Notes on the Geography of Spain: Madrid: Photo 64
At last, the Plaza Mayor, just off the Calle Mayor and a two-minute walk from Sol. This square is the subject of an exhaustive history, The Plaza Mayor and the Shaping of Baroque Madrid by Jesús Escobar (2004). He calls the square, which has a long history but was fundamentally shaped between 1615 and 1620, "the heart of Madrid as a cultural and political symbol of Spanish Habsburg rule." Escobar says that the square was "planned and built as an urban centerpiece for a new capital envisioned by the Spanish Habsburg ruler Philip II... [and that] on most days, the plaza served as the principal market space of Madrid. Following a well-ordered arrangement, vendors brought fruit, vegetables, dried nuts, candied almonds, and other goods to sell from specially designed tables and stands. In shops located under the plaza's porticoes, merchants offered stationery, pastries, and luxury goods.... Residents of all social classes also gathered in the plaza to buy bread and meat... [M]erchants and courtiers, bureaucrats and widows alike lived in the apartments rising four stories above the ground level shops that lined the perimeter of the Plaza Mayor" (p. 1).
By 1629 Jerónimo de Quintana offered this description: "Among public buildings, that which ranks first and is the most sumptuous to be found in Madrid is the Plaza Mayor, which is also one of the most precious edifices in all of Spain.... The facades of the houses are of fired brick, each standing five stories and rising more than seventy-one feet from pedestal to rooftop. Beneath the first floor, and circling the entire plaza, are porticoes wide and tall enough for the passage of persons on horseback" (p. 206).
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