MADRID ARCHITECTURE Series: The Era of Baroque


It will be great fun wandering around Madrid and trying to pin down the
architectural styles of some of the old buildings

PART II of the Madrid Architecture series

By Gloria Suxin Mao


The grandiose, sensuous, dramatic and exuberant Baroque architecture began to resonate in Europe in the late sixteenth century, making the scene first in Italy as a manifestation and even as an instrument of the Counter-Reformation. In Spain, after Philip II moved his court from Valladolid to Madrid in 1561, many new buildings whose architecture was Baroque with distinctive Spanish characteristics emerged in the Spanish kingdom’s new seat of power. Most of the existing old buildings in Madrid were built during the reign of the Spanish Habsburgs who reached the peak of their power and influence during the time of Charles I and Philip II, and the advent of the Bourbon dynasty.

At first the word Baroque had a derogatory meaning, implying boast of wealth. Therefore in Baroque architecture the overall impression is that it is extravagant, irregular, abnormal, etc. Unlike the previous architectural styles that were identified by distinctive structural features, Baroque architecture, in spite of different features in different countries, are all famous for luxurious decoration such as decorative columns, ceiling frescos and ornamental windows.


Early Baroque

The Baroque era can be roughly divided into three parts; accordingly the Spanish architecture shows some definitive characteristics in these three different periods. Early Baroque refers to late sixteenth century, during which Philip II was the king of Spain. Under the reign of such a prudent monarch, it is reasonable to expect Spanish Baroque to be more precise compared to the rest of Europe’s. Also in this period, the Herreresque influence still remained, adding utter simplicity and sobriety to Spanish Baroque architecture. An outstanding example of this architectural style is El Escorial, royal palace and monastery 45km northwest of Madrid, where the extremely sober style has the upper hand over the classicism of Ancient Rome.

GLORIA Article 2 El Escorial

The Royal Palace-Monastery of El Escorial

The exterior of the building, with the precise granite cut of the façade, is rather austere, which is unexpected in our stereotype of Baroque architecture. The characteristics of Spanish Baroque in this period are clearly shown in this royal complex incorporating monastery, basilica and palace. The cleanliness of line shows the elegance of kingship. There are towers at every corner of the site with grey Flemish spires. The design of window puts natural light to good use.

These Herreresque features of the minimalist palace embody a combination of Renaissance and Baroque styles developed by royal architect Juan de Herrera.

High Baroque

The superpopular tourist -must Plaza Mayor

The superpopular tourist-must Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid

Starting from the late seventeenth century, high Baroque rises. Spanish Baroque, in this period, conforms to the Baroque characteristics in other countries in Europe, on one hand, and, on the other, develops its own unique identity, which leads us to the Churrigueresque architectural style. Churrigueresque is an exclusive classification of Baroque architecture in Spain. The most noticeable characteristic of this style is the brick-red façade crowned by grey slate spires. Plaza Mayor, an emblematic landmark in the center of Madrid, is probably its most famous exponent. Another famous landmark is the Casa de la Villa in the Plaza de la Villa. Check out also the Real Hospicio de San Fernando (San Fernando Royal Hospice), today the Museo de la Historia de Madrid (Museum of the History of Madrid).

Real Hospicio

Real Hospicio

Actually, while walking around Madrid, one is bound to run into these Baroque buildings whose characteristic brick walls and slate spires are typically Churriguereque.


Late  Baroque

The Royal Palace, built in the early years of the Bourbon dynasty

The Royal Palace, built in the early years of the Bourbon dynasty

At the beginning of eighteenth century, the Habsburg dynasty came to an end and the Bourbons began to reign. Simultaneous with this time, the Baroque architecture went through slight changes, ushering in the period of so-called “late Baroque”. Two different trends developed in Spain then. The first absorbed essence from Italian architecture, emphasizing classicist elements and pursuing serenity. The other trend leaned toward a newborn style, the French Rococo, which focuses even more on luxurious ornamentation than Baroque architecture. A prominent representation of this style is the convex facade of buildings. Such style can be admired in Madrid by visiting the Basilica de San Miguel. It is arguably the only building in Madrid influenced by Italian design during this time. The Royal Palace in Madrid built at the beginning of Bourbon dynasty follows late Baroque style as well.

The Basilica de San Miguel

Basilica de San Miguel


All in all, although the whole Baroque period can be separated by parts, it is still natural to see buildings mixing in elements of the Baroque sub-styles of the different periods.

There are far more Baroque architectures, especially the Churrigueresque ones, than those discussed in this article. It will be great fun wandering around Madrid and trying to pin down the architectural styles of some of the old buildings.




Photos by Gloria except
El Escorial, by Turismo Madrid Consorcio Turístico (  Uploaded by Ecemaml ( CC-BY-2.0


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.