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.
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.
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
1. Plaza de Espana
Foto credits: Global Castaway
2. Palacio Real
Foto credits: Eric & Lisa from Penguin and Pia
3. Plaza de Oriente
Foto credit: Kiara from Gallop Around the World
4. Plaza Mayor
Foto Credits: Jessica from Corners of the World
Foto credits: Tal from Bright Nomad
5. Puerta del sol
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.
Foto credits: Denise from Follow my Footprints
Foto credits: Constant Traveller
Foto credits Judith from Worldwife
6. • Palacio de Cibeles aka Palacio de Comunicaciones
7. Mercado de San Miguel
Foto credits: Jodie from Alajode
Foto credits: Daisy from All Day Every Daisy
8. El Escorial
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.
Foto Credits: Stingy Nomads
9. Santa Cruz del valle de los Caidos
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.)
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