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The Catedral de Almudena is Madrid’s grandest church, situated next to Madrid’s Palacio Real, the royal palace. While plans to build this epic church had been in discussion since the 16th century, construction of churches in the Spanish colonies took priority and Madrid remained without a cathedral for many years.
Interestingly enough, the site of the cathedral was once thought to be part of a Jewish neighborhood, which later housed a mosque during the Arabic reign in Spain. The mosque was destroyed in 1083 when Alfonso VI conquered Madrid once again.
It wasn’t until 1879 that the capital of Spain finally started planning construction of its cathedral. The first stone was laid in 1883 and construction really got underway in 1885. Progress was initially slow due to insufficient funding and the death of the original architect. The church was one of the first in Spain to include a large Romanesque crypt, which did open in 1911, but then during the Spanish Civil War, construction was stopped entirely, and only re-started in 1950 (with a new architect yet again). The cloister area was finally completed in 1955 and the facade in 1960, but the project wasn’t considered finished until 1993 when the cathedral was finally consecrated by Pope John Paul II. The interior of the cathedral is considered to be Neo-Gothic and features many chapels as well as a museum.
The church has a north-south orientation, which is remarkable, considering most Christian churches have an east-west orientation. The cathedral was constructed this way to integrate seamlessly with the Royal Palace, which has the same orientation. The cathedral was most recently the site of the wedding of King Felipe VI (who was prince at the time) to Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano on May 22, 2004.
While admission to the cathedral is free, donations are suggested. The museum costs six euros to enter. Opening hours are from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm Monday-Saturday, and tourists can’t visit the church during religious ceremonies or church services.