Second only to Versailles in size and splendor, the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) in Madrid is an architectural marvel and a treasure trove. Nearly three thousand rooms, with 240 balconies and over forty staircases, this magnificent work is one of Madrid’s major tourist attractions.
Even though less than 10% of the room is open to the public, there is still far more than a visitor could see in a single day. Everywhere the eye looks can be seen fine rococo decoration, lush tapestries, bejeweled clocks, delicate porcelain, and thousands of other precious objects.
Long the home of Spanish monarchs (it was conceived by Phillip V, and occupied until Alfonso XIII in 1931), this palace was once the center of power for a dynasty that ruled half the then-known world.
Sited at the former Moorish fortress, Alcázar (built in the 9th century, but burned down in 1734), the palace itself is an outstanding example of French classical architecture. But beyond the building, there are statuary and grounds that complete the work.
The stone statues of an Inca prince, Atahualpa, and the Aztec king Montezuma are only two of the many unusual touches around the palace grounds.
The two-hour tour of the palace includes the Salón de Gasparini, where you can see astonishing ceramic walls and sparkling chandeliers. It also covers the magnificent banquet hall, which can seat over 100 guests for dinner.
Twenty-five years in construction, the palace contains the throne room and armory of one of the world’s superpowers of the 18th century. Both are on display today.
In the throne room are the two seats occupied by a succession of Spain’s rulers, from which they issued edicts that influenced much of the world’s history for centuries. The Armeria Real (Royal Armory) shows a number of weapons and armor, along with a range of medieval torture implements used in the Spanish Inquisition.
But there are also on display examples of Spain’s more exalted aspects.
You’ll have an opportunity to see the famed Biblioteca Real (Royal Library), too. Not a serious competitor compared to the Vatican collection, but well worth a visit. You’ll see the first edition of Don Quixote, Cervantes magnum opus, and several Stradivarius stringed instruments.
The Royal Pharmacy displays many of the instruments used to treat the members of the royal family and gives some insight into the medical knowledge of the day. It’s still in use, and therefore is closed during official functions.
Visitors can witness the changing of the guards outside while taking in a view of one of the best of Madrid’s many fine gardens. Stand on the Patio de Armas and enjoy the view of the Manzanares River.