Madrid is the capital of Spain and the largest municipality in both the Community of Madrid and Spain as a whole. The city has almost 3.2 million inhabitants and a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.5 million. It is the third-largest city in the European Union (EU), smaller than only London and Berlin, and its monocentric metropolitan area is the third-largest in the EU, smaller only than those of London and Paris.
The Plaza Mayor, a grand arcaded square in the center of Madrid is very popular with tourists and locals alike. The symmetrical rectangular square features a uniform architecture. Before Madrid became a capital city, its footprint consisted of narrow streets, alleys and passageways, which today take us back to the times of swashbuckling swordsmen and medieval rogues. The foundations of Plaza Mayor were laid, when Philip II's court moved to Madrid, on the site of the former Plaza del Arrabal, where the town's most popular market was located towards the end of the 15th century. In 1617, architect Juan Gómez de Mora was commissioned to create a greater uniformity amongst the buildings in this location, which for centuries had hosted popular entertainments, bullfights, beatifications, coronations and the occasional auto de fe.
Puerta del Sol (meaning The Sun's Gate in English) is one of the most renowned central squares in Madrid and it houses several of the city’s landmarks. The plaza was built in different stages. During the fifteenth century, La Puerta del Sol was originally one of the gates of the city wall and three centuries later, the mid-eighteenth century, the Casa de Correos was established. Finally, between 1857 and 1862, the architects Lucio del Valle, Juan Rivera and José Morer gave it its definitive form. During the twentieth century, the fountain was placed in the center of the square and part of it was pedestrianized.
The Puerta del Sol houses three well-known symbols of Madrid:
• El Oso y el Madroño (Statue of the Bear and Strawberry Tree
• Real Casa de Correos
• Kilometre Zero (KM 0):
The Royal Palace is one of the top tourist attractions in Madrid. It is the official residence for the Royal family, but these days they only use it for state ceremonies. The rest of the time it's open to the public. Otherwise known in Spanish as the Palacio Real, the Royal Palace was built during the 18th and 19th centuries and is a monumental building. It replaced the former medieval Alcázar, which was burnt to the ground in 1794. The present-day Royal Palace of Madrid was decorated to the tastes of Charles III and is lavish inside. Visitors can wander through many of the rooms and banqueting halls.