The architecture of Madrid reflects a broad range of styles and eras, and there’s no better evidence of this than Madrid’s churches, which encompass medieval and renaissance, through to art deco and modernist periods. The abundance of beautiful churches in Madrid means that this “church crawl” will centre around a relatively small area, surrounding the royal palace.
Staying in Madrid, many of us have probably already taken part in a “pub crawl”, or at least, we get the gist. Architecture junkies have plenty to feast their eyes upon in the fair capital of Madrid, and a visit to Madrid’s churches can be a fine way to spend a weekend afternoon. On this suggested church crawl, we combine stops at Madrid’s most interesting, important and impressive churches centred around the royal palace and La Latina district, interspaced with refreshments en route.
Our tour begins at Madrid’s cathedral, Almudena, located next to the royal palace. With a neo-gothic interior, and neo-baroque exterior, this impressive building was begun in the early 19th century, and due to a cease in works during the civil war, it was only completed in 1993! Spain had spent so much of its wealth building impressive cathedrals in its colonies, that it had neglected to build a cathedral in the Spanish Capital. It was well worth the wait, because Madrid now has a cathedral to be proud of, where one can marvel at the impressive and quirky mix of architecture and modern art within the interior. Enjoy the breathtaking ceiling, and modern sculptures by various Spanish artists.
Located just a few minutes walk from the cathedral, is the Church of Saint Nicolas. Saint Nicolas is noteworthy as it’s one of the few surviving examples of medieval architecture in the whole of Madrid, and is Madrid’s oldest church. Many additions and renovations through the years have seen a mixture of styles, but the most impressive feature is undoubtedly the bell tower. The tower, which was declared a national treasure as early as 1931, is completely original and dates to the 12 century.
San Miguel Basilica
A short wander along Calle del Sacramento takes us to the quaint and noble San Miguel Basilica. This is pure baroque territory, having been built in 1745, and retains its original interior features. Administered by Opus Dei (yes, of the Da Vinci Code fame), be sure to check out the original, vivid frescoes by Spanish artist Bartolomé Rusca.
Okay, so we’re three churches down. A good time for a coffee break, and we’re in luck as El Bus, one of Madrid’s best coffee bars is about 5 minutes’ walk further along Calle de Colegiata.
San Pedro el Royal
Now that we’re refreshed, it’s time to take a stroll through the La Latina district to San Pedro el Royal. This curious church dates to medieval times and still boasts some sections of medical architecture, interspersed with baroque and neoclassical additions and renovations. Two features make this an outstanding building – the leaning bell tower dating back to the 14th century (Madrid’s own leaning tower of Pisa), and also, the tombs of Spanish Kings Alfonso I and Ramiro II.
San Francisco el Grande
Saving the best for last, we now head back in the direction of the royal palace to the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande. This is the big one: Madrid’s largest church, it was built on the site of a 13th century chapel in the 1770s, in the neoclassic style. The impressive dome is 58 metres high, with interior paintings by Francisco Goya. Included amongst other art treasures within, are paintings by Spanish baroque artist Francisco Zurbarán. You’ll be able to explore the tombs of Spain’s most famous artists and politicians, but more impressive is the sheer scale and grandeur of the Basilica dome and nave. Guided tours are available.
After all this architectural exploring, you must be in need of a cerveza and some tapas – luckily were now situated in the heart of the La Latina district with its trendy bars and restaurants. Check out Calle Cava Baja, buzzing with bars, including Leka Leka or Taverna Lamiak.