Community of Madrid
Spain’s capital, Madrid, is today an open and cosmopolitan city with countless leisure and cultural attractions, yet it still maintains a warm, friendly and unpretentious spirit.
Visigothic and Moorish origins
The site on which Madrid was built was sparsely populated during the first centuries of the Christian era and late Roman and Visigothic remains would seem to indicate the existence of a small town here at different periods. The documented history of the city begins with its foundation in the second half of the 9th century by Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba for strategic purposes. On the hill where the Royal Palace now stands, which the Muslims called Mayrit or Magerit, Emir Muhammad I ordered a watchtower to be built to watch Christian troops moving through the passes of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Ultimately, however, what the Emir wanted to do was control the road to Toledo.
The conquest of Castile
Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile besieged and took Madrid in 1083, in the first stage of his conquest of Toledo, which took place two years later. Although it was awarded various privileges by successive Castilian monarchs – Alfonso VIII granted it the Charter of Madrid (1202), Ferdinand IV brought his Court together there for the first time (1309) and Alfonso XI granted it a charter (1346) considered the origin of the Town Council – what remains certain is that Madrid was a second-ranked city during the Middle Ages.
Madrid of the Habsburgs
This situation changed, however, particularly from the reign of Philip II onwards, thanks to his decision to move his capital to Madrid in 1561. From that point on, the city underwent remarkable urban development, with the extension of its walls and the construction of palaces and churches. It was during these improvements that the city’s Plaza Mayor was designed by Juan de Herrera and later finished by Juan Gómez de Mora in 1617-1619, who gave the square its present quadrangular layout enclosed by continuous arcades. This square would become a model for many other main squares not only in Spain, but throughout Spanish America. Its role was the typical one of main squares in the Baroque era: to hold public events and provide public entertainment. In 1619, the Plaza Mayor hosted its first ever bullfight.
Madrid of the Bourbons
However, the most important boost to the urban development of the Spanish capital came from another royal family, the House of Bourbon, which ruled Spain from the 18th century. The first Bourbon, Philip V (1701-1746), founded institutions – and built their respective headquarters – such as the Royal Academy of Language (1713), the Royal Academy of History (1735) and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando (1744). After the old palace of the Habsburgs burnt to the ground on Christmas Eve 1734, the king had built (1738-1784) a new Royal Palace in the French Bourbon style on the same site.
Of all the kings of the House of Bourbon, it was Charles III (1759-1788) who became known as the ‘Mayor of Madrid’; he equipped Madrid with infrastructure, such as sanitation and paved roads (1761) and public lighting (1765), that turned it into a modern city. His main urban legacy was the Paseo del Prado, built by José de Hermosilla y Sandoval in the first phase and by Ventura Rodríguez in the second phase. When it was completed, the King relocated there the Botanical Gardens founded in 1755 on the banks of the Manzanares river by his brother and predecessor on the throne, Ferdinand VI (1746-1759). The aim was to create an urban area devoted to science, which would be made up of the gardens, a museum of natural history (which, from 1819 onwards, was the location of the National Museum of the Prado) and the Astronomical Observatory of Madrid, designed by Juan de Villanueva. In addition, to replace an earlier structure, Charles III also built Madrid’s most famous gateway, the Puerta de Alcalá, and opened up the Retiro Park (1767) to the public - all due to the influence of the Enlightenment.
From an urban planning perspective, the city of Madrid has experienced continuous reform and expansion as a result of natural population growth, resulting in the city of the present-day. With its distinctive courtyards, its literary and political cafes, its Bohemian heritage of the 19th century and its cutting edge modernity of today, Madrid has maintained its thirst for progress and self-improvement and its spirit of openness to the world.