Madrid City Overview
Madrid, the third largest city in Europe and the financial and political center of Spain, is the seat of the royal family and houses the breathtaking treasures of the Golden Triangle from Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
With a population of over three million, Madrid is one of the largest cities in Europe and, at 650 m above sea level, the highest capital. The suppression and indolence of the Franco era (1936-1975) have basically forgotten the Madrileños today, because they are perhaps more determined than other Spaniards to enjoy life to the fullest (vivir a tope). The open desire to have fun, not to mention the 2800 hours of sunshine a year, turns the streets into stages of public life.
In Madrid, the year is divided by the exuberant, colorful fiestas, and each barrio (district) tries to outperform the other in its celebrations. Highlights include the Reyes Magos (Epiphany), the carnival, religious parades during Holy Week, the San Isidro Festival in May (the beginning of the bullfighting season) and Fin de Año (New Year’s Eve) – then the Puerta del Sol for several hours to the center of exuberant celebrations. Visitors should also be on the lookout for major cultural festivals, especially the Veranos de la Villa in summer and the Festival de Otoño in autumn, which is dedicated to film, dance, theater, and music of all kinds.
The Madrileños tries very hard to be modern in terms of clothing, attitude and lifestyle. Still, they’re extremely conservative and more attached to their traditions than their cosmopolitan rivals from Barcelona. Most young people prefer to live at home until marriage, divorces are still controversial (especially in better circles), and the family comes first.
The Comunidad de Madrid (Greater Madrid) stretches over 8000 square kilometers, but the historical heart of the city can easily be explored on foot. The labyrinth of narrow streets in the medieval quarter contrasts sharply with the spacious boulevards from the 18th and 19th centuries – the time when Madrid began to take on the exterior of a modern capital. Each district has a very specific atmosphere – the oldest and most interesting are Lavapiés, Malasaña and Chueca. Most visitors first get to know the center, also known as “Madrid of the Habsburgs”. This is roughly between the Castilian-Baroque Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol. From here you can quickly walk to the main street, Gran Vía, which is lined with shops, banks, bars and cinemas.
Chic Madrid begins with the Salamanca district and the boutiques of Serrano Street, while the modern financial district stretches north along the south-north axis called Paseo de la Castellana. This district, where large international companies have their headquarters, can be recognized by the skyscrapers and the impressive high-rise office buildings. At the northern end of the Paseo de la Castellana are the inclined towers of the Puerta de Europa (Gateway to Europe) – a bold building that symbolizes the city’s confidence in the future.
If you have already explored the center on foot and still want to discover more, you can get around using the Madrid Metro, the world’s third longest subway with 322 km after the London Underground and the New York City Subway. It is one of the fastest growing subway systems in the world.
Area code: 91
Weather in Madrid
Although Madrid’s climate is more extreme than other Spanish locations due to the warm, dry summers and cool winters, it is still suitable for outdoor activities. The best time to travel is from March to June and from September to October. Madrid should be avoided at all costs in July due to the extreme heat. In August it is still very hot, but since most of the locals are on vacation and go to the sea, the city is pleasantly empty.
City History of Madrid
According to Arab chroniclers, the Emir of Cordoba, Mohamed I (852-886 AD), ordered the construction of a fortress on the left bank of the Manzanares, the geographic center of the Iberian Peninsula, in 852 AD. In this settlement, which he called Mayrit (water source), lies the origin of the city, now known as Madrid. Traces of this flourishing Moorish city have been preserved to this day – in a part of the city wall (Muralla Arabe) near the Royal Palace and in the Mudéjar architectural style of Madrid’s oldest church, the San Nicolás de las Servitas. Mayrite (also called Magerit) was a strategically important place, and so Christians and Arabs fought bitterly for this area until the end of the 11th century, until Alfonso VI. After a three-year siege, these conflicts ultimately ended with the occupation of Alcázar Castle. However, it would take 500 years before Philip II made the historic decision in 1561 to move his capital from Valladolid to Madrid.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Madrid was a wealthy, aristocratic city with little industry, which represented Spanish interests nationally and internationally. The late 19th century was marked by the revolution and the establishment of the first Spanish republic. The monarchy returned shortly afterwards, but was overthrown by the second Spanish republic. These revolts were the forerunners of the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939. Madrid was significantly affected by the civil war, and some residential areas were destroyed in the fighting.
The city expanded under the Franco regime (1936-1975) and developed rapidly, especially in the 1960s, with considerable migration and a growing middle class. After Franco’s death, the ruling party accepted the rule of King Juan Carlos I, and Madrid again became the seat of a constitutional monarchy.
The prosperity continued until the late 20th century and made modern Madrid an economic, cultural and industrial center.