Many years ago, I had a city break in Madrid. I mainly remember stately buildings, little alleys, beautiful monuments and butcher's shops windows filled with ham. Time for a trip down memory lane. 


A short history of Madrid

Madrid is the capital of Spain. It is the largest city and is situated in the middle of the country.

Madrid was only established in the 9th century, in contrast to many other Spanish cities. No traces of Romans or other, older inhabitants were ever discovered. This has probably to do with the fact that it lies inland. Historically, cities were founded along waterways or the sea. 

Madrid Overzicht

The first inhabitants of the city were the Moors. The emir at the time had a palace built on the spot where the current Palacio Real is located. The Moors called the river "al-Majrit", Moorish for fresh water well. The name Madrid was derived from there.
 
Later, Madrid fell into Catholic hands. The city was awarded city rights in 1123. In 1561, the Spanish High Court was moved to Madrid, which meant it became the capital of Spain, at the expense of Seville.
 
Madrid fell on hard times during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Bourbon royal family were of the opinion that the city was not worth its title as capital, and had new palaces built to make the city more beautiful. Later on, parks, fountains, wide lanes and lakes were constructed.
 
Napoleon conquered the city in May 1808, which also signalled the start of the Spanish War of Independence.
 
Fast-forward to the 20th century, and the city was growing rapidly, gobbling up nearby villages. A lot of new neighbourhoods were also constructed. The associated growth in traffic in the inner-city was eased by the Gran Via and the metro.
 
The Spanish Civil War raged from 1936-1939. Madrid suffered badly. It was the first city to ever be bombarded with the goal to hit civilians.
 
After the Spanish Civil War, Spain became a dictatorship under Franco. Because of the enormous growth in population, the city expanded fourteen-fold. After the death of Franco, Spain became a monarchy once again. 
 
Today, Madrid is one of the largest cities of Europe. It was hit by a serious terrorist attack in 2004, whereby 1700 people were injured, and 190 died.

Climate

Madrid has a Mediterranean climate with continental influences. This means it has hot summers and cold winters. It only gets snow sporadically. Spring or autumn are therefore the best times to visit Madrid.

What do you call the inhabitants of Madrid? Madrileños. 
 

Top 9 highlights of Madrid

 
Don't miss these highlights on your city trip to Madrid
 

1. Plaza de Espana

This is one of the busiest and most popular squares of Spain. In the middle of the square stands an obelisk dating to 1928 with a statue of the writer Cervantes. At his feet stand Don Quichote on his horse Rocinante and Sancho Panza on his donkey. Two of the highest buildings of the town are located on the square, Torre de Madrid and Edificio Espana, at heights of 142m and 117m respectively.
Plaza De Espana Global Castaway

Foto credits: Global Castaway

 

2. Palacio Real

The Royal Palace was built to impress, and stands in the spot where a Royal Fort was located for centuries. The fort was ravaged during a fire on Christmas Eve in 1734. The construction of the palace lasted 26 years, and was overseen by Filips V. With an area of 135,000 m2 and 3418 rooms, it is still the largest royal palace in the world. These days, it is only used for special state occasions.
Palacio Real Penguin And Pia

Foto credits: Eric & Lisa from Penguin and Pia

Palacia Real Jenny Smit

Foto credits Jenny from Ik reis

Jessica Corners Of The World Palacio Real (1)

Foto credits Jessica from Corners of the World

3. Plaza de Oriente

 
You have a great view of the palace from this square. The equestrian statue is of Filips IV. Across from the palace stands the Teatro Real, or Teatro de la Opera, dating back to 1850.
Plaza De Oriente, Madrid Gallop Around The World

Foto credit: Kiara from Gallop Around the World

4. Plaza Mayor

 
The Casa de la Panadería (Bakery House) lies on this beautiful square from the Habsburg period. The building once housed the most important bakery of the city. Later it was the headquarters for the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Royal Academy of History. These days it houses the Madrid Tourism Center. There is a statue of Filips III in the middle of the square.
Jessica Corners Of The World Palacio Real (2)

Foto Credits: Jessica from Corners of the World

Plaza Mayor Madrid By Bright Nomad

Foto credits: Tal from Bright Nomad

5. Puerta del sol

 
This square lies in the middle of the city, in the "Sol" district. Puerta del Sol is the zero-kilometre marker from where all roads in Spain are referenced. The exact spot is marked by the "0 km" tile.
 
Casa de Correos' clock counts down the seconds to midnight every New Year's Eve. According to tradition, 12 grapes are eaten, one for every ring of the bell. This ritual is said to ensure a happy year.
 
The square features several statues and fountains, but the most famous one is Oso y el Madroño (bear and strawberry tree). One of the buildings on the square features a large neon advertisement from Tio Pepe.
Puerto Del Sol By Follow My Footprints

Foto credits: Denise from Follow my Footprints

Bear Statue Madrid Constant Traveller

Foto credits: Constant Traveller

0km Worldwide

Foto credits Judith from Worldwife

6. Palacio de Cibeles aka Palacio de Comunicaciones

 
The Palacio de Comunicaciones, or Palace of Communication, is the former post office and lies on the Plaza de Cibeles. These days it is in use as city hall. The beautiful, snow-white building with numerous towers is often compared to a wedding cake.
Palacio De Comunicaciones Madrid

7. Mercado de San Miguel

 
I love covered markets. The 19th-century Mercado de San Miguel, made of steel, wood and glass, is a real pearl. It is located on the spot where a church stood since the 13th century. When it was destroyed by fire, the freed-up space was used to sell fish. Later it became a covered market. The market survived the Spanish Civil War, although it was temporarily closed. It reopened in 1951. Because of the rising popularity of supermarkets, the importance of the Mercado diminished. It was bought in 2003 by El Gastronomo de San Miguel. They transformed it into a gastronomical meeting place. There are 33 stands where you can order all sorts of delicacies. Tables and chairs in the centre invite you to sit down to eat and enjoy the view.
San Miguel By Alajode

Foto credits: Jodie from Alajode

San Miguel By All Day Every Daisy

Foto credits: Daisy from All Day Every Daisy

8. El Escorial

 
El Escorial, 40 km outside Madrid, is certainly worth a visit. The complex consists of an abbey, castle and royal mausoleum, and has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1984.
 
The domain was first bought as hunting grounds for King Filipe II. In 1563, a start was made with building a monastery.
 
The domain is opened daily, except on Monday. Order tickets online to avoid long queues. 
 
The building is situated on a hill which means you enjoy a spectacular view of the area. Be sure to visit the crypt containing the urns with royal family ashes. The library and the church dome are worth it. Art lovers will also feel at home, as paintings by Titian, El Greco and Flemish primitives are on view. 
Escorial Monastery By Stringy Nomads

Foto Credits: Stingy Nomads

9. Santa Cruz del valle de los Caidos

 
The Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen lies within the El Escorial domain. Franco decided to erect this monument to the fallen of the Spanish Civil War in 1940. There were 46,000 casualties. An enormous church was carved from the rocks. 200,000 tonnes of granite were blown up in the process.
 
Behind the altar lies the grave of Franco.
 
The Spaniards have mixed feelings about this monument, as it reminds them of a lot of bad things from their history (civil war, fascism, dictatorship, etc.)
Valle De Los Caidos

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Top 9 Highlights Of Madrid