Monumental towns of Madrid


The outskirts of Madrid are surrounded by historic enclaves linked to the royal family

Alcalá de Henares, Aranjuez, Chinchón and San Lorenzo del Escorial are some of the towns in the Madrid region most closely linked to the royal family.

Alcalá de Henares

This Madrid town is famous for its prestigious university and for having borne witness to the birth of Miguel de Cervantes, whose House Museum is open to visitors. It has an extensive monumental heritage which transports the visitor back in time to the Golden Age. It became known as a cultural centre in the 15th century with the foundation of the ‘Universitas Complutenses’, which attracted scholars and religious people, leading to the construction of buildings such as the Palacio Arzobispal.

Work on the palace began in the 13th century, with the Torreón del Tenorio, while the main facade dates from the 16th century. Each year on All Saints' Day a performance of "Don Juan" is staged on its patio. The facade of the Catedral de los Santos Niños Justo y Pastor is also used in this theatre piece. This is a Gothic building with a Herrerian tower added later. The university buildings include the Colegio de San Ildefonso, where classrooms dating back to its original construction are still to be found intact. The current Plateresque facade dates from the 16th century. Its buildings house magnificent Renaissance and Baroque cloisters and patios. 

Some more academic gems of Alcalá de Henares are the old Colegio Menor de San Jerónimo school, the current Hostería de Alcalá de Henares, and Renaissance and Mudejar Patio Trilingüe where classes in Latin, Greek and Hebrew were taught. The old Colegio del Rey is today the head office of the Instituto Cervantes, dedicated to the promotion of Spanish language. Around the Plaza de Cervantes is the theatre dedicated to the writer and also the Town Hall, the Capilla del Oidor, Colegio de Málaga and the Convento de Santa Úrsula.

Aranjuez

Aranjuez

An example of a magnificent symbiosis between nature and human activity, Aranjuez recreates landscapes in which forests and flowing waters enter into a symbiosis with gardens and palaces, while applying town planning concepts from the Enlightenment. In fact, the gardens are its most prized asset. Facing the facade of the Palacio Real is the anglophile Jardín del Parterre, with beautiful sculptures on its fountains. The Jardín de la Isla, extends from the Tajo River to the Inlet, while the Príncipe garden is more wooded and French-influenced.

The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) is a real jewel in the Madrid region, having undergone various additions and reconstruction on a number of occasions. Its construction was begun by Juan Bautista de Toledo, an architect of Felipe II, and evolved under the orders of other kings. Its interior houses a complete collection of Baroque pieces such as clocks, china and various paintings. In the rest of the town the Baroque style can be seen in the tree-lined streets and wide avenues. Its open design is a wonder to behold with monuments such as the Mariblanca Fountain, the Teatro Real (Royal Theatre), the Casa de Oficios y Caballeros or the Abastos Market. 

The palace buildings also include the buildings of Osuna, Medinaceli and Godoy, while the sacred architecture is very well represented with the San Pascual Convent and the churches of Alpajés and San Antonio, each with their own special features. Another illustrious building is the Neo-Mudejar style railway station. As a courtesan town it is also home to sanctuaries of leisure such as the bullfighting ring and its museum and the Cocheras de la Reina Madre (Coach Houses of the Queen Mother), which are now an exhibition and recital centre.

Chinchón

Situated in the Tajo depression, 45 km from the capital, Chinchón is one of the region's most picturesque towns with nearby natural paradises such as the wetlands of the Laguna de San Juan and the Regional Park around Manzanares and Jarama. Its origins date back to the days of the Carpetans and it has passed through the hands of the Romans, the Visigoths and Moors before the Reconquest in 1139. Since that year it has experienced a rich history, bearing witness to the appointment of kings and other historical events.

The town can be summed up in its beautiful medieval square, with its irregular surface and two and three-storey houses with continuous wooden balconies. Buildings worthy of mention include the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, which was rebuilt in a mixture of styles - Gothic, Plateresque, Renaissance and Baroque. Its most prized treasure is the Goya painting, “La Asunción de la Virgen”. Also worth mentioning are the Convento de las Clarisas, the Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower) and the ruins of a 15th century castle. The typical hillside houses stand out against the noble houses in the centre featuring coats of arms, beautiful patios and balconies supported by columns.

San Lorenzo del Escorial

San Lorenzo del Escorial

The main attraction of this town nestled in the Sierra de Guadarrama is the El Escorial Monastery However, the design of the town is itself a work of art which blends Herrerian-style majestic houses with rationalist avenues and peaceful squares. Its architecture, in granite and slate, is typical of the region and the town is surrounded by forests and mountains. Monuments in the town include the Casa de los Infantes y la Reina and the Coliseo de Carlos III.

The complicated structure of the Royal Monastery contrasts with the simplicity of its lines and the visitor's attention is drawn to the harmonious collection of patios, fountains, cloisters and towers. The Basilica houses more than 4,000 rooms and is accessed through the Patio de los Reyes de Judea, which has a dome almost 100 metres in height. It also houses the Panteón Real (Royal Pantheon), sculpted in marble and jasper, beneath which lie the remains of monarchs from the houses of Austria and Borbón.

The greatest expression of grandeur in this collection of monuments can be seen in the dome of the Basilica, the Patio de los Reyes, and the sumptuous Palacio de los Borbones. Documents on the construction of this grand visual work can be consulted at the Museum of Architecture. The testimonial and artistic heritage is colossal, with an abundance of manuscripts in the library and a collection of tapestries and paintings which feature Greco, Velázquez and El Bosco.

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