04 Jul Barrio de las Letras
Barrio de las Letras
The Barrio de las Letras, Madrid’s Literary Quarter, is named in honor of the great writers who lived here during the Spanish Golden Age. Some of the main streets are named after Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Quevedo. Literary quotes from their best works, along with those of other authors, are written in gold letters that adorn the pavement of the pedestrian zones.
Nowadays, the Barrio de las Letras is one of the most charming and attractive areas of Madrid. It boasts a wide variety of unique shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants. The atmosphere is tranquil and secluded thanks to the absence of car traffic in this haven for pedestrians.
With a history stretching back more than five centuries, the neighborhood of Las Letras is so closely linked to literature that it is also known as the neighborhood of the Muses or the neighborhood of Parnassus. In addition to Cervantes, Quevedo and Lope de Vega, illustrious figures such as Góngora, Calderón de la Barca, Jacinto Benavente, José Echegaray, and more have also walked its streets. This is where the first comedy theaters (including La Cruz, La Pacheca, and El Príncipe) and the first traditional theaters (such as the Teatro Español and Teatro de la Comedia) were built.
This neighborhood combines history and literary heritage with modern gastronomy and quirky shops to explore. As you enjoy walking along the pedestrian-only streets, here are some recommendations:
Plaza de Santa Ana
The beating heart of the Literary Quarter, this square has existed since the Santa Ana convent was demolished during the expansion of Madrid in the early 19th century. Its perimeter is lined with restaurants that fill the plaza with outdoor seating. The Teatro Español and Hotel Me Reina Victoria stand at opposite ends of the square, while statues of playwrights Federico García Lorca and Calderón de la Barca adorn the central area.
Calle de las Huertas
You can think of this street as an artery that crosses the neighborhood diagonally and brings together all kinds of innovative shops and restaurants along with traditional bars. At the intersection with Calle del León, you will find the Royal Academy of History, an institution that houses an impressive legacy of historical documents and was curiously founded in 1735 during a literary meeting between friends. Later, King Philip V authorized it and granted it his protection, thus paving the way for it to become to Royal Academy of History.
On the corner where Calle Cervantes meets Calle León, a plaque commemorates the place where the author of Don Quijote lived and died. The Lope de Vega House Museum is a bit further down the street. Lope de Vega lived in this house with a garden until his death. Today, you can visit to see how the museum has recreated the office where the playwright wrote his plays and the rooms where he lived.
Ateneo de Madrid
Here at Calle del Prado, 21 you’ll find one of the most traditional institutions in the neighborhood, with a library of more than 200,000 volumes and a neo-Greek style auditorium.
Iglesia de San Sebastián
Another unique space in the Barrio de Las Letras is the church of San Sebastián (Calle Atocha, 39), which houses the death certificate of Miguel de Cervantes and the mortal remains of Lope de Vega. José de Espronceda, Ruiz de Alarcón, and Juan de Villanueva are also buried here.
A classic if there ever was one. After more than 30 years of concerts, this is a temple for lovers of live music and one of the best places in Europe to hear jazz.
As you can see, not everything is literature in the Barrio de las Letras, there is also space for musical creativity, which blends well with the good food served here.
The rehabilitation of the old Mediodia Power Station after what turned out to be a fortuitous fire transformed the building into a cultural center that is nothing short of spectacular.
Next time you visit Madrid, don’t forget to check out what’s happening at the CaixaForum. It always has a calendar full of activities and exhibitions.
If you’ve ever walked by, you’ve probably stopped to admire the first vertical garden created in Madrid. A breath of fresh air along the historic Paseo del Prado.
Lope de Vega House Museum
This museum is relatively unknown to the general public but essential to gain a deeper understanding of the Spanish Golden Age.
Reservations are required if you want to take a guided tour or do a group visit. You can visit the museum’s garden for free. It seems almost impossible that quiet corners like this one exist in noisy Madrid.
Paradoxically, this museum is located on Calle Cervantes, another nod to the eternal rivalry between the two literary figures
Mercado de las Ranas
If you love shopping, you’re in luck. Every first Saturday of the month you’ll find an open-air market called Mercado de las Ranas (Frogs’ Market) in honor of the street that used to be called Cantarranas (Singing Frogs), now known as Calle Lope de Vega.
On these special Saturdays, shop owners keep their businesses open all day long (without closing for siesta) and display some of their most attractive products out on the street to entice shoppers and lend ambiance to the neighborhood. Enjoy discounts, special decorations, and musical and theatrical performances.