History of Madrid

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This article is about the city's chronological past. For its political evolution, see Madrid capital
The fountain of Cybele, from 1792, at Plaza de Cibeles.

The documented history of Madrid dates back to the 9th century, although the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The development of Madrid as a city began when Philip II moved his court from Toledo to Madrid in the 1560s.

Early history[edit]

Ruins of Madrid's Muslim wall, built in the 9th century.

Although the site of modern-day Madrid has been occupied since prehistoric times, and there are archeological remains of a small Visigoth village near the modern location,[1] the first documentary historical data from the city comes from the 9th century, when Muhammad I of Córdoba ordered the construction of a small palace in the place that is today occupied by the Palacio Real. Around this palace a small citadel, al-Mudayna, was built. Near that palace was the Manzanares River, which the Muslims called al-Majrīṭ (Arabic: المجريط "source of water").

From this came the naming of the site as Majerit, which was later rendered to the modern-day spelling of Madrid. The citadel was conquered in 1085 by Alfonso VI of León and Castile in his advance towards Toledo. He reconsecrated the mosque as the church of the Virgin of Almudena (almudin, the garrison's granary). In 1329, the Cortes Generales first assembled in the city to advise Ferdinand IV of Castile. Sephardic Jews and Moors continued to live in the city until they were expelled at the end of the 15th century.

Middle Ages[edit]

Plaza Mayor, dates from 1619.

In 1383, Leo VI of Armenia was named Lord of Madrid by King John I of Castile.[2] In 1375, the crusader Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia had been conquered by Egyptian Mamluks and King Leo was taken prisoner to Cairo. The king of Castile felt compassion for him and ransomed him with precious stones, silks, and birds of prey.

When Leo arrived in Medina del Campo he was sick and poor. John I granted him the town of Madrid for life, Villa Real and Andújar and a yearly gift of 150,000 maravedis. He rebuilt the towers of the Royal Alcazar.

According to Father Mariana, Leo left Castile for France after the death of his protector in 1390 and died in Paris in 1391. Federico Bravo, however, states that he left after two years of ruling and five years later, the Madrilenians were conceded the revocation of the lordship by John. After troubles and a big fire, Henry III of Castile (1379–1406) rebuilt the city and established himself safely fortified outside its walls in El Pardo, after a royal schedule issued in 1391. To avoid cases like that of Leo, he ordered that Madrid would be thereinafter an unalienable possession of the Crown of Castile.

The grand entry of Ferdinand and Isabella to Madrid heralded the end of strife between Castile and Aragon.

The kingdoms of Castile, with its capital at Toledo, and Aragón, with its capital at Barcelona, were welded into modern Spain by Charles I of Spain. Though Charles favored Seville, it was his son, Philip II (1527–1598) who moved the court to Madrid in 1561. Although he made no official declaration, the seat of the court became the de facto capital. Seville continued to control the Spanish Indies, but Madrid controlled Seville.

Aside from a brief period from 1601–1606 when King Philip III installed his court in Valladolid, Madrid's fortunes have closely mirrored those of Spain. During the Siglo de Oro (Golden Century), in the 16th/17th century, Madrid had no resemblance to other European capitals: the population of the city was economically dependent on the business of the court itself.

Philip V decided that a European capital could not remain in such a state, and new palaces (including the Palacio Real de Madrid) were built during his reign.

The Capital and the Austrians[edit]

View of Madrid from the west, facing the Puerta de la Vega (1562), by Anton Van der Wyngaerde (known in Spanish as Antonio de las Viñas), commissioned by Philip II to collect views of his cities. The banks of the Manzanares can be seen in the foreground, crossed by the predecessors to the present-day Segovia Bridge (in the first third) and the Toledo Bridge (further south, right), which was built in a monumental form years later. The most prominent building in the north (left) is the Alcázar, which was part of the city wall and would suffer several fires until it was almost completely destroyed in 1734 and was replaced by the current Palacio Real. Several churches can be seen, but without the domes and chapiters by which they would be characterized in the following centuries. By the river, there is a facility for the treatment of hides: the Pozacho tanneries. The recent installation of the court imposed a regalía de aposento tax on private houses, which led to all kinds of resistance including, most notably, the construction of casas a la malicia.[3]
Philip II transferred the capital from Toledo to Madrid in 1561.

After quelling the commoner revolt, Charles I generously granted Madrid the titles of Coronada and Imperial, impelling the transformation of the old Arab fortress. When Francis I of France was captured at the Battle of Pavia, he was held in captivity in the Lujanes Tower in Madrid. The Treaty of Madrid, dated 1526, was also signed (later denounced by the French), specifying the status of Francis.

In June 1561, when the town already had 30,000 inhabitants, Philip II moved his court from Toledo to Madrid, installing it in the old castle. The reasons given for this shift are varied. They include the need to separate the Court from the influence of the powerful archbishop of Toledo, and the great affliction of the young queen, Elizabeth of Valois (1546–1568), who felt suffocated within the mighty fortress walls of Toledo and who urged her husband to find a new home for the Court. The micro-climate of Madrid, milder than in Toledo, its geographical location and its magnificent natural environment, made the town a very appropriate candidate. With this, the city of Madrid became the political centre of the monarchy.

However, it was not until Charles III (1716–1788) that Madrid became a modern city. Charles III was one of the most popular kings in the history of Madrid, and the saying "the best mayor, the king" became popular during those times. When Charles IV, who reigned from 1788 until his abdication on 19 March 1808, became king the people of Madrid revolted.[why?]

War of independence[edit]

On October 27, 1807, Charles IV and Napoleon signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which allowed French troops passage through Spanish territory to join Spanish troops and invade Portugal, which had refused to obey the order international block against England. In February 1808, Napoleon, with the excuse that the blockade against England was not being respected at Portuguese ports, sent a powerful army under his brother in law, General Murat. Contrary to the dictates of the treaty, French troops entered via Catalonia, occupying the plazas along the way. Thus, throughout February and March of 1808, cities like Barcelona and Pamplona remained under French rule.

While all this was happening, the Mutiny of Aranjuez (March 17, 1808) took place, which was led by Charles IV's own son, the crown prince, Ferdinand VII against him, Charles IV resigned and Ferdinand VII took his place. However, Ferdinand VII's reign would be short: in May 1808 Napoleon's troops entered the city. On 2 May 1808 (Spanish: Dos de Mayo) the Madrileños revolted against the French forces, whose brute reaction would have a lasting impact on French rule in Spain and France's image in Europe in general. Thus, when Ferdinand VII returned to Madrid, the city was already occupied by Murat,[4] so both the king and his father became virtual prisoners of the French army. Napoleon, taking advantage of the weakness of the Spanish Bourbons, forced both, first the father and then the son, to meet him at Bayonne, where Ferdinand VII arrived on 20 April. here Napoleon forced both royals to abdicate on 5 May, handing the throne to his brother Joseph Bonaparte.

In the absence of kings, the situation became more and more tense in the capital. On May 2, the crowd began to concentrate at the Palacio Real and watched as the French soldiers removed the royal family members who were still in the palace. On seeing the infant Francisco de Paula struggling with his captor, the crowd launched an assault on the carriages, shouting ¡Que nos lo llevan! (They're taking him away from us!). French soldiers fired into the crowd. The fighting lasted for hours and is reflected in Goya's painting, The Second of May 1808, also known as The Charge of the Mamelukes.

Meanwhile, the Spanish military, victims of reigning institutional confusion, remained garrisoned and passive, with only the artillery barracks at Monteleón, in the present-day district of Malasaña, under captain Luis Daoíz y Torres, comprising four officers, three NCOs and ten men, resisting. They were later reinforced by a further 33 men and two officers led by Pedro Velarde y Santillán and distributed weapons to the civilian population.[5]

After repelling a first attack under French General Lefranc, both Spaniards died fighting heroically against the reinforcements sent by Murat. Gradually, the pockets of resistance fell. Hundreds of Spanish men and women, and French soldiers were killed in this skirmish.

Post War of Independence (1814)[edit]

An 1888 German map of Madrid.

After the war of independence (1814) Ferdinand VII came back to the throne, but after a liberal military revolution, Colonel Riego made the king swear respect to the Constitution. This would start a period where liberal and conservative government alternated, that would end with the enthronement of Isabellla II (1830–1904). She could not calm down the political tension that would lead to yet another revolt, the First Spanish Republic, and the comeback of the monarchs, which eventually led to the Second Spanish Republic and the Spanish Civil War.

20th century[edit]

The military uprising of July 1936 was defeated in Madrid by a combination of loyal police units and workers' militias. After this, from 1936–1939, Madrid was held by forces loyal to the Spanish Republic and was besieged by Spanish Nationalist and allied troops under Francisco Franco. Madrid, besieged from October 1936, saw a pitched battle in its western suburbs in November of that year and eventually fell to the nationalists on 28 March 1939. The Siege of Madrid saw the first mass bombing of civilians from the air by the German Condor Legion.[citation needed]

The Metropolis Building on Gran Via.

During the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, especially after the sixties, the south of Madrid became very industrialized and there were massive migrations from rural environments into the city. Madrid's south-eastern periphery became an extensive slum settlement, which was the base for an active cultural and political frame.

Following the death of Franco, and in order to secure stability and democracy, the emerging democratic parties (including those of left-wing and republican ideology) accepted Franco's wishes of being succeeded by Juan Carlos I, leading to Spain's current position as a constitutional monarchy.

Puerta de Europa buildings, from 1996.

Benefiting from the prosperity it gained in the 1980s, the capital city of Spain has consolidated its position as the leading economic, cultural, industrial, educational, and technological center on the Iberian peninsula.

21st century[edit]

2004 Madrid train bombings[edit]

Further information: 2004 Madrid train bombings

On March 11, 2004, three days before Spain's general elections and exactly 2 years and 6 months after the September 11 attacks in the USA, Madrid was hit by a terrorist attack when Islamic terrorists belonging to an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell,[6] placed a series of bombs on several trains during the morning rush hour, killing 191 people and wounding 1,800.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "El Madrid Medieval (Medieval Madrid). Includes Pre-historic, roman and medieval up to the Catholic Monarchs times.". History of Madrid. (in Spanish). José Manuel Castellanos. Retrieved 28 October 2007. 
  2. ^ Un Madrid insólito: Guía para dejarse sorprender, pg. 39–40. Jesús Callejo. Editorial Complutense, 2001. ISBN 84-7491-630-5. The book however talks about Leon V of Armenia.
  3. ^ This and other sixteenth and seventeenth century views of Madrid (from Frederic de Witt and Pedro Texeira) can be seen at this website
  4. ^ Chandler, David G. (1995), The Campaigns of Napoleon, Simon & Schuster, p. 610, ISBN 0-02-523660-1 
  5. ^ "Spain". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  6. ^ "Madrid bombers 'were inspired by Bin Laden address'" The Independent. Retrieved 23 July 2013.