The Barrio de las Letras is an area of the city of Madrid, located in the Cortes district, in the central district of the capital. The area is delimited, to the west, by the Calle de la Cruz and the Plaza de Jacinto Benavente; to the east, by the Paseo del Prado; to the north, by the Carrera de San Jerónimo; and, to the south, by the Calle de Atocha. Some of its most emblematic streets are Calle de las Huertas, Calle del Prado, Calle de Echegaray, and the Plaza del Ángel and Plaza de Santa Ana.
Its main street is Calle Huertas, on whose paving we can find famous quotes from writers such as Quevedo, Luis de Góngora and Bécquer, among others. Another of the most famous pedestrian streets is Cervantes Street, where the famous writer lived and died and which currently houses the Lope de Vega house museum. Literary figures such as Tirso de Molina, Calderón de la Barca, Lope de Vega and Cervantes lived together in its streets.
It owes its name to the literary activity developed throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of the most outstanding writers of the Spanish Golden Age settled in this area, such as Miguel de Cervantes, Quevedo, Góngora (who lived in the same house as his literary antagonist, Quevedo), or Lope de Vega and his idolized Marta de Nevares. With such protagonists and within this framework, the first comedy corrals in Madrid were installed, two of them, the one of the Cross and the one of the Prince, important coliseums in the following centuries.
There was also the Mentidero de los Cómicos (or de los Representantes), in the then Calle del Mentidero and later Calle del León, where the companies and plays to be performed in the aforementioned comedy halls were contracted. Precisely, in the Calle del Mentidero corner to the Calle de Francos, lived for rent and died an impoverished Cervantes, who previously lived in at least three other houses in this same neighborhood.
Although most of the buildings that remain were built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the following have survived from the Golden Age: the House-Museum of Lope de Vega, where the writer lived between 1610 and 1635 (a historical-artistic monument since 1935 and open to the public as a house-museum); the convent of San Idelfonso de las Trinitarias Descalzas, where Cervantes was buried; and the church of San Sebastián. At number 87, Calle de Atocha, one of the streets that border the neighbourhood, was the printing house of Juan de la Cuesta, where the prince’s edition of the first part of Don Quixote de La Mancha (1604) was made, considered the masterpiece of Spanish literature.
Commemorative plaque of the prince edition of Don Quixote de La Mancha, located in the place where Juan de la Cuesta’s printing house was. The Palace of the Count of Tepa, the Royal Academy of History and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Madrid date from the 18th century. Other buildings of architectural interest are the Teatro Español, the Edificio Simeón and the Ateneo de Madrid. Some essential pieces of 20th century Spanish drama were also set in this district, such as the grotesque Luces de bohemia by Ramón del Valle Inclán.
Since the third quarter of the 20th century, the area has concentrated a great deal of nightlife activity in bars, taverns, discotheques and other venues around Calle de las Huertas and Plaza de Santa Ana. On September 22, 2008, the neighborhood entered the Madrid City Council’s Residential Priority Area, with road traffic being restricted in a large part of its streets (except for residents, public transport, services and emergencies), and pedestrian areas were expanded. The original project was carried out by the Swiss architect Werner Durrer (a resident of the area at the time) on behalf of local businesspeople. The final project, however, was carried out by EMVS (Empresa Municipal de la Vivienda y Suelo) under the direction of the municipal architect Juan Armindo. Huertas Street won the “Audience Development Award of the Madrid City Council in 2004 and the Europa Nostra Award Medal in 2005”.