildings were demolished, including the Royal Library, churches and several residential dwellings.

Once the French were ousted from Spain, construction of the new plaza was unofficially put on hold, but King Ferdinand VII decided to resurrect the project and came up with the idea to build a theater adjacent to the square.  Funding was minimal, however, and progress was slow, and it wasn’t until the mid 1850s, during the reign of Queen Isabel II, that the square and the new Royal Theater were finally completed.

Statues and Gardens of Plaza de Oriente

Visitors to the Plaza de Oriente can enjoy the sight and aroma of trees and formal gardens, all of which create a border around the statue of King Philip IV.  The statue, which sits at the center of the square, depicts the King on horseback upon a fountain, adorned with several allegorical statues and carvings.  It was created in 1639 by the Italian sculptor Pietro Tacca, his first successful attempt, they say, at creating an image of a moving or prancing horse.  Tacca relied on the famous scientist and mathematician Galileo for the calculations and stability issues involved with the statue, who suggested that Tacca create the rear section of the horse in solid bronze and the rest of the statue in hollow bronze to prevent it from toppling over.  The statue was originally installed in the gardens of what is now Parque de Retiro, or Retiro Park, but it was moved to the Plaza de Oriente in 1843 at the request of Queen Isabel II.

The two rows of statues that divide the gardens depict a number of Christian, Roman and Visigoth rulers.  A little known fact about these statues is that they were originally to be placed on the balustrade of the Royal Palace, but this plan was nixed by King Charles III, who feared the weight and unevenness of these figures would cause them to fall off the roof.