It is quite amusing that the last tenant in the gigantic Royal Palace up until this days was the president of the Second Republic. But by the time Manuel Azaña walked around here, the monument already had an intense and exciting history.
In the eighth century, the Muslims installed here a superb watchtower. A watchtower to control the roads, and which over time it grew to become a grand fortress. But, even with such fort, the Christians would occupy the site around the year 1085, and quickly decorated it in a Castilian-Leonese fashion. Years later the enemy armies tried unsuccessfully to recover the village, mounting a siege where today it is still called Campo del Moro (Moor’s Field).
That fortress reached the Golden Age when Philip II thought he was ruling the world more or less, and so, he had the idea to give the construction a new face which by then, it was a mess of styles and patches. He turned to Juan de Herrera, his architect and trusted necromancer, who left the monument with a uniform, robust and implacable appearance.
Presumably, the king was happy, but time passed and after the Austrians and just into the eighteenth century, came the French; the sophisticated and Versailles-style Borbone, who, of course, suffered a shock to see the dreary building of Herrera.
It needed to be reshaped immediately, and fire helped to clear the horizon: on the Christmas Eve of 1734 the construction burned down to the ground and left the way clear to start from scratch a real and sumptuous royal palace. Philip V commissioned the work to the architect Filippo Juvara, who got so excited that he proposed colossal measures for the building, with thousands of rooms. It is clear that he wasn’t going to pay for the work, but in any case, he did not live to carry out the project, and his place was taken by another Italian architect, Juan Bautista Sachetti.
Juan Bautista was a little more modest, and he reduced the dimensions of the building, just enough to double in size Buckingham or Versailles. The Palace was inaugurated in 1764, and people got used to calling it Palacio de Oriente because that is how the Square attached to it was called. As we already know, a lot of the times, this name business gets out of hand.
And, we didn’t want to say until now so as not to scare you, but you must also know that this Palace is haunted. Supernatural forces were blamed for the fire of 1734, and it seems that during the subsequent work, ghosts speaking in Arabic did not stop appearing. That said, you are free to enter… at you own risk.
If you do, go to see the Armoury, one of the most impressive on the planet, and the Royal Pharmacy, full of jars and fantastic gadgets. Also do not miss the Sabatini Gardens, the Library, and as many rooms as you can.
Come on… have a good look at this place, it is well worth it!