This is Madrid, the capital of Spain, the city where everything happens! A city thriving with art, culture, traditions, but above all life, people in the street, on the terraces of a bar. Whether you are looking for a destination full of patrimony, or museums, or places to go out and have fun, Madrid is your best bet. It does not matter whether you travel light or travel and work, if you are here on a budget or you have a lot of money to spend, Madrid is always a good plan, no matter the season. So, pack your suitcases and discover Madrid, the heart of Spain!
A bit of history
The word “Madrid”, according to some historicists, comes from matrix (how cool is that?!). This name would have had a Visigoth origin, somewhere at the 7th and 8th centuries. As a matter of fact, underneath the Almudena cathedral lies the remains of a Visigoth Basilica. Above it, a mosque and a fortress were built during Moorish domination. Hence the name “almudena” -it comes from “al-mudaina”, “the medina” or citadel. It is then that Madrid appears officially on the History, under the name of Magerit, “land rich in water”, on the 9th century. Two centuries later, the city fell under the domination of the Christians. Since then it grew and grew, specially for its strategic location, right at the heart of the Spanish cattle trails. Actually, to this day the shepherds invade and paralyse the centric Gran Via street with their cattle twice a year, and they have an ancestral right to do it!
In 1561, King Phillip the II was searching for the best place to settle the Royal Court. Until that moment, the court had been itinerant, from Valladolid to Toledo, or simply where the king was. But now he set eyes on Madrid. He wanted the most centric place of Spain, the heart of the Peninsula. Four years ago, King Phillip the II had fought against the French successfully, and he had seen how dangerous it was to have the capital of the kingdom next to an international border. Since then, it was officially settled in Madrid, who thus became the capital of the Spanish empire, at the time the bigger one on earth. To celebrate this, and to show his power to the universe, King Phillip built the Escorial, the eighth wonder of the world.
El EscorialAv Juan de Borbón y Battemberg, s/n, 28200 San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain
His descendants built all the necessary civil buildings for a Royal Court (and religious; it is well known how deeply catholic the Habsburg were!). But Madrid was very small for so many people. Lots of space was needed, and so when the Borbons took over (1713) they were horrified with the severe architecture and the chaos of Madrid city centre, dirty and malodorous. Therefore, they opened big avenues, created magnificent buildings -a new Royal Palace, the Golden Triangle of Art, and iconic structures like Cybele and Neptuno fountains or Puerta de Alcala. Plaza Mayor also belongs to this century.
Royal Palace, MadridCalle de Bailén, s/n, 28071 Madrid, Spain
Plaza de CibelesPlaza Cibeles, Madrid, Spain
One of the most significant events of the history of this city is May the 2nd. Napoleon’s armies had invaded Spain, the Spanish kings were held in France and the remaining members of the royal family were being pulled out from the palace. When the people of Madrid (yes, the people, the Spanish army stayed put) saw one of the royal kids resisting, they charged against the French soldiers with whatever they had in hands. The popular rebellion expanded to all the city, but their humble weapons were not enough against the sophisticated French army. The next day, hundreds of Spanish citizens that had been captured were shot at Principe Pío’s mountain, the place where today stands the Egyptian temple of Debod. By the way, this is one of the best viewpoints of Madrid; plus, it has unforgettable sunsets that you should never miss.
You can see the importance of May the 2nd and 3rd on two very famous Goya paintings, available at the Prado Museum. As you know, this is our most prominent museum, and I can assure you it is huge. Consequently, I advise you to get a guided tour so you know what you are seeing -and skip the line, which is always very useful in such a popular place!
Back to Madrid’s history, when Napoleon’s older brother was named King of Spain, he too was horrified with the little crowded space Madrid had turned into. So, he destroyed many churches and convents and built squares over them, like Oriente or Cortes. The following years the capital of Spain kept making space to welcome its always growing population, opening new avenues like Gran Via, one of the streets you can never miss when visiting Madrid. As a matter of fact, if you are planning to stay in Madrid, this is the better spot, close to all the touristic attractions. A good place would be New Heima Homes Gran Vía 2A. They offer a whole apartment equipped with everything you need right at the heart of Madrid, from where you can start any of the tours you want.
Back to our story, next to the Royal Palace was built the current Almudena cathedral at the end of the 19th century, over the ancient church that was built above the Moorish Mosque when the city was conquered by the Christians. A beautiful, mighty temple that combines neo-Gothic, neo-Romanesque and neo-Classic styles, a magnificent sanctuary, worthy of being next to a Royal Palace.
The Almudena cathedral was the last big work of the Spanish kings in Madrid. During the 20th century, their power shrinked and Spain became a more democratic country. This century was very interesting in the city, like a movie: here two presidents were shot to death by anarchists; another revolutionary tried to murder the king but fail on his throw and killed a bunch of citizens instead. The second Republic of Spain was proclaimed at Puerta del Sol, and also here lived afterwards Franco, the dictator. But eventually democracy triumphed and here we are! The history of Madrid is the history of Spain, and by visiting it, you are reviving the events that made Spain what it is today.
The city of fiesta and tapas
But Madrid is so much more. For instance, it is the city of tapas, food markets and good food in general. There are just so many places where you can have a cold beer and a delicious snack, I advise you to follow the original tapas crawl. Go to La Latina, explore Malasaña, Lavapies, Cortes. There are bars and restaurants for every taste, from traditional bodegas that haven’t changed their decoration in the last century to the most innovative and chic bars. And of course, if you are lucky and happen to be here during any of its local festivities, do not be shy and mingle in! Because if you are in Madrid, you are from Madrid. Also, you can have a good time, even if you are not a football fan, living a game of one of the two main teams of Madrid: Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid. Their stadiums are felt like true sanctuaries of national football and you will no doubt enjoy yourself here!
Malasaña, MadridMalasaña, Madrid, Spain
You are at the biggest city of Spain, where everything happens. However, if you want to get away from the maddening crowd, Madrid has many green gardens that you can tour around. I specially recommend a stroll through Retiro.
El Retiro - Jardines del Buen Retiro de MadridParque de El Retiro, 28009 Madrid, España
Madrid, the heart of communications of Spain
You can travel anywhere you want in Spain from Madrid, by car or by train. All communications are articulated having Madrid at its centre. Actually, Puerta del Sol is Km 0 to all roads, and in Atocha you can take fast trains that will take you to distant places like Barcelona, Valencia or Seville in just a couple of hours.
I think it is safe to say that Madrid completes every item on your checklist. Therefore, wait no more and come to Madrid, the heart of Spain!
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