The Plaza de España is a must-visit for all first-time visitors to Madrid, both groups and individuals. Taking a commemorative photo there with Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and the monument to the author Cervantes in the background has become a go-to spot for visitors to record evidence of their visit, comparable to, say, the Glico ad near the approach to Ebisu Bridge on Dotonbori with the man in a running shirt and shorts raising his arms in victory, or Kaminarimon with the huge lantern at Sensoji Temple (Kinryuzan).
Every Japanese visitor to Madrid knows Plaza de España, but situated only 400 meters away, just a five-minute walk, is probably the second most glorious palace in Madrid, yet few Japanese ever visit it. By the way, the most glorious palace is His Majesty the King's palace, which is also located not far from the square.
This palace is privately owned and has not been open to the public until recently, except on special occasions, but from 2019, it has been possible to see some of it, with an advance booking. It’s owned by the Duke of Alba, who belongs to one of the most prominent and oldest families in the Spanish aristocracy. The current head of the family is the 19th Duke of Alba. His name is Carlos Juan Fitz-James Stuart y Martínez de Irujo, as befits a nobleman, and he holds a total of 37 titles, including Marquis, Count, and so on, in addition to Duke. He is also a lawyer with a law degree from the Complutense University of Madrid.
By the way, the name of his mother, the 18th Duchess of Alba, who died in 2014, was María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart y Silva Falcó y Gurtubay, which is far longer than the current Duke’s name. She held a total of 46 titles, which have been registered in the Guinness Book of Records.
Seeing as we’re talking about names, the real name of Pablo Picasso, the popular Spanish painter who painted the masterpiece Guernica, is no slouch in the long name department: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.
Let’s get back on track. The name of this mansion is Palacio de Liria, or Liria Palace. The houses that the Alba family own are located all over Spain, but the family usually live in this mansion in Madrid. Built between 1767 and 1775 in the neoclassical style, it was a mansion in the truest sense of the word, but in November 1936 it was destroyed by fire during the Spanish Civil War, leaving only the exterior walls, and it was restored to its present form after the war. Fortunately, many of the valuable works of art and historical materials inside were evacuated to the Museo del Prado, the Banco de España (the Bank of Spain), the British Embassy, and other places, so they escaped the war and were returned to the building after it was restored, so today, the general public are able to view some of them.
The facade of Liria Palace
The decorations in the 200-room mansion include Princess Margarita painted by Velázquez, a full-length portrait of the 13th Duchess of Alba by Goya, a portrait of the 3rd Duke of Alba by Titian, the court painter to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as well as paintings and prints by El Greco, Zurbarán, Murillo, Rembrandt, van Dyck, and many others, plus Roman stone statues, tapestries, and more, all in museum condition.
Although people tend to look only at these art ornaments, the collection in the library of this house is not half bad either. It is full of national treasures, such as the first edition of Don Quixote by Cervantes, a letter signed by Columbus to his son, the last will and testament signed by the Catholic King Ferdinand II, the unifier of Spain, on January 22, 1516, the day before his death, the prenuptial agreement between Queen Joanna I and King Philip I, parents of Emperor Charles, and the bill for a painting sent by Titian to the Duke of Alba.
First edition of Don Quixote (Juan de la Cuesta’s Print Shop, 1605, Madrid)
Letter written by Christopher Columbus
Ferdinand II’s signed will
The tour visits 14 rooms including the living room, parlor, dining room, ballroom, study, and library in small groups of up to 20 people with an audio guide and a live guide to keep watch and provide additional explanation. The guide proudly informed us, "All of the paintings in the palace are originals, except for two that Rubens copied from Titian's originals.”
You can get glimpses of the large garden behind the building from the rooms and imagine the elegant garden parties that would have been held there. The garden of this house is the only private land that is colored green, representing green space, on maps of Madrid.
Even now, the Duke's family enjoy their daily meals in this dining room. You can just see the backyard through the window.
The coat of arms of the Duke of Alba’s family
For some 600 years, the Alba family have owned vast tracts of land in Spain and run farms and raised cattle. To carry on this tradition, the previous generation had the idea of selling Alba family purveyor gourmet items: the “Casa de Alba” gourmet store is the result of the current Duke bringing that dream to fruition. https://www.casadealba.es/
Casa de Alba special selection 100% Iberian dry-cured ham. From Guijuelo, Salamanca, a region with which the Alba family has a strong connection. The outfit is so similar to the uniforms of the Olympic volunteers, I thought for a second that they must be a TOKYO 2020 sponsor.
If you are thinking of visiting Spain or Madrid once the COVID-19 turmoil has settled down and you can travel overseas without hesitation, I highly recommend this spot off the beaten track.
Liria Palace official website
Address: Calle de la Princesa, 20, Madrid 28008
Opening hours: 9:00 to 20:00 Monday to Sunday including public holidays
Free-admission day: Tours on Monday at 9:15 and 9:45 Bookings open at 12:00 the Monday before.
Admission is 15 euros, with a reduced rate of 13 euros for seniors over 65, children between 6 and 12, students under 25, and holders of unemployment certificates.
This is the ticket with the assigned time that I bought online.