Once a marketplace, then a bull-ring and even an execution square, Plaza Mayor has transformed and evolved significantly through the ages. Felipe II commissioned a public square to be built here, which was completed according to the designs of the architect Juan Gómez de Mora in 1619. Having been destroyed by a series of enormous fires, it was finally rebuilt in 1790 and has managed to survive in this incarnation until the present day.
There's no need to come here with any specific purpose. Just have a wander and enjoy the beautiful architecture of the classy residential buildings that border the plaza. The square is dominated by the Casa de la Panaderia, which, in the past, housed Madrid's bakers' guild, and which today provides a home for the tourist information centre. At the centre of the square you'll find the statue of Felipe III atop his horse, the work of Giambologna and Pietro Tacca. The piece was made in 1616, but it was only placed in the square in the 19th century as a result of all the building work and repairs being undertaken here.
Plaza Mayor is now a favourite place for artists to come and sell their work and for street performers and musicians to show off their skills. It's also a popular place for public celebrations to take place; check out local tourist information resources to see what's going on during your visit.
The walkways that run around the square provide a break from the sunshine, and are lined with boutiques, cafés and restaurants. You should be aware, however, that the restaurants here can be quite pricey.
Plaza Mayor is in a district called Las Austrias which is an interesting area to walk around. The square itself is accessible via Ópera and Puerta del Sol metro stations, and is not far from the Casa del Ayuntamiento and the Royal Palace. It's always open, and the restaurants serve until late into the evening.
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