The coming of the Bourbon dynasty to Spain in the 18th century brought a major urban transformation to the city of Madrid. Up to this time, the more sober style of the House of Austria had been predominant. Philip V, however, began a remodelling of the capital, inspired first by the ostentatious court of Versailles, and then by the tendencies of classicism and Enlightenment.
The route's layout is around the city centre, so it can be done on foot or by public transport.
The first stop is the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Monarch, and whose interior décor offers a summery of Bourbon history. Its construction was begun in 1738 by order of Philip V, the first of this dynasty’s kings to sit on the Spanish throne, following a fire at the austere Buen Retiro Palace. His intention was to create a building inspired by the Palace of Versailles, where he had lived as a child. Although works were begun under Filippo Juvara, it was Juan Bautista Sachetti who designed its square floor plan and courtyard.
The Baroque palace has undergone a number of extensions reflecting the influences of different styles. Highlights of the exterior are the Campo del Moro and Sabatini Gardens, both of French design. Inside, the Throne Room, the Porcelain Chamber, the Royal Chapel and the Royal Armoury are of particular interest.
The next stop is the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts, a Baroque building from 1724. The institution, founded in 1752 under the patronage of Ferdinand VI, promoted the values of classicism, and in 1774 Diego de Villanueva was charged with adapting the façade to conform to this artistic style. Outstanding pieces in its art gallery include Spring, by Arcimboldo, and some works by Goya from his period as a court painter.
The monarch’s refined tastes and his interest in promoting the arts and culture led to the implementation of urban planning projects in order to improve the city’s appearance. Some clear examples of this include the three arches of Puerta de Alcalá –one of the symbols of Madrid–, Puerta de San Vicente and Puerta de Toledo. However, perhaps the best example of a project designed as an integral unit is the Paseo del Prado avenue.
Charles III conceived the idea of converting the former Prado Viejo into a grand new tree-lined avenue, full of gardens and fountains. Work on the building originally known as the Salón del Prado, designed by José de Hermosilla, was begun in 1763. Today on the avenue we can see the emblematic fountains of La Cibeles and Apollo, also known as the Four Seasons. The Neptune and Alcachofa fountains, which formed part of this set of sculptural works, were moved to Cánovas del Castillo square and the Retiro Park.
Charles III’s architect, Juan de Villanueva, was also responsible for the final design of the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Royal Astronomic Observatory. These formed part of a set of buildings known as the Colina de las Ciencias, or 'Hill of Science', together with the Royal Natural History Museum. After the Napoleonic invasion, this building’s function was changed on the orders of Ferdinand VII, and it was converted into today’s Prado Museum, world famous for its collection of paintings.
Our route ends in the Paseo de Recoletos, at the buildings of the Spanish National Library and the National Archaeological Museum. We then go on to visit three 18th-century religious buildings associated with the Bourbons: the neo-classical Royal Basilica of San Francisco el Grande, with paintings by Zurbarán and Alonso Cano, and the church of San Marcos, designed by Ventura Rodríguez. And finally the convent of the Salesas Reales, today the site of the Supreme Court. The convent’s founder, Queen Bárbara de Braganza, and her husband, Ferdinand VI are buried in this Rococo building.
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