Royal Palace of Madrid: Architecture, History & Facts

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, explore the architecture of the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family: The Royal Palace of Madrid. Learn its history, some interesting facts, and key aspects of the structure and its interiors.

The Royal Palace of Madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid is located in western Madrid, and it is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. It is considered the most important Baroque palace in Spain. Since it also has neoclassical elements, the palace marked a transition of styles. It is a large structure with abundant artwork. Let's find out more.

The Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid

History

The current palace was built on the location of an old Moorish fortress from the 9th century. The Moorish were the Arab people who occupied Spain during the Middle Ages. The terrain was of great strategic importance for the defense of the old Arab citadel.

After the Moors were expelled and Alfonso VI took Madrid, the fortress was rarely used until the end of the 15th century when it became one of the main fortresses in the city and the seat of the Royal Court. The old structure burned down in 1734, and King Phillip V ordered a new palace to be erected in the same place; this is the palace known today as the Royal Palace of Madrid. The construction started in 1738 and was completed almost 18 years later, in 1764.

The Royal Palace of Madrid is one of Europe's largest palaces, with more than 1 million square feet of floor space. It also has an astounding amount of rooms: more than 3,400. The main staircase has more than 70 steps, and there are countless pieces of art in the interiors.

Architecture of the Royal Palace of Madrid

Filippo Juvarra was the initial architect and he took inspiration from Italian architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the French Baroque palaces. After Juvarra died in 1736, architect Giambattista Sacchetti took over the design process. He conceived a Baroque design. Finally, in 1760, Francesco Sabatini was summoned to expand the building. These additional elements followed the newer neoclassical style.

Square Plan Layout

The Royal Palace has a very simple square plan layout with the geometric rigor that was characteristic in the Spanish Baroque. The palace was designed in the form of a large square with an interior courtyard. Two large projecting wings were built on the front, enclosing a square for military marches and practices, known as a parade ground.

Use of Stone and Noble Materials

Considering that the old palace burned down and that the Spanish Monarchy was becoming wealthier, abundant noble materials were used for the construction. The facades are made mostly out of local white and gray stone. Noble materials were widely used in the interior. Spanish marble and golden stucco were used on the walls and stairs, while mahogany was extensively used on doors and windows. The materials were combined with different pieces of artwork for the decoration.

Abundant noble materials used in the main staircase
Abundant noble materials used in the main staircase

Rhythmic facades with well-defined levels

The facades are very rhythmical with an abundant use of columns and pilasters. The facades show a well-defined base and noble level and upper area; this was a common distribution in Baroque palaces. The base is made of a more rustic stone and it's composed of two levels, one of them partially underground. The main level was built over the base. It features the largest windows and is decorated with abundant classical pilasters. Balconies were built for some important rooms. Finally, the upper level is more private, with smaller windows and finished by moldings and other ornaments.

Facade of the Royal Palace of Madrid
Facade of the Royal Palace of Madrid

Interiors of the Royal Palace of Madrid

The interiors of the Royal Palace were finished and decorated using not only noble materials but also plenty of artwork. Frescoes, sculptures, mirrors, tapestry, and furniture are among the decorative elements. The frescoes were painted by different Spanish artists, such as Corrado Giaquinto, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and Anton Raphael Mengs.

The Grand Staircase

The main staircase of the palace was built by Sabatini. It was made of marble and has several decorative elements. There are two sculptures of lions. Four large stone jars are located on the sides of the stairs, representing the elements of water, earth, wind, and fire. On the upper part, there is a statue of King Charles III in a Roman toga. A statue of Charles IV is located on the first floor. The fresco on the ceiling is one of the most representative artistic pieces. It was painted by Corrado Giaquinto, representing the power of the monarchy. It was named Religion Protected by Spain.

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