Editor’s note. “A Taste of the Medieval” is the first of GUIDEPOST series on Madrid architecture by Gloria Suxin Mao. Photos: Gloria unless otherwise stated.



Madrid is an amazing city with a fabulous artistic atmosphere. Just by walking around, you will run into world-class museums as well as buildings with long history incorporating various architectural styles. With all these beautiful buildings adorning the cityscape of Madrid, it may be difficult to enjoy those buildings with a clear clue.

Most of the old buildings in Madrid date back to the reign of the Habsburg dynasty in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, after Phillip II moved his court to Madrid in 1561, but there are a few beautiful medieval constructions too. These edifices provide a mysterious window through which we can take look into the hoary past of Madrid.


The Medieval Archtecture
The Mudéjar Ermita de Santa María de la Antigua (Ermitage of Santa María de la Antigua), the oldest

The Mudéjar Ermita de Santa María de la Antigua (Ermitage of Santa María de la Antigua), dating as far back as the 12th century, is one of the oldest Mudéjar temples in Madrid. It is located in the cemetery of Carabanchel Bajo, its medieval structure well preserved.

The first distinctive style of the medieval times in Madrid is the Romanesque, prevalent from the eleventh century to the thirteenth, a transitional period between Roman and Gothic architectures. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Gothic style starts to lead the trend, with several technical improvements and aesthetic changes.  Interestingly, during this period there is also a special style called Mudéjar. Mudéjar is a combination of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance as well as Islamic styles, which was created by the Muslims in Spain and Portugal. It emerged as a result of the Christians’ tolerance after their reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

GLORIA vaults  - copiaIn the Romanesque style, mostly we will expect round arches and vaults. Arches are supported by piers and columns alternatively. Buttresses are not an emblematic feature of Romanesque architecture since they do not stick out from the wall significantly. It is notable that walls in Romanesque buildings are of great thickness and therefore the windows are always small to keep the strength of the walls.

With the arrival of the Gothic style one finds several obvious changes in structure and shape of the buildings. Gothic arches are mostly pointed, in the shape of lancet, providing more strength and stability to the structure. In this way, walls become thinner with larger openings, a fact which gives birth to a main characteristic of the Gothic architecture, the stained glass. In Gothic churches, windows are stained with beautiful colors illustrating Christian stories.GLORIA arches

Also the vaults are taller and wider than those in Romanesque style.

Unlike the two abovementioned architecture styles, the Mudéjar, as convergence of several different styles, has no original style of its own in so far as structure is concerned. The Mudéjar’s distinctive characteristic lies in its use of material and opulent ornamentation. To construct, Mudéjar tends to use less expensive material such as brick, tile and wood. In terms of structure, horseshoe arches are often used. These arches can be rounded, pointed or lobed. They are indicative of Islamic architecture and were employed by the Muslims in Spain. When viewing the evocative Mudéjar architecture, it would be interesting to look for the characteristics of the different architectural forms incorporated into it.


Madrid’s Ancient Buildings

Due to continuous restoration, the buildings from medieval times often show characteristics from different styles. There is no abundance of medieval buildings in Madrid but the extant few are worth visiting as they afford us a tantalizing taste of Madrid’s medieval past.

The 12th century Iglesia de San Nicolas de Bari is, arguably the oldest church inMadrid

The 12th century Iglesia de San Nicolas de Bari is, arguably the oldest church in Madrid

Arguably, the oldest church in Madrid is La Iglesia de San Nicolás de Bari which dates back to the twelfth century and  is Mudéjar. The second oldest is the Basilica de San Pedro el Grande which also dates back to the twelfth century and is a rich mixture of architecture styles. Its tower is Mudéjar whereas the main church is a combination of the Romanesque and the Gothic.

Another fascinating building is the fifteenth century Mudéjar Casa y Torre de los Lujanes.

Apart from these, there are two exceptional churches from the sixteenth century that  even bears some architectural features from medieval times as well as the Renaissance: La Capilla del Obispo and the Iglesia Parroquial de San Jerónimo el Real.

By visiting these absolutely fascinating edifices, I am sure that you will be amazed at the vestiges of the medieval times in Madrid, given that the city’s major landmarks are mostly from the Hapsburg and the Bourbon dynasties.



Iglesia Parroquial de San Jerónimo el Real (Parish Church of San Jerónimo el Real)

Parish Church of San Jerónimo el Real

La Capilla del Obispo (Bishop's Chapel)

La Capilla del Obispo (Bishop’s Chapel)

The Lujanes House andTower

Casa y Torre de los Lujanes (The Lujanes’ stately House and Tower)

GLORIA wikimedia-Real_Basílica_de_San_Francisco_el_Grande_4

San Francisco el Grande Basilica: reputed to be Madrid’s second oldest church







































Photo credits:

•Topmost sketch: commissioned by Philip II and done by Anton Van der Wyngaerde in 1562, showing the Moorish wall, left, and the Christian wall to the right. The Moors from North Africa ruled Madrid since the late 10th century. It would be reconquered by Chrisian King Alfonso VI in 1085. Public Domain. Uploaded by Esetena:
•Ermita de Santa María la Antigua: By beritec. CC-BY-SA3.0 –
•Real Basílica de San Francisco el Grande by ECsonka. CC-BY-SA 3.0 –




GLORIA ID picGloria, the one and only (future) civil engineer on the GUIDEPOST staff, is from mainland China. Above all else she is, understandably, passionate about buildings anywhere in the world. But she also loves writing. That’s precisely why she’s with us. Currently living in Madrid, and discovering the architectural treasures of this old-modern capital city, she would love to share her engineering as well as Chinese perspective with GUIDEPOST’s global readers through her articles.