The Royal Palace of Madrid, with over 135,000 square meters and 3,418 rooms, is the largest palace in Western Europe and one of the largest in the world. It is one of the few official seats of a Head of State open to the public.
Their Majesties, the King and Queen of Spain, use it regularly for audiences and official events. The royal family no longer resides there even though it still is their official house.
From the medieval Alcazar to the Royal Palace
As it is today, the royal palace was rebuilt in the 18th century by order of Philip V, at the Alcazar of Madrid‘s location, the old Moorish castle that was destroyed by a fire.
In fact, on Christmas Eve 1734, a fire reduced the building to ashes and all the works of art it housed. This medieval fortress has been the official residence of Spain’s kings since 1561 after Philip II had it transformed into a luxurious palace.
Legend says that the fire was started by the King, who was of French origin, to rebuild a French palace in Versailles’ style. We will never know…
In addition to serving as a royal residence, it will house all government offices on its many floors.
Construction began with the first stone in 1738 and was completed in 1751. It took another 8 years to complete the decoration of the surrounding areas.
The palace has a rectangular shape and surrounds an interior courtyard.
From the palace’s courtyard, a magnificent view of the gardens “Campo del Moro” with the “Casa de Campo” park in the background.
The gardens “Campo del Moro”
Philip II created the gardens when he renovated the Alcazar and installed the Court in Madrid.
A tunnel linked “Campo del Moro” to “Casa de Campo” park, Madrid’s main urban park. This park was then a hunting reserve for the royalty.
Charles III first inhabitant of this new palace
This king was nicknamed the “Best Mayor of Madrid.”
It was not until 1764 that the royal palace was inhabited for the first time.
It experienced its greatest Italian splendor with the arrival of the most renowned painters of that time adorning the palace. Despite this, Charles III and his son Charles IV lived there only eight weeks out of the year. In December, Easter week, and part of July. The rest of the year, they preferred to retreat to the other Crown Palaces: El Escorial, Aranjuez, and La Granja.
Visit to the Royal Palace of Madrid
During this tour, you will discover richly decorated rooms and the storage of the Royal Armoury.
Everything is absolutely beautiful. The rooms we pass through are unique.
Each monarch personalized a part of the palace without altering what his predecessors did. We went from one style to another, between the monarchs’ diverse tastes who succeeded one another.
The quarters of King Charles III are in a classic baroque style.
He is also responsible for the decoration of the throne room and the so-called “Gasparini” salon. In an exuberant rococo style, it was his official dressing room.
Charles IV created neoclassical sets with pieces of French furniture.
Ferdinand VII brought with him the French bronze and crystal chandeliers.
And in 1879, Alfonso XII was the instigator of the last decorative renovation.
The result is astonishing!
The Great Staircase and the Hall of Halberdiers
The Great Staircase
It is at the foot of this staircase that coaches dropped off their visitors.
As soon as they arrived, they faced the statue of Charles III as a Roman general.
Two twin staircases start on each side of this central staircase — the one on the right for the king and the one on the left for the queen. The initial height of their steps was criticized and sparked controversy despite the grandiose design. And yet, they had been designed to make the climb as comfortable as possible.
We reach the first hall of the palace, always amazed by what we see.
Salon Alabarderos or Hall of Halberdiers
The architect originally designed the room to be a dance and party salon. But King Charles III transformed it into a room for the guards. The decoration is simple and refined, mainly made up of Tuscan pilasters.
During one of his visits to Madrid, Napoleon would have said to the king: “Brother, you are going to have a much better house than mine.”
The visit continues…
But as it is forbidden to take photos in the royal apartments and the armory, you can go to the palace’s website, where you can admire these gems.
The rooms that marked my visit
The throne room
The throne room has kept all the original decorations as it was completed in 1772 during the reign of Carlos III.
In red and gold tones, it has just been completely restored. The cleaning of the fresco and the replacement of the velvet have been restored to their former glory.
It is in this room that the sovereign holds all the ceremonial and official audiences.
The Royal Armoury
For me, the most beautiful and exceptional room of the visit.
The Royal Armoury is one of the jewels of Spain’s historical heritage. It is considered the most important in Europe.
The personal armor of Charles V and the arms and armor of Philippe II and Philippe III make the collection’s heart. On the walls, the magnificent tapestries date from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
The Hall of Columns
Originally designed as a ballroom and reception hall, it became the seat of all civil ceremonies.
Today, it is used for public events. It was here that the abdication of King Juan Carlos I took place in favor of his son Felipe VI on June 18, 2014.
The room where the king’s dressing ceremony was held and where he received his private visits. This tells you the importance of this piece!
Its decoration is a mixture of chinoiserie and exuberant rococo style. Quite surprising and a little stuffy! The floor is in marble, the vault in stucco, the walls covered by hanging tapestries with threads of silk and gold and silver, and the furniture in precious wood and bronze — all in beige and brown tones.
Gala dining room
The Great Hall, reserved for major events, dances, and gala, is now used for state dinners. It is possible to set up a table that can accommodate up to 150 guests.
We leave the palace and take advantage of the late afternoon to stroll in the parks surrounding it.
Plaza de Oriente
Created in 1844, this rectangular-shaped square is located on the east side of the royal palace.
In the center of the square is one of the main sculptures, a bronze equestrian statue of Philip IV. This statue’s particularity is that it is the first statue of a horse standing on its hind legs … discreetly using its tail.
The sculptor Pietro Tacca, who made the sculpture from Velasquez‘s drawing, had to seek advice from the great scientist Galileo Galilei to guarantee its stability.
Why a prancing horse? This is an exception to the theory of equestrian statues. It was simply out of vanity. Philip IV wanted a more beautiful statue than his father, Philip III, which is on the Plaza Mayor.
There are also statues of Spanish kings in limestone.
But these statues were not installed here initially. They were on the roof of the castle. So what happened?
At the beginning of the 18th century, Isabel de Farnesio, mother of Charles III, having nightmares about the statues falling on her and killing her, had them removed and stored in the palace’s basements.
They remained there until the 19th century when Isabel II decided to take them out to exhibit them again. But not on the roof! They were instead placed in the Plaza de Oriente.
The Sabatini Gardens are part of the Royal Palace of Madrid and were opened to the public by King Juan Carlos I in 1978. They honor the 18th-century Italian architect Francesco Sabatini.
This is where the royal stables were located. They were demolished in 1933 to be replaced by this garden.
It contains three terraces with statues, fountains, and plant labyrinths and offers a spectacular view of the palace’s north facade.
Unfortunately for us, we could not admire it because it is closed due to works … We will have to come back. 😊
Campo del Moro
In the second half of the 19th century, Queen Maria Cristina decided to create this garden.
Until then, it had not been developed as such because it was impossible to connect this area to the royal palace due to their different altitudes.
This position offers a breath-taking view of the palace.
In 1931, the park was declared a Historic-Artistic Monument.
Why its name?
In 1109, the Muslim leader Alí Ben Yusuf attempted to reclaim Madrid after the death of King Alfonso VI. He then attacked the fortress on the hillside near the river. And apparently, he and his army camped at this location during the attack.
The visit of the park in pictures
And we had the great surprise of seeing a magnificent golden pheasant!
This is a visit not to be missed. The palace is still the royal family’s official residence, so the whole building is very well maintained. The different pieces are all more incredible than the previous one. But I can understand why you wouldn’t want to live there. Everything is a bit excessive in my eyes, and it would be hard for me to feel at home. But this is just my perception. 😉