History of Madrid

Throughout centuries the Spainish land was home to a lot of different groups of people and its turbulent history is reflected perfectly in the history of its capital, Madrid. Take a moment at your Madrid hotel room to read the article and discover the secrets behind the streets and walls of Madrid.

The Beginnings

The capital of Spain lies at the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, enclosed by the Central Mountain range. It is surrounded by Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y Leon, the two regions that Madrid was once a part of. Although the city very probably existed before that inhabited by the Celts, its verifiable origins date from the 9th Century.

 

It was then that Emir Mehmed I ordered to built a wall (Mayrit) along the length of the Manzanares.

Madrid remained in the shadow of near by wealthier Toledo until the late 11th Century, when Alfonso VI made it part of Al-Andalus. The city fell during the re-conquest of Spain in 1110. Arabs had ruled it for centuries before that. Only the Alcazar (fortress) and the Almaidana (citadel surrounded by fortifications) resisted destruction during the 'Reconquest'. After Alfonso VI came to power, the border of la Corona de Castilla was relocated to Toledo. The Almoravides (Iberians-Spanish) made efforts to recapture what was once theirs, but the struggle gradually weakened after Alfonso VII acceded to the throne. As a result, Islamic society remained largely intact in Madrid, and few buildings were lost.


Medieval Madrid

The first code of laws was established in Madrid in 1118. This was the same code that had been used in Toledo since 1085. This primarily agrarian society gradually developed into an urban one, as revealed in the charter adopted by Alfonso VIII in 1202. A council was created as well. It came to play a very important role in Castilian society, to the extent that it allowed a group of Madrid citizens to support Alfonso VIII in his battle against the Muslim conquistadors in Las Navas de Tolosa.

The crown was opposed to the traditional noble society throughout much of the 14th and 15th Centuries, and numerous conflicts took place in Castilla reflecting this fundamental tension. Aristocrats were not in favor of a stronger centralised government. As a final result, the nobles lost their privileges. The severest conflicts occurred in the mid-14th Century, when the struggle between Pedro I and his brother Enrique de Trastamara reached its zenith. After Pedro was assassinated, Enrique rose to power and retaliated against his brother's supporters, taking Barajas, Cobena and Alcobendas from them. These territories then passed to the Mendoza family.

Madrid became a key royal residence after the 14th Century. The court was held there quite frequently. Sadly, the black plague ravaged the city during the second half of the Century. Interestingly, there are many notable mementos of the Middle Ages in the city today. The House and the Tower de los Lujanes in the Plaza de la Villa date from the 15th Century. King Francis I of France was imprisoned in the tower after the Battle of Pavia. Adjacent to the tower is the Hemeroteca Municipal, a building with a Mudejar doorway.

An alley just beyond the Plaza de la Villa leads to San Nicolas de los Servitas. This is the oldest church in the city. Its Moorish-style tower is reminiscent of the days of Arab rule. The belfry of the Church of San Pedro el Real shows the influence of the Mudejar style. The old Moorish district (Moreria) is located between the Plaza de la Paja, El Alamillo, the Plaza de la Cruz Verde and the Ronda de Segovia. The Plaza de la Paja was a very important square in the Middle Ages.

Madrid under the Habsburgs

Madrid reached its zenith, but also declined under the Habsburgs. Charles I of Spain, also Holy Roman Emperor, united the kingdoms of and Aragon with their capitals at Toledo and Saragossa respectively. This formed the territory of modern Spain. Charles rose to the throne in 1516, and with that Spain became even more connected to the dynastic struggles in Europe. Under his rule the Spanish economy was made over by the influx of precious metals from America. Charles divided his inheritance in two parts: Spain and its overseas territories on one hand and the Holy Roman Empire on the other. This proved a difficulty for Philip II, who succeeded Charles I after the latter abdicated.

Unaffected by religious conflict, Spain remained Roman Catholic. Philip championed Catholicism and was firmly opposed to the Turks. He moved the court to Madrid in 1561. The seat of court became the de facto capital. Madrid had nothing in common with other European capitals during the 16th and 17th Centuries – the city’s inhabitants were economically dependent on the court. This period is known as the Golden Century of Madrid.

Spain had become a leading political and military power in Europe, and Madrid’s fortunes mirrored those of the country. Spain formed the Iberian Union with Portugal in 1580, which resulted in unification of the peninsula and added Portugal’s resources to the Spanish crown. Sadly, prosperity preceded a fall. Spanish dependency on gold and silver imports, the expulsion of Moors and Jews from Spain, and the rising inflation rate combined to cause a series of financial crashes and bankruptcies in Spain.

Philip III rose to power in 1598. In 1618 Spain entered the Thirty Years' War. Three years later Philip IV was crowned king. During his reign Portugal and Catalonia rebelled. The crown lost Portugal, and Catalonia was suppressed. Spain’s power waned under the rule of Charles II, Philip's son. The Habsburg dynasty became extinct in Spain, and power passed to the Bourbon dynasty.

The geniuses of El Greco and Cervantes flourished during this era. Many works of architecture testify to the grandeur of the age. These include the Town Hall, designed by Gomez de la Mora, the Plaza Mayor, built by Philip III in 1619, and the Casa de la Panaderia. The Plaza Mayor is a monumental square, which was the centre of Habsburg Madrid. Nine vaulted gateways lead into the square. The 16th Century Palacio de los Vargas, located in the Calle del Sacramento, contains a number of interesting relics.

Bourbon Madrid

The first Bourbon king of Spain was Philip V. In 1715 this monarch of French origin signed a law that revoked most of the historical privileges of the various kingdoms united under the crown. They were unified under the laws of Castile. Politically and culturally Spain became a follower of France. Under Charles III Spain was governed by the laws of enlightened despotism. As a result a new prosperity came about in the mid-18th Century. Madrid became a truly modern city, and Charles is remembered today as one of Spain's most popular kings. During the American Revolutionary War he managed to regain much of the territory Spain had lost to France in the Seven Years’ War.

Sadly his blaze of glory was extinguished by his son Charles IV, whom some believed to be retarded. His policies overturned many of Charles III's reforms. The son of Charles IV, Fernando VII, led the Mutiny of Aranjuez against him. Meanwhile Charles’ hesitancy on the issue of being a French ally led Napoleon to invade Spain in 1808. The Peninsular War broke out. Under the Bonaparte dynasty Spain was unable to adopt Enlightenment ideals and did not embrace the industrial revolution of the 18th Century, and as a consequence fell behind Germany, France and Britain in political and economic power.

Spain freed itself from French rule during the war of independence in 1814, and Fernando VII acceded to the throne. After a military revolution the king was forced to adopt the constitution. A period of alternating liberal and conservative governments followed; it ended with the coronation of Isabel II in 1830.

Madrid in the 20th and 21st Centuries

The first conflict that arose during the reign of Isabel II resulted in the First Spanish Republic and later the return of the monarchy. The establishment of the Second Spanish Republic followed. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. Madrid suffered the most of all Spanish cities. Its streets were battle zones. After July 1936, Madrid was a stronghold of the Republicans. Its western suburbs were the site of a heavy battle in November of that year, when nationalists attempted to take over the city. After that, Madrid was under siege for almost three years. It surrendered in March 1939. During the Civil War, Madrid was bombed by planes specifically targeting civilians, the first city to enjoy this dubious honour.

Under Franco, the south of Madrid became an industrial zone. There was an influx of migrants from the rural areas. The southeastern periphery of the city was transformed into a slum, which became a base of active political and cultural movements.

After Franco’s death the newly established democratic parties accepted the former dictator’s wish to be succeeded by Juan Carlos I to ensure order and stability. This established Spain as a constitutional monarchy, a position it holds to this day. Madrid reestablished itself as the leading economic, industrial, cultural and technological centre on the Iberian Peninsula in the 1980s.

In recent history, the city suffered from a horrible terrorist attack on March 11, 2004. Massacres of such magnitude had not been seen since the civil war. ETA was the first to be blamed, but later it turned out that the attack had been the work of Islamic terrorists. The investigation yielded inconclusive results.