Madrid

Short history

Madrid’s history reflects its evolution from a small Moorish fortress town in the 9th century to Spain’s capital city. Its strategic importance grew under the Christian monarchs following the Reconquista, culminating in King Philip II choosing Madrid as the capital of his vast empire in the mid-16th century. 

Throughout the centuries, Madrid has been at the heart of Spain’s most significant historical events, including the tumultuous Spanish War of Succession in the early 18th century and the Peninsular War in the early 19th century. The 20th century saw Madrid endure the hardships of the Spanish Civil War, after which it emerged as a symbol of resistance under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

The transition to democracy in the late 20th century represented a new era for Madrid, leading to an explosion of cultural, economic, and social activity that has defined its contemporary identity. 

Geography

Madrid, Spain’s capital, is located in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula. This location places Madrid at an elevation of approximately 667 meters above sea level, making it one of Europe’s highest capitals, which significantly influences its climate. 

The city experiences hot summers and cold winters, characteristic of a continental climate, with a noticeable variation in temperature between seasons. In July and August, temperatures often surpass 30°C (86°F), while in the winter months, particularly January and February, they can plummet below 0°C (32°F), bringing occasional snowfalls and frost.

The urban layout of Madrid is a fascinating mix of historical and modern elements. At its core lies the historic district, with roads radiating outwards to more contemporary areas. Notably, the city’s geography is shaped by the River Manzanares, running from north to south, serving as a natural division and adding to the city’s aesthetic appeal. 

Population

As of the latest estimates, Madrid’s population size stands at over 3.3 million individuals within the city limits, making it the most populous city in Spain. This number balloons to approximately 6.7 million when considering the broader metropolitan area. 

According to the latest statistics from the Municipal Register of Madrid, majority of population is Spanish. Immigrants from Latin America represent the largest foreign community, accounting between 15 and 20% of the city’s total population. Additionally, there’s a significant presence of individuals from North Africa and other European countries. 

Regarding religion, while Roman Catholicism remains predominant, the city’s cosmopolitan nature means that a variety of other religious practices are also present.

Language in Madrid follows the national trend, with Spanish serving as the common language. However, a variety of other languages can also be heard on its streets, in the marketplaces, and within residential communities. 

Main sights

  • The Prado Museum: As one of the most visited sites in the world, the Prado Museum houses an extensive collection of European art, spanning from the 12th to the early 20th century, featuring masterpieces by Velázquez, Goya, and Bosch.
  • Royal Palace of Madrid: This magnificent palace stands as the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family in the city of Madrid, although it is now used primarily for state ceremonies.
  • Retiro Park: Once a retreat for the Spanish monarchy, Retiro Park is now one of Madrid’s largest and most beloved public parks. It features a grand lake, sculptures and monuments, and landscaped gardens.
  • Puerta del Sol: Known as the heart of Madrid, Puerta del Sol is a square from where the city’s main streets radiate. Home to the famous clock whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes at New Year’s, it’s a key spot for social gatherings.
  • Gran Vía: Often referred to as the Spanish Broadway, Gran Vía is one of the city’s most important shopping areas, with a wide variety of shops and entertainment venues. 
  • Temple of Debod: An ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid, the Temple of Debod is a unique historical site.
  • Santiago Bernabéu Stadium: Home to the world-famous Real Madrid football team, Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is a pilgrimage site for football fans from around the globe. 

Food

  • Cocido Madrileño: A stew that epitomizes Madrid’s traditional cuisine, featuring a mix of meats, chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), chickpeas, and vegetables. It’s a warming dish, typically enjoyed during the colder months.
  • Huevos Rotos: A simple yet beloved dish consisting of fried eggs over crispy potatoes, often accompanied by ham, chorizo, or other cured meats. The yolk is broken just before eating, coating the potatoes and meat in a rich, creamy sauce.
  • Bocadillo de Calamares: Madrid’s iconic calamari sandwich serves fried calamari rings tucked inside a crusty baguette. It’s typically enjoyed as a quick lunch or snack.
  • Oreja a la Plancha: Grilled pig’s ear, seasoned with salt and sometimes paprika, is a dish that encapsulates Madrid’s love for tapas. 
  • Churros con Chocolate: No visit to Madrid is complete without trying churros with thick hot chocolate for dipping. This sweet treat is perfect for breakfast or a late-night snack.

Fun facts

  • Madrid is home to the oldest restaurant in the world, Restaurante Sobrino de Botín, which has been operating since 1725. According to the Guinness World Records, it’s been serving guests without interruption.
  • The city’s name, Madrid, is believed to have originated from the Arabic “magerit” which means ‘place of many streams’. 
  • Madrid houses the Royal Palace of Madrid, which is the largest functioning royal palace in Europe by floor area. It serves as the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, although they use it mainly for state ceremonies.
  • The famous Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue located in Puerta del Sol is more than just a symbol of Madrid. The bear represents the fertile land, and the tree symbolizes the nobility’s right to bear hunting.
  • Madrid has the third-largest metro system in the European Union, after London and Paris, and the sixth-largest in the world. It has over 300 stations connected by nearly 293 kilometers (182 miles) of tracks.