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History of Madrid

From its humble Arab origins, passing through the Castilian conquest and the cultural urban development of Madrid de los Austrias, has been witness and home to some of the biggest moments in history. With the dynastic shift and the installation of the Bourbon monarchy, Madrid developed as a great city that is today the capital and heart of Spain. In the 20th century Madrid changed into a cosmopolitan city, with a cheerful and bustling atmosphere that invites the visitor to get immersed in the city’s streets and enjoy the depth of its buildings, gastronomy and culture.


From the Origins of the Reconquest

History of Madrid: Origins of Madrid. Alfonso VIIMadrid owes its name and foundation to the emir Mohammed I, who in the 9th century created Mayrit- a small defensive fortress situated on an elevated site with views of Toledo and the Manzanares River. Until then Madrid had been little more than a deserted place. There was evidence of the Visigoths and Romans, as the Municipal Museum’s mosaic pavement displays, but they left no buildings behind.

History of Madrid: Origins of Madrid. walled precinct of the fortress at Cuesta de la Vega.The settlement of the population within the walled precinct of the fortress enlarged gradually. In the 10th century with Abderraman III, first caliph of Cordoba, Madrid becomes a part of the Taifas Kingdom.

At the end of the 11th century, Alfonso VI entered the city. After his death Madrid falls under Muslim rule again. A little later, Alfonso VII recovered it for the Castilians and endowed it with privileges, statutes and rights. Madrid remained fully consolidated as a Spanish city with Alfonso VIII in the 13th century.

Little by little, Madrid gained importance as a place of stay chosen by the parliament of the Reconquest’s monarchs. This was due to its strategic position, its climate and the abundant number of animals for hunting. Consequently various urban improvements and cultural foundations were carried out that favored the development of the city.

During the reign of Enrique III El Doliente (The Aching), the monarchy began to pass long periods in Madrid. For this reason the monarch tidied up the Alcazar, royal residence and site used often by the Court for festivals and parades. His successor to the throne, Enrique IV, converted Madrid into headquarters of the national mint, reinforced the Village Council, reaffirmed the weekly market, and carried out important urban development improvements.

Madrid of the Austrias

In the age of the Castilian kings Madrid lived a period of stable prosperity. The grandson of the Catholics kings, Emperor Carlos I, made important architectural reforms in the Alcazar, where he stayed during his visits to the city. He turned the old and uncomfortable castle into a home with the renaissance taste of the period. It was a time of development and boom for the city, therefore creating a foundation for many churches and convents.

In 1523 the Nuestra Señora de Atocha Dominican Sanctuary was founded and in 1547 it was the future Felipe II who created his own with the San Felipe El Real Convent. In 1564 Princess Juana founded one of the most known convents in Madrid – Las Descalzas Reales. La Capilla del Obispo (The Bishops Chapel) also dates back to that age.

History of Madrid: Madrid of the Austrias. Felipe II.In 1561 Felipe II decided to move the Court to Madrid. This was because Madrid was the geographic center of his immense domain and also because the Church had too much influence in other cities, like Toledo. Add this to the fact that Valladloid, headquarters to the majority of the official organizations, had remained small. Madrid was not prepared for the demographic and urban development explosion it experienced. In 15 years it grew from 15,000 to 40,000 inhabitants and 15 years later the figures grew to 100,000. The city became a chaos of people and buildings, lacking services and sufficient sewage systems. The filth of the city converted it into the dirtiest in Europe. Also, Madrid’s status step from village to the Court plunged it into total subservience to the Crown and was very negative for the city’s own interests. Despite all this, important constructions were carried out at the Plaza Mayor (1611).

Before 1606, the construction in Madrid was just a timid reflection of the artistic moment. After it permanently became capital, Madrid flourished with buildings with typical characteristics from the time of Austrias. Highlights include temples such as La Encarnación, El Carmen and the ancient Uceda Palace. Along with the reign of the Austrias, Felipe III, Felipe IV and Carlos II used different architectural styles ranging from mannerist austerity to the most extreme baroque, called "Churrigueresco"(Ornate). This style can be seen in buildings like La Capilla del Cristo de los Dolores, San Placido and Las Comendadoras de Santiago. As for the civil architecture of the time, highlights include the Segovia Bridge, the façade of the Panadería at the Plaza Mayor and La Puerta del Buen Retiro. All of this architecture was a true reflection of the time, with its uses and customs still called Madrid of the Austrias.

Madrid of the Bourbons

With the arrival of Felipe V (grandson of France’s Luis XIV) to the throne, a change occurred in the reign of the Spanish dynasty. With that change came an opening of new cultural, artistic, and philosophic currents that ruled in Europe from the moment it was led by France.

In 1734 the Alcazar caught fire, losing innumerable works of art from the biggest masters. With that the symbol of a dynasty fell as well. In its place construction of the Royal Palace began, with work starting in 1736 and finalizing in 1764 during the reign of Carlos III.

History of Madrid: Madrid of the Bourbons. Puerta de AlcaláCarlos III had a marked Italian taste, which was not in vain since he had been King of Naples. His arrival is Spain to succeed his father marked a series of urban and cultural reforms that made Madrid one of the paradigms of modernity and intellectuality of that time. The Prado Museum, originally used as the Museum of Natural Sciences, was built and The Botanical Garden was created to complement it. The Paseo del Prado was urbanized and became the meeting point for residents of Madrid. The Neptune and Cibeles fountains and La Puerta de Alcala were also built. All of these constructions were made with the Italian style of the new monarch.

After the death of Carlos III, his son Carlos IV took over the throne. The genius of Luís Francisco de Goya left us a true reflection of the period in his paintings of the local customs and manners and portraits of its protagonists. By then Spain was a society divided among the new airs arriving from revolutionary France and its absolutist monarchic tradition. It was an age of confusing political revolts, eventually throwing Fernando VII off the throne with the Napoleonic invasion.

During José Bonaparte’s fleeting step of the throne, the city underwent beneficial reforms like the sewer system, the transfer of the cemeteries to the outskirts of the village, and others that were finalized in subsequent reigns. By then Madrid was overwhelmed with convulsed political revolts: Madrid was a setting of a war against the invader in which buildings were destroyed, parks were devastated, and the city suffered famine and depopulation. Fernando VII came back at the throne, and afterward his daughter Isabel II began the reconstruction works of the Parque del Retiro, a part of which was opened to the public. The stock market was founded and la Puerta del Sol and La Plaza de Oriente were built.

After the exile of Isabel II and the ascension of her son Alfonso XII to the throne, Madrid, capital of the kingdom, underwent various urban developments like the construction of the Bulevares, the introduction of the streetcar, the Atocha Basilica and the Delicias Station. The first stone of the Almudena Cathedral was set and the current building of the Banco de España was built.

However, despite all the attempts to compare Madrid in importance with its European counterparts, the city acquired a stock-holder, bureaucratic, unproductive and lazy image very far from that of the end European century. It was thanks to the flourishing of the middle class that liked to live on its incomes that Madrid began to awake, with large buildings and the establishment of necessary services. Works such as the Royal Theater, the Library and the Naval museums were also of great importance for the status of Madrid as capital.

Madrid in the 20th century

Toward the end of the 19th century the loss of the last Spanish colonies had an enormous repercussion in the intellectual and political environment. The meeting cafés flourished, Marxist ideas surfaced and the Generation of ‘98 was born. This situation of discontent would eventually become a revolution, a dictatorship, a new republic and, finally, a bloody and cruel Civil War.

Nevertheless, for Madrid’s half a million inhabitants, the beginning of the century was a time of a frenetic urban and economic activity. The Gran Via was opened and next to it many of the most emblematic modern and avant-garde buildings of the city such as the Metropolis, the Telefónica and the Circle of Fine Arts. Owed to the demands of a growing population, the city was given new municipal headquarters and stock markets. Also, in response to the new tastes of the citizens’ leisure, the new Monumental de las Ventas bullring (1934) was constructed as well as new football (soccer) fields for the city’s teams: Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid.

Historia contemporanea de Madrid: Torres KioIn 1936 the Spanish civil War exploded,and Madrid was one of the cities that suffered most in the combat. Despite the creation of the Protection and Reconstruction committees for the most important buildings and structures, Madrid was completely devastated by the bombs. An enormous reconstruction effort along with an intense industry drive was needed to revive to the capital from its ashes.

In 1963, during the industrialization process, an Urban Development Plan was approved to receive the thousands of immigrants from other Spanish cities who arrived at Madrid in search of work and the opportunities offered by economic development of the city.

In 1969 the Amusement Park was inaugurated, and in 1972 the Madrid Zoo opened. In 1979 Madrid’s first City Hall was constituted. Elected by the universal vote of its citizens, D. Enrique Tender Galvan was named mayor. Galvan favored the cultural development of the city and was very cherished by the people of Madrid.

Since then the city has grown with the times and has become a modern and open city for visitors, full of services and infrastructures, with a great cultural and leisure offering that is enjoyed as much by its five million inhabitants as the four million tourists that visit it each year.

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