Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan area is the third largest in the European Union after London and Paris.
The city is located on the Manzanares river in the centre of both the country and the Community of Madrid (which comprises the city of Madrid, its conurbation and extended suburbs and villages); this community is bordered by the autonomous communities of Castile and León and Castile-La Mancha. As the capital city of Spain, seat of government, and residence of the Spanish monarch, Madrid is also the political centre of Spain.
In June 1561, when the town had 30,000 inhabitants, Philip II of Spain moved his court from Toledo to Madrid, installing it in the old castle. Thanks to this, the city of Madrid became the political center of the monarchy, being the capital of Spain except for a short period between 1601 to 1606 (Philip III of Spain government), in which the Court translates to Valladolid. This fact was decisive for the evolution of the city and influenced its fate.
Philip V built the Royal Palace and the main Royal Academies. But the most important Bourbon was King Charles III of Spain, who was known as "the best major of Madrid". Charles III proposed himself the feat to transforms Madrid into a capital worthy of this category. He ordered the construction of sewers, electric lighting, cemeteries outside the city, and many monuments (Puerta de Alcalá, Cibeles Fountain), and cultural institutions (El Prado Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens, Royal Observatory, etc.).
Some of the most popular night destinations include the neighbourhoods of: Bilbao, Tribunal, Atocha, Alonso Martinez or Moncloa, together with Puerta del Sol area (including Opera and Gran Via, both adjacent to the popular square) and Huertas (barrio de Las Letras), destinations which are also filled with tourists day and night.
What is also popular is the practice of meeting in parks or streets with friends and drinking alcohol together (this is called 'botellón', from 'botella', bottle), but in recent years, drinking in the street is punished with a fine and now young madrileños drink together all around the city instead of in better-known places.
One of Madrid's most long-established traditions is going out for tapas. There are time-honoured and modern taverns, traditional venues and trendy restaurants, they all serve the famous small delicatessen bites that go down perfectly with a glass of wine and excellent conversations.
In the centre of Madrid, the streets are dotted with establishments that have been here for over a century. Some are patisseries, others are chemists, but most are taverns that seem to have blended into the environment. They are still run traditionally, using methods that have allowed them to survive over several generations without altering their aspect. Walking into these taverns is like stepping one hundred years back in time. Most still have red façades, a trend that started in the 19th century to set them apart from other venues, and a decoration based on tiles with drawings. Inside, cold marble tables, wooden benches, zinc bars and an intense aroma of wine, mainly from Valdepeñas, stand the test of time.
Historical records reveal taverns were a flourishing business already in the Middle Ages. The establishments were preferred by the lower classes, who got together to chat over a glass of wine which was served in jugs that came covered with a slice of bread to avoid spilling the liquid they contained. That custom may have originated the ‘tapas' (covers), referring to the portion of food that is always served with a drink.
These taverns, located in the oldest part of the capital -Cava Baja, Cava Alta, Cava de San Miguel, Puerta de Sol orLa Latina- have been host to meetings of intellectuals, politicians, writers and commoners avid for a good debate over a tasty meal. They are now an absolute reference point for Madrid's gastronomy that no one, local or tourist, should miss.
|Museo Del Prado|
- Santa María la Real de La Almudena is a Catholic cathedral in Madrid. When the capital of Spain was transferred from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the seat of the Church in Spain remained in Toledo; so the new capital – unusually for a Catholic country – had no cathedral. Plans were discussed as early as the 16th century to build a cathedral in Madrid dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena, but construction did not begin until 1879. The cathedral seems to have been built on the site of a medieval mosque that was destroyed in 1083 when Alfonso VI reconquered Madrid. The Neo-Gothic interior is uniquely modern, with chapels and statues of contemporary artists, in heretogeneous styles, from historical revivals to "pop-art" decor. The Neo-Romanesque crypt houses a 16th century image of the Virgen de la Almudena. Nearby along the Calle Mayor excavations have unearthed remains of Moorish and medieval city walls.
- City Hall. The most prominent of the buildings at the Plaza de Cibeles is the Cibeles Palace (formerly named Communications Palace). The cathedral-like landmark was built in 1909 by Antonio Palacios as the headquarters of the postal service. This impressive building was home to the Postal and Telegraphic Museum until 2007 when the landmark building became the Madrid City Hall.
- The Royal Palace and Armoury. Home to the Kings of Spain from Carlos III to Alfonso XIII, Madrid's Royal Palace is now open to the public. Though it is no longer the royal family's home, it continues to be their official residence. Long before Madrid became the capital of Spain, Emir Mohamed I chose Magerit (the city's Arabic name) as the site for a fortress to protect Toledo from the advancing Christians. The building was eventually used by the Kings of Castille until finally becoming what would be known as the Antiguo Alcázar (Old Fortress) in the 14th century. Carlos I and his son Felipe II turned the building into a permanent residence for the Spanish royal family. However, in 1734 a fire burnt the Palace of the Austrias to the ground, and Felipe V ordered the construction of the palace that stands today. It was Carlos III (known as the "Mayor of Madrid" due to the large number of reforms and initiatives that he undertook in the city) who became the first monarch to occupy the new building. His successors Carlos IV (responsible for the creation of the Hall of Mirrors) and Fernando VII added many decorative details and furnishings, such as clocks, items of furniture and chandeliers.
- The Museo del Prado is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It features one of the world's finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 19th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of Spanish art. Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture, it also contains important collections of other types of works. A new, recently opened wing enlarged the display area by about 400 paintings, and it is currently used mainly for temporary expositions. El Prado is one of the most visited sites in the world, and it is considered to be among the greatest museums of art. The large numbers of works by Velázquez and Francisco de Goya (the artist more extensively represented in the collection), Titian, Rubens and Bosch are among the highlights of the collection. The collection currently comprises around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings, in addition to a large number of other works of art and historic documents.
- The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is a famous bullring in Madrid. Situated in the Guindalera quarter of the district of Salamanca, it was inaugurated on June 17, 1931. It has a seating capacity of 25,000 and is regarded as the home of bullfighting in Spain.
This bullring was designed by the architect José Espeliú in the Neo-Mudéjar (Moorish) style with ceramic incrustations. The seats are situated in ten "tendidos". The price of the seats depends upon how close they are to the arena and whether they are in the sun or the shade (the latter being more expensive). The bullfighting season starts in March and ends in December; bullfights are held every day during the San Isidro Fiesta, and every Sunday or holiday during the season. Bullfights start at 6 or 7pm and last for two to three hours.