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.

The site of modern-day Madrid has been occupied since prehistoric times, and archaeological research shows a small Visigoth village nearby.[1]

In the mid-9th century, Muhammad I of Córdoba constructed a small castle where the Palacio Real stands today. The Moors built a citadel, al-Mudayna, around this castle, and named the area after the nearby Manzanares River, which the Muslims called al-Majrīṭ (Arabic: المجريط "source of water"). From this came the name Majerit, later spelled Madrid.

The Moors controlled the citadel until Alfonso VI of León and Castile conquered them in 1085 in his advance towards Toledo. He reconsecrated the mosque as the church of the Virgin of Almudena (almudin, the garrison's granary).

In 1329 Ferdinand IV of Castile first assembled the Cortes Generales, a precursor to the modern Spanish parliament.

Although ruled by Christian kings, many Sephardic Jews and Moors continued to live in Madrid until they were expelled at the end of the 15th century.

Becoming the capital of Spain[edit]

Plaza Mayor, dates from 1619.

In 1383, Leo VI of Armenia was named Lord of Madrid by King John I of Castile.[2] King John of Castile had previously ransomed King Leo from Egyptian Mamluks, offering precious stones, silks, and birds of prey for King Leo's release.

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.

King Leo only ruled for a few years. Later, Henry III of Castile (1379–1406) rebuilt the city after it was destroyed by fire and founded El Pardo just outside its walls. The kingdom of Castile controlled the city until the death of Henry VI, when the kingdom of Aragon disputed the succession. The marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella united Castile and Aragon, leading to the beginnings of modern Spain, though the two kingdoms retained their own regional laws for a time.

The kingdoms of Castile, with its capital at Toledo, and Aragón, with its capital at Barcelona, were fully united 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. 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 17th century, Spain's Siglo de Oro (Golden Century), Madrid grew rapidly. The royal court attracted many of Spain's leading artists and writers to Madrid, including Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Velázquez.


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.

In 1739 Philip V began constructing new palaces, including the Palacio Real de Madrid. However, it was not until Charles III (1716–1788) that Madrid became a truly modern city. Charles III, who cleaned up the city and its government, became one of the most popular kings ever to rule Madrid, and the saying "the best mayor, the king" became widespread. Besides completing the Palacio Real, Charles III is responsible for many of Madrid's finest buildings and monuments, including the Prado and the Puerta de Alcala.

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.