Public executions, bullfights and aristocratic duels: the rectangular Plaza Mayor has been the setting of almost every imaginable type of bloody ritual. Today it is a peaceful place, a square filled with shops and outdoor cafés. This is the beating heart of the oldest part of the city, the Madrid de los Austrias district, built in the 16th century by the Habsburgs.
Step through the arches around Plaza Mayor and you step back in time. Small shops sell statues of saints, stamps and souvenirs, with shop windows and storefronts that have remained unchanged for decades. The names of the shops are displayed in decoratively painted letters on windows and signboards. At the centre of the square is a horseman statue of Philip III, the Habsburg king who ordered the construction of the square as it stands today.
“Public executions and bullfights could be watched from one of the 237 balconies”