The Barrio de las Letras, or District of Letters, was named for the extensive literary activity that took place in the area, primarily during the Spanish Golden Age. It was once the home and hangout of such writers as Tirso de Molina, Calderón de la Barca, Lope de Vega and Cervantes.
The Barrio de las Letras is located in the neighbourhood of the parliament in the historical centre of Madrid, and is bordered by streets such as Atocha, de la Cruz, Carrera de San Jerónimo and Paseo del Prado.
The district's main street is Calle Huertas, which has quotes from such writers as Quevedo, Luis de Góngora and Bécquer represented on the pavement. Another well-known pedestrian street is Calle Cervantes, where the famous writer lived and died, and which is now home to the Lope de Vega museum-house.
During the 18thcentury the Barrio de las Letraswas known as "Huertas del Prado". It was the street that connected the city centre with the Prado. The name "Huertas" comes from the croplands in the area that supplied residents with fresh produce. The area was transformed into a bohemian neighbourhood for those who could not afford to pay high rents, including some of the most well-known writers of the Golden Age.
In Calle Prado we will find one of the most emblematic buildings in the area, the Ateneo Científico Literario de Madrid(the Scientific and Literary Athenaeum of Madrid) (Ateneo de Madrid), founded in 1835 and since declared a "good of cultural interest". Here is where the great intellectual minds of the period came together. Today it is open to the public for workshops and exhibitions, as well as for meals at the restaurant.
Nearby is San Ildefonso church, belonging to the Trinitarias Descalzas convent, which was built between 1673 and 1698. Miguel de Cervantes is buried here, and you will find a commemorative plaque by Ponciano Ponzano on one of the building's façades.
The most well-known corrales de comedias(theatrical courtyards) of the time are located in Plaza de Santa Ana. The Corral del Príncipe was one of the first corrales de comedias, and it is now known as the Teatro Español. The works of Calderón and Lope de Vega were also performed in the Corral de la Cruz and Corral de la Pacheca.
In the middle of the square is a statue of one of the most important Spanish poets, Federico García Lorca, by the sculptor Julio López. Another statue, by Juan Figueras, commemorates the figure of Calderón de la Barca.
The District Today
Many of the buildings in the area retain some of the architectural elements of the Golden Age, and it is this characteristic that sets this neighbourhood apart from other more modern areas of the capital.
The Barrio de las Letras has evolved over time, and is now one of the busiest areas of the city, both by day and by night. Its network of pedestrian streets houses numerous bars and restaurants, cultural centres, shops, art galleries and small venues offering live music.
The neighbourhood also holds outdoor events, like the Mercado de las Ranas, held the first Saturday of each month. On these days local businesses open their doors and sell their wares on the street in a sort of flea market.