Hotel Ritz Madrid
The history of the luxury five-star hotel
Article added on August 7, 2003
The Hotel Ritz Madrid was built in 1910 following the plans of Charles
Mewes, the architect who created the architectural and ornamental style
favored by the legendary Swiss hotelier Cäsar or César Ritz (1850-1918). The belle époque landmark building was
designed as a sister property to the existing Ritz hotels in Paris and London.
At the origin of the Hotel Ritz Madrid stands none other than the young
Spanish King Alfonso XIII (1886-1941). Inspired by his travels around Europe, he
wanted for his capital a hotel that could rival with the Ritz in Paris.
One that could satisfy the tastes of the most distinguished and discerning
new traveler of the dawning age of tourism. He remembered that for his
wedding to Victoria Eugenia of Battemberg in 1906, he could not offer such
accommodation to his guests.
It was Alfonso XIII who had the houses on the narrow streets north of the Puerta
del Sol demolished in order to open up the city; the construction of the Gran
Vía began under his impulse. He wanted Madrid to enter the modern
era; however, in 1923, he encouraged General Primo de Rivera to establish a
dictatorship in Spain. In 1930, he removed his support for the general. A
year later, after the proclamation of the Republic, Alfonso XIII abdicated
in favor of his son Juan and went into exile.
Let's return to the history of Ritz: unfortunately, a depression that
affected César Ritz since 1902 and finally contributed to his death in
1918 hindered the Swiss hotelier from managing the hotel in
Madrid bearing his name. For the construction and the management of the
hotel in the Spanish capital, the Ritz Development Company was officially registered on July 27, 1908.
The architects of the Ritz were Charles Mewes of Paris, who designed the
first Ritz hotel, the one inaugurated on Place Vendôme in the French
capital in 1898, and Luis de Landecho of Madrid. The modern-day comfort included
a telephone cabin next
to the lift on all floors as well as four to five bathrooms on each floor;
the rest of the rooms were equipped with wash-basins as well as jugs and
glasses in vogue at the time. The formal opening of the Hotel Ritz Madrid,
in presence of the King Alfonso XIII, his wife Victoria Eugenia of
Battemberg and other members of the royal family, took place on October 2, 1910.
Georges Marquet, founder of the Palace Hotels in Brussels and Madrid,
joined the Board of Directors of the Hotel Ritz Madrid in 1926. In 1932,
he became its chairman and since then, assisted by his son Georges Marquet
Delina, exercised complete control over the hotel for decades.
Georges Marquet exercised a strict regime at the Ritz. An aristocratic
etiquette was demanded from the employees as well as from the guests. For
the Ritz, Marquet only wanted the most select clientele. Customers who did
not meet his demands, classified as "NRT" (Not Ritz Type), were
sent to the Palace, also owned by Marquet. One of the strict rules
prohibited smoking in the dining room. Neither bullfighters nor artists
were accepted at the Ritz, since Marquet considered they were usually
accompanied by reporters, photographers and noisy fans. He could
not tolerate any disturbances at this hotel. However, there were some
exceptions under Marquet's rule. The actor Leslie Howard arrived in Spain
with a diplomatic mission and dressed up as an old man before entering the
hotel. Other exceptions included Richard Burton and Henry Fonda, who spoke
perfectly Spanish and was a true gentleman.
Until 1975, ladies in pants were not allowed at the Ritz. Once a maître
d'hôtel told two British ladies that it was impossible for them to stay
in the hall dressed in pants. They reacted calmly, went to the ladies room
and came back without their pants, wearing the raincoats they were
previously carrying on their arms.
However, if a guest broke the Ritz rules, whether a famous artist or not, he
or she could not expect any indulgence from Marquet. There are numerous anecdotes
regarding the obligation to wear a tie in the hotel. When the famous
conductor Herbert von Karajan took lunch in a turtleneck sweater, which
the British Lord Snowdon had made fashionable all over Europe, and refused
to wear a tie, the rules where strictly applied. The next day, he was moved to another hotel with the usual reasoning that it was
one "where Mr. von Karajan can stay without wearing a tie."
Today, the rules are less strict and in summer, a tie is not obligatory
anymore. Later, as in the years before, Herbert von Karajan came back to
the Ritz, always wearing a tie. He even gave the first maître d'hôtel,
who had sent him away, an autographed album of concerts he had conducted.
Needless to say that the now-retired maître d'hôtel treasures the record
as if it was gold.
During Spain's Civil War in the 1930s, the Ritz Hotel was seized by the
republican government of Madrid and transformed into a field hospital for
the wounded of the Confederate Militia of Catalonia, which was part of the
anarchist-inclined National Union of Labor. In the wake of war, many Spanish aristocrats
were left without residences or had to rebuild them. Therefore, for many
years after the war, the Ritz became the residence for many aristocrats.
The Cold War partly ended Spain's isolation. Foreign ambassadors who
arrived in Madrid often set up their residence at the hotel until their
embassies were ready.
After the era of Marquet father and son and after some brief interludes, the
Trusthouse Forte Company acquired the Ritz in 1982. Thereby, it joined an
international hotel group which later merged with the Meridien global
Since April 25, 2003, the Hotel Ritz Madrid has been a member of the Orient-Express
group, which owns the Orient-Express trains and the famous
Reid's Hotel in Madeira.
The Hotel Ritz Madrid is a five-star luxury hotel with 137 guest rooms and 30 suites
and distinguishes itself through a personal service with attention to detail. The
employees often work for
decades or even their entire life for the Ritz, and many clients keep coming back over the same
period. The personal knows the habits and preferences of its regular
guests, who have their initials woven in their Ritz dressing gowns. All
rooms are decorated individually. The bathrooms are finished
in marble. All suites and rooms have at least one antique piece of
furniture or an old lamp. The beds are
covered with embroidered linens. Hand-woven Spanish rugs and carpets by
the Real Fábrica de Tapices
are in all floors and rooms. On the mezzanine floor, a fitness and
beauty center is open to the clients of the Ritz. Refined Spanish cuisine
is offered at the Goya
The location of the Ritz is perfect. The Prado, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
the Reina Sofía Modern Arts Center are
next door. The Zarzuela Theatre, the Buen Retiro Park and the Botanical Gardens are
within walking distance. In short, the Ritz, a member of The Leading Hotels
of the World, is the best place to begin to explore
The Suite Real. Photograph copyright: Hotel Ritz Madrid.
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The Lobby. Photograph
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Terrace and Garden of the Hotel Ritz Madrid. The Goya
Restaurant is on the ground floor as well as on the upper
terrace. Photograph copyright: Hotel Ritz Madrid.