GalleryLocation - The Historic Centre
The Oldest Districts of Madrid
South of Gran Via and Plaza Mayor we find what is called the castizo (or pure-blooded) districts of Madrid - the oldest part of the city where the streets are dense and some of the most important religious and historic civic buildings are located. This zone's southern border starts at the Glorieta de la Puerta de Toledo, an area first bult up under Charles III. The neo-classical gate was contructed later, in 1827, from designs by Lopez Aguado and incorporating sculptures from Ramon Barba and Valeriano Salvatierra. Just a few paces up from here is the Church of La Paloma (the 'dove'), which used to carry out whole body baptisms and is the centre of a very big annual fiesta in August.
Moving north, up the calle de San Francisco, you enter the 'Moreria' barrio (Moorish district), a labyrinth of tiny, irregular squares and steep, winding streets which give you a good idea of how medieval Madrid must have looked. Located here is the Chapel of San Isidro, Madrid's most important saint (and they've got a fair few to choose from here, let me tell you) built in the 18th century and adjoining it is the Church of San Andrés whose origins date back to the 12th century.
Still moving north and into the La Latina barrio you eventually come to Plaza de la Paja ('paja' means straw, as well as something rather naughty which we won't go into here - ask a local and see if they snigger...) In days past this square was the most important market in the city, holding produce auctions and public debates etc. Nowadays it's a lovely place to relax in the shade and there are bars dotted around its edges. Here you will find the Chapel of El Obispo one of the finest examples of Castllian Renaissance sculpture still extant and the College of San Ildefenso, which is famous because it's where the national lottery takes place, with its pupils 'singing' (or chanting) the winning numbers.