Madrid History & Culture

Founded by the Moorish calif Muhammad 1 in the 9th century as a bastion against Christian invasion, it was finally conquered in 1085 by Alfonso VI as he advanced on Toledo.  Sadly, much of the Moorish structures were destroyed, although you can still enjoy a little of the Moorish legacy in a hot or cold bath and sauna while you sip sweet mint tea in the Arab bath-house at the Medina Mayrit.

In 1734 King Phillip V ordered a new palace, which still stands today, to be built on the site of the old Moorish Alcázar (Castle) and today, unless there is an official state function, several rooms are open to the general public.

From its Moorish beginnings in the 9th century to the Christian conquests and the Spanish Inquisition.  From the decline of the Spanish Empire and the conquest by Napoleon 1 and the infamous dictatorship of Francisco Franco who ordered the bombing of the city, to its recovery and development into a cultural and contemporary city, Madrid has much to offer the keen traveller.

Madrid has two of Europe’s most famed art collection at the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museo Nacional Central de Arte Reina Sofia, a converted 16th century hospital.  In the Prado works by Goya, Velázques and El Greco and in the post-Franco temple of 20th century modernism, the Museo Nacional Centro; Dali, Miró and Picasso.

The Plaza Mayor, at first glance, does not appear to be more than a place to meet and enjoy the warmth and buzz of the cosmopolitan mix in its many restaurants and cafés so picturesquely placed under the surrounding arches, but don’t be fooled.  Under the Hapsburg dynasty this plaza of red buildings with its turrets and hundreds of balconies once hid within it, interiors of breathtaking majesty. This Plaza has been the scene of great commercial markets, it has been the arena for bullfights and it is in this, the central Plaza, that the Spanish Inquisition held the infamous “autos de fe” of those judged to be heretics by the Catholic Church.