10 reasons why you should visit the Royal Palace of Madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid is one of Spain's most visited monuments and an essential stop on your Madrid visit. Built in the 18th century by the Bourbon dynasty, it is Western Europe's largest royal palace. It covers an area of 135,000 m² and houses 3,418 rooms, nearly double the size of Buckingham Palace in London or the Palace of Versailles in Paris. If you want to know why it is a must-visit with Feel the City Tours, keep reading.

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It is built upon a medieval fortress, the former Royal Alcázar of Madrid

Did you know? The Royal Palace of Madrid is built upon the pillars and lands of what was once the Royal Alcázar. The Royal Alcázar of Madrid was the monarchy's royal palace until the year 1734. In that year, a large part of the palace was destroyed by a fire of unknown origin on the night of Christmas Eve, leaving behind only what remains of the Palace of the Treasury.

The Alcázar underwent several renovations over its history, especially noteworthy are those realized under Philip II, the greatest king of the Hapsburg dynasty, who set it up as his residence until his move to the Escorial.

The fire provided an opportunity for the ruling monarchs—by then, the Bourbon dynasty—to demolish the Alcázar and build a new, more modern palace, more in line with the tastes and aesthetics of the era. Thus, in the year 1738, under the rule of Philip V of Spain (the monarch with the longest rule over Spain) construction began on the new Royal Palace and concluded during the reign of his successor, Ferdinand VI. The architects who led the various stages of the project were Filippo Juvara, Juan Bautista Sachetti, Ventura Rodríguez and Francesco Sabatini, whose name was given to the Palace's famed gardens.

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It is the official residence of the King and Queen

Although the current king and queen of Spain (Felipe VI and Letizia Ortiz) do not reside there, the Royal Palace is the official residence of the Spanish Crown. For this reason, the Royal Palace is used by the Crown to hold state ceremonies and other ceremonial events.

However, King Felipe VI resides at the Zarzuela Palace, located on the outskirts of Madrid, in an annexe to the main premises that was built in 2002. The monarch's parents, King and Queen Emeritus Juan Carlos I and Sofía, have their residence in the main building. The seat of the Household of HM the King and Felipe VI's office are also found here.

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The crown and Royal sceptre are guarded there

Within the Crown Room, located in what was in bygone times the Chambers of Queen Maria Christina, the symbols of Spain's constitutional monarchy are guarded: the crown and the royal sceptre. The room is decorated with tapestries that represent the four seasons and was remodelled for the proclamation of Felipe VI as King in 2014.

The current Royal Crown comes from the reign of Charles III. It is crafted in chiselled, embossed and gilded silver. The sceptre is even older. It dates from the rule of Charles II and is crafted in rock crystal, gilded silver filigree, enamels and set garnets. Both symbols have been emblems of the Spanish monarchy since the reign of Isabel II.

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It is known as the Oriente Palace, in honour of the Plaza by the same name

The Royal Palace is also known as the Oriente Palace. This is despite being situated in the westernmost area of Madrid. The name Oriente Palace is due to its location in the Oriente square, which was developed after the Palace and was named for its position to the east of the royal building.

The Plaza de Oriente was going to be an avenue ending at the palace, under the orders and idea of Joseph Bonaparte, but it was later configured as a large square next to the palatial compound, just as we know it today. If you visit the square, you can't miss the collection of sculptures of twenty Spanish kings—five Visigoths and fifteen from Christian kingdoms—located on each side of the central gardens.

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It houses the most important Stradivarius collection

Many visitors don't know that the Stradivarius Royal Quartet is guarded within the Royal Palace of Madrid. This is the world's most important collection of instruments crafted by the renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari.

The Stradivarius Royal Quartet is made up of two violins, a viola and a violoncello, which, due to their adornment, are also known as decorated Stradivarius. In addition, the Palace also houses another violoncello by the same creator that dates to 1700. All of these instruments were acquired by King Charles IV in the year 1775

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You can get lost in its gardens

Every palace also has its beautiful gardens, and the Royal Palace is no exception. The grounds of the Royal Palace of Madrid feature two main gardens that you must not miss on your visit.

On one side are the denominated Campo del Moro Gardens, which receive this name for having been the campsite of the Almoravid emir Ali ibn Yusuf's troops in the year 1109. After several renovations, they are currently styled after 19th century English parks.

We also recommend that you visit the Sabatini Gardens, located on the northern side. These gardens, in contrast, follow French style and were created in the 1930s. They feature a pond and a collection of statues of Spanish kings.

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It houses an important collection of paintings

If you are an art lover, you must not miss the Royal Palace of Madrid. In the Palace you will see some pieces from the expansive royal collection, most of which is kept at the Prado Museum. You will be able to admire works by the best painters of their times: Goya, Velázquez, Caravaggio, Bassano, Rubens, Giordano and Sorolla, amongst others.

What's more, you will be amazed with the frescoes that decorate the Palace's vaulted ceilings, displaying the work of such artists as Battista, Mengs, Bayeu and Giaquinto. Don't miss a single detail on your visit, as the works of art are distributed throughout various halls, as well as in the area called the museum of painting.

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It houses Spain's premier clock and watch collection

If you love period pieces, you must not miss this spectacular collection, in which you will be able to see watches from the rococo period crafted for Ferdinand VI by the Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, one of the most outstanding craftsmen of his time.

Other pieces of interest include the Calvario clock, produced in Nuremberg in the 17th century, as well as an 1878 watch crafted with gold, silver and ivory, a gift to King Alfonso XIII by the president of Peru in 1906.

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You can witness the changing of the Guard

If you visit the Royal Palace of Madrid, we recommend that you make note in your agenda to witness the Solemn Changing of the Royal Guard. Taking place at midday on the first Wednesday of every month, 4,000 people and 100 horses participate in the ceremony, which is performed just as it was in the times of the kings Alfonso XII and Alfonso XIII.

If your visit doesn't coincide with that day, you can see the Changing of the Royal Palace Guard, which takes place every Wednesday and Saturday of the year from 11 AM to 2 PM. Every 30 minutes a relief is performed, in which a total of 14 members of the royal guard and 4 horses participate. An interesting note: the guard dresses in Spanish military uniforms from the times of Alfonso XIII.

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It houses the second largest collection of tapestries in the world

Lastly, you must not miss one of the largest collections of tapestries in the world, second only to that of Rome's Quirinal Palace. This gorgeous collection includes pieces produced in 16th century Brussels, as well as from the Royal Tapestry Factory of Madrid, produced in the 18th century over sketches by Francisco de Goya. Tip: don't miss the gorgeous tapestries that cover the walls of the Gala Banquet Hall!