The royal palace of Madrid was commissioned in 1734 to accommodate the court of King Philip V. Long before that, a 9th century Moorish fortress, Mayrit, stood on the same site, and then, a medieval Alcazar (castle) where the monarch family resided until the fire destroyed the castle on Christmas Eve in 1734. The fire lasted four days and almost nothing was left of the original castle – remaining and half-ruined walls of which were finally demolished in 1738, due to the construction of the new palace. Shortly before the tragic event, King Philip V ordered to move large part of his art collection to the Buen Retiro Palace – many of those paintings and valuables which remained at the old Alcazar were lost in the fire.
The original idea of an enormous palace, much inspired by the French Louvre, belonged to Italian architect Filippo Juvarra. However, due to architect’s sudden death in 1736, his plan was not destined to come true. Juan Bautista Sacchetti took his place, and the works began the following year, in 1737. It took almost 30 years to finish the palace, and only in 1764, King Charles III could finally move in.
Although many sources list the palace as a fine example of Baroque, Francesco Sabatini, called to the court in 1760, was a Neo-Classicism disciple – not surprisingly, much of his designs are reminiscent of Renaissance era, of which the architect was particularly fond of.
The façade is made of white granite and is peculiar for the series of sculptures along the balustrade depicting saints and kings, as well as Renaissance-inspire pilasters. Altogether, there are over 3,000 rooms inside, and the collection of valuable objects nestled within the palace’s walls includes paintings by Caravaggio and Spanish masters Velazquez and Goya, precious frescoes, porcelain and ceramics, royal armor and furniture. The Royal Armory is among the best in the world, with some pieces dating back to the 15th century.
Even though it is still the official royal residence, the monarch family no longer lives here and the palace is opened to public. Although on several occasions, due to state ceremonies, it does not admit visitors.
Plaza del Oriente, adjoining the palace on the east, contains sculptures of so-called Gothic kings – Visigoth and early Christian regents. Campo del Moro Park covers a vast territory on the eastern bank of Manzanares River. The name was given after the Muslim ruler Ali ben Yusuf, who supposedly camped here with his army during a failed attempt to reconquer Madrid. For many years, the gardens were abandoned, but under the reign of Maria Christina of Austria in the late 19th century they were redecorated to match the design of a classical English garden.
Another highlight on the location is the Sabatini Gardens. Bearing the name of the famous architect, they were opened to the public in 1978 and replaced the royal stables – a work of the architect mentioned above. This Neoclassical garden is designed in symmetrical patterns; it contains countless trees and hedges, a large pool with fountains and a series of statues – all commemorating Spanish kings – lined along the pool’s perimeter.