Madrid’s fabulous Royal Palace, inspired by Bernini’s designs for the Louvre in Paris, is one of Europe’s outstanding architectural monuments. More than half of the state apartments are open to the public, each sumptuously decorated with silk wall hangings, frescoes and gilded stucco, and crammed with priceless objects d’art. The palace’s setting is equally breathtaking. Laid out before the visitor in the main courtyard (Plaza de Armas) is an uninterrupted vista of park and woodland, stretching from the former royal hunting ground of Casa de Campo to El Escorial and the majestic peaks of the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Stand for a few moments on Plaza de Oriente to enjoy the splendour of Sacchetti’s façade, gleaming in the sun. Sacchetti achieved a rhythm by alternating Ionic columns with Tuscan pilasters.
When Napoleon first saw the staircase after installing his brother on the Spanish throne, he said “Joseph, your lodgings will be better than mine”, owing to Corrado Giaquinto’s fine frescoes.
This exquisite room was once the setting for balls and banquets, and is still used for ceremonial occasions. Attractions include Giaquinto’s fresco of Charles III shown as the sun god Apollo and superb 17th-century silk tapestries.
This room was designed for Charles III by Giovanni Battista Natale as a glorification of the Spanish monarchy. The bronze lions guarding the throne were made in Rome in 1651.
Named after its Italian creator, this dazzling room was Charles III’s robing room. The lovely ceiling, encrusted with stuccoed fruit and flowers, is a superb example of 18th-century chinoiserie .
The banqueting hall was created for the wedding of Alfonso XII in 1879. The tapestries and ceiling frescoes are by Anton Mengs and Antonio Velázquez. Look out for the Chinese vases “of a thousand flowers”, in the window recesses.
Ventura Rodríguez is usually credited with the decoration of this chapel, although he worked hand-in-hand with other collaborators. The dome, supported by massive columns of black marble, is illuminated with some more of Giaquinto’s frescoes.
The royal pharmacy was created at the end of the 16th century to supply herbal medicines to the court. Glass retorts, pestles, mortars and jars fill the gilded shelves, while the reconstructed distillery shows how they might have been used.
The royal armoury has been open to the public for more than 400 years. It boasts more than 2,000 pieces, mostly made for jousts and tournaments rather than the battlefield.
These beautiful gardens were landscaped in the 19th century and planted with acacias, chestnuts, magnolias, cedars and palms. Stand on the avenue and you’ll be rewarded with views of the palace’s façade.
The palace stands on the site of the Alcázar, the 9th-century Muslim castle. In 1734 the wooden structure burned down and Philip V commissioned Italian architect Filippo Juvara then GB Sachetti to design a replacement. Work began in 1738 and was completed in 1764. The present king, however, prefers to live at the Palacio de Zarzuela outside the city.
The priceless “Palace Quartet” (two violins, a viola and violoncello) was made in the 18th century by the world-famous luthier , Antonio Stradivari.
These exquisite tapestries in the Gala Dining Room were made in Brussels by Willem Pannemaker in the mid-16th century.
Among the royal porcelain are some fine examples of Sèvres and Meissen dinnerware.
These 17th-century tapestries depict scenes from the lives of the Apostles.
The quartet of portraits by Goya depicting Charles IV and his wife Maria Luisa show the queen as a Spanish maja (beauty).
This 18th-century piece in the Hall of Columns has six bronze sphinxes as table supports.
This clock was made for Charles IV in 1799; it contains a marble sculpture of Chronos, representing time.
This beautiful jewelled dagger in the Armoury belonged to the 15th-century Muslim ruler, Mahomet XII (Boabdil).
Corrado Giaquinto’s fresco on the ceiling of the Hall of Columns shows Charles III as the sun god Apollo.
Giambattista Tiepolo’s frescoes in the Throne Room are a tour de force . Marginal figures represent Spain’s overseas possessions.
The Austrian house of Habsburg ruled Spain for nearly 200 years (1516–1700), beginning with Carlos I (Emperor Charles V) and his son Felipe II. By the time the first Bourbon king, Felipe V (grandson of Louis XIV of France), came to the throne, Spain was already in decline. Felipe was immediately challenged by the Habsburg Archduke Charles of Austria, causing the disastrous War of the Spanish Succession (1700–13) which led to Spain losing territories in Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Sardinia and Gibraltar. The Bourbon presence also gave Napoleon the excuse to interfere in Spanish affairs, eventually imposing his brother as king. Although the Bourbons were restored (1813), there followed more than a century of political turmoil, during which the dynasty’s right to rule was continually challenged until the monarchy was finally abolished in 1931. After the death of the dictator, General Franco, in 1975, his nominated successor, the Bourbon King Juan Carlos I, presided over the restoration of democracy.