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The Palacio Real

The Spanish Royal Palace in Madrid serves a function similar to that of the Palace on Dam Square in Amsterdam: the Royal Family does not live there but the building is used for official public affairs. Part of it is open to the public. This Baroque giant on the west side of the city has 2,800 rooms, making it the largest palace in Europe.

Once a Moorish fortress, the Royal Alcázar of Madrid was a castle where the kings of Castile and other members of the royal family once lived. It all went up in flames in 1734 – it was Christmas time and the alarm bells that sounded were confused with the Mass bells. The Palacio Real built on the same location surpassed its predecessor in its splendour. In 1764, King Carlos III moved in. Nowadays, the royal treasures are one of the main reasons to visit the palace, although the gardens are also very popular.

The Palacio Real in Madrid
The Palacio Real in Madrid

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Royal treasures

After the fire, King Philip V commissioned Italian architect Filippo Juvara to supervise the construction of a new Royal Palace. Juvara had already earned a name for himself in Turin, where he designed the impressive Basilica di Superga and Palazzo di Stupinigi. Unfortunately, both Philip V and Juvara died before the building was completed. It was finished in 1755 by his pupils, including Giovanni Battista Sacchetti, also an Italian.

Although various royal families have resided in the palace until 1930, today it is a royal museum. Inside you will find a beautiful collection of tapestries, porcelain, antique clocks and weaponry. There are priceless paintings to admire, including by Caravaggio, Goya and Velazquez. The largest throne room, hall of mirrors and royal dining rooms clearly show the luxury in which the monarchs once lived. The current King, Felipe VI, has opted for more compact housing in the Palacio de la Zarzuela, located just outside the city.

The Palace seen from Plaza de Oriente
The enormity of the palace captured in a panoramic picture

The gardens of the Palacio Real

The French style Jardines de Sabatini are located north of the Palacio Real. This is a fantastic spot to escape the crowds and relax in the shade of pines and cypress trees. The royal stables once stood here, but were destroyed in the 1930s during the Franco regime. The gardens are situated at the bottom of a hill and around 10 metres lower than the nearby Plaza de Orient, so that, seen from the gardens, the palace is even more imposing than when viewed from the front.

“Escape the crowds and relax in the shade of a cypress in these lovely gardens.”

Photo credits

  • The Palace seen from Plaza de Oriente: Steven Bostock, Shutterstock