City Profile: Madrid. Important Information About the City of Madrid
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The City of Madrid
The Spanish capital city of Madrid is the third largest city in the European Union, following the cities of London and Berlin. It is home to about 3.3 million Madrileños. The city serves as the political and economic center of the country. The Spanish monarchy is also based in the city. Founded in the 9th century with a history of monarchs, conquistadors and strong roots in Christianity, Madrid has cemented itself in the annals of history as one of the most important cities in the world.
The city of Madrid boasts of generating the third largest GDP in the EU, making it an important economic center of Spain and in Southern Europe. It also serves as the headquarters for the World Tourism Organization, the Organization of Ibero-American States and the Secretaría General Iberoamericana or SEGIB. Madrid is also the center of the country’s government, public administration and Spanish parliament. Whether it’s entertainment, fashion, art, music, architecture, politics, environment or education, the city of Madrid has something to say about it, and the world listens.
The city of Madrid is situated on the Manzanares River in the Community of Madrid. The city area measures 605.77 square kilometers or 233.89 square miles and is at an elevation of 667 meters or 2,188 feet. It has served as the country’s capital city since 1562.
Madrid is the most populated city in the country of Spain. The metropolitan population of the city is the third largest in the European Union as well, with close to 6.5 million residents. The city of Madrid has a population density of 5,390 people per square kilometer, or a staggering 14,000 Madrilenians per square mile. People love living in Madrid. In fact, Monocle Magazine recently named it in the Top Ten most livable cities in the world. It is also one of the greenest cities in Europe.
The bulk of the Madrileños are Spaniards, accounting for over 83% of the city’s total population. At the same time, as much as 17% of the city’s residents are immigrants from various parts of the world. Those from Ecuador account for the most number of immigrants in the city, with over 104,000 Ecuadorians living in the Spanish capital. This is followed by a large number of immigrants from Colombia, Romania, Bolivia, and Peru. The city is also home to a number of Chinese, Moroccans, Dominicans, Brazilians, Paraguayans, Italians, Filipinos, Argentines, Bulgarians, Equatorial Guineans, Indians, Poles and even Senegalese. This mixed demographic has resulted in a culture that is vibrant and influenced by the different nationalities living in the city.
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Spanish is the official language in the city and many institutions and organizations in the city seek to preserve and promote the language. Madrid is the base of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), the Foundation of Urgent Spanish and the Cervantes Institute. The Standing Committee of the Association of Spanish Language Academies is also based here. For those who wish to have important documents translated to and from Spanish, the skills of a professional translation service provider are available.
The Madrid Barajas International Airport is the primary airport of the city and is the flagship airport of Spain. It is the largest and busiest airport in all of Spain, serving close to 50 million passengers in 2010. In Europe, it is considered the fourth busiest airport and is ranked as the 11th busiest airport in the world in 2009. The aviation center is the gateway to the Iberian Peninsula and serves to link Europe to Latin America. This is also the primary hub used by the Spanish airline Iberia, though other major carriers that use the airport are Air Europa, Air Pullmantur, Mint Airways and Ryanair. Barajas-Madrid airport is conveniently located just 9 kilometers from the financial district of Madrid. Since it opened in the 1920s, it has played a key role in the economic development of the city.
As in any major city in the world, the city of Madrid suffers from street crimes that especially target the millions of tourists that visit the city. Pickpockets are aplenty in Madrid, especially at major tourist destinations. It’s best to keep important travel documents and cash locked securely in your hotel safe. Always travel with photocopies of your travel documents so these can easily be replaced in case of loss. Carry only the minimal amount of cash you need for the day and securely hold your cameras, cellular phones and other electronic items.
Avoid looking like a tourist by familiarizing yourself with the city layout before you leave. It’s not that difficult since many of the tourist attractions of the city are easily located right at the city center, such as Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Colón. Ask directions from the hotel concierge so you know where to go before leaving the hotel. Knowing a bit of Spanish would certainly help you navigate your way around the city. You could also avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself by not wearing expensive and flashy jewelry and keeping your other valuables away from prying eyes.
Ladies should use purses with zipper closures. Keep bags close to the body at all times, since many pickpockets and purse-snatchers work in crowded areas. Using a money belt is a good alternative to using a purse or handbag. As much as possible try not to use a backpack. There are many gypsy pickpockets on the road so be mindful of your surroundings at all times. Avoid getting drawn by con artists who could grab your wrist, place an item on your person such as a knotted bracelet and force you to purchase the item. Sometimes, they will attempt to solicit your signature for a cause, while another person steals your belongings while you are distracted. Con artists and pickpockets usually work in pairs or in groups so one would distract you while the other goes off with your valuables. Travelers who are victims of crime should report the incident immediately and prepare a “denuncia,” which is an official statement about the incident. However, travelers who exercise vigilance should still be able to have a safe and enjoyable time in Madrid.
Madrileños have a love-hate relationship with the climate, since the winter season could be quite cold while the summer season might be extremely hot. It has a continental Mediterranean climate, which translates to many hours of sunshine in a day. The summer season is hot, with temperatures hitting a sizzling 30 °C or 86 °F during the daytime hours, dropping down to about 18 °C or 64 °F in the evening. The hottest months are July and August, averaging a temperature in the low 30s Celsius or somewhere in the 80s Fahrenheit, though it has been known to go as high as 40 °C or 104 °F. August is also the driest month of the year, having only about 10 millimeters of precipitation for the entire month.
The coolest month is January, with daytime temperatures only at 9 °C or below 50 °F, dropping down to a freezing 2 °C or 36 °F in the evening. It is rare for the city to receive snowfall during the winter season.
Rain is most likely to occur during the autumn and spring months. The wettest month is May, receiving about 52 millimeters or over two inches of rainfall during the month. Overall, the city of Madrid receives about 436 millimeters or over 17 inches of rain in a given year.
The city of Madrid is an important cultural, economic, political, educational and historical center of the country. With its grand architecture, important history, distinguished royalty, many important museums, lush green parks and vibrant people, Madrid is certainly one of the most beautiful and enjoyable cities in Europe.
There are many theories as to the origins of the name Madrid. The oldest record mentions the name Magerit after a fortress that was built in the 9th century AD. The name translates to a place with abundant water. If this is correct then it means that name is of Celtic origin. However, the most popular theory is that the name Madrid originated from the name of a village, Matrice, which existed since the second century BC. However the name of the village was changed to Mayrit when the Arabs conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 7th century, which later evolved into Matrit.
The central location of the city brought it to the attention of the royal court the 14th century. However, it would take about two centuries before Madrid would become more fully developed. It was during the 16th century when Madrid rose into prominence. Under the rule of Felipe II, Madrid was chosen as the capital of Spain in 1561. It was also in the 16th century when some of the most important figures in Spanish culture rose to the forefront, such as Lope de Vega, Miguel de Cervantes, Francisco de Quevedo and Diego Velázquez.
In the 17th century, the landscape of Madrid began to change as Spain entered its Golden Age when Philip IV was the king. By this time and with some 175,000 residents, it had become the fifth most populated city in Europe, following the cities of London, Paris, Constantinople and Naples. By this time the city had gained several buildings, such as the royal academies and the royal palace.
During the 18th century, Madrid would have “the best mayor,” or “el rey alcalde” under the rule of Carlos III. It was during his rule that the infrastructure of the city was greatly improved with the construction of street lighting, cemeteries and sewers. Institutions such as the El Prado Museum, the Royal Observatory and the Royal Botanic Gardens were established and monuments such as Puerta de Alcalá and the now iconic Cibeles Fountain were completed.
Madrid entered a period of turmoil in the 19th century, beginning with the invasion of French troops in the capital city in the early 1800s. This resulted in an ill-fated rebellion in what is now called Plaza del Dos Mayo. Goya’s painting called The Third of May 1808 brilliantly captures this uprising in the city’s history.
By the 20th century, the city’s population hit 950,000 mark, and new suburbs emerged such as Las Ventas and El Carmen. However, the city still suffered from conflict from the Spanish Civil War that lasted from 1936 to 1939. In 1936, the capital city became the first city in Europe to be bombed by airplanes affecting many civilians.
After the war, Madrid entered a period of economic prosperity. From 1959 to 1973, the city’s wealth and population dramatically increased. During this time, Madrid generated the largest GDP for the country, placing it as the third highest GDP in all of Western Europe. Thousands of migrants from rural Spain moved to the city because of the heavy industrialization in the capital.
By the 1970s, Madrid made the shift to a democratic form of government. It was also during this period that the city started to gain a reputation as a party place, as a more liberal environment began to take shape.
Today, the city of Madrid is one of the most important cities in Europe. It continues to attract millions of visitors, making it the most visited city in Spain. Thanks to its important history and politics, vibrant culture, diversified economy, amazing architecture, beautiful artworks, delicious cuisine and friendly people, the city of Madrid remains an integral part of the European community and continues to affect the affairs of the world today.
The metropolitan area of Madrid is home to more than six million people, while the city itself has about 3.3 million residents. The people of Madrid are known as Madrileños. The bulk of the city’s residents are Spaniards. Due to the attractive employment prospects in the city, Madrid has attracted a lot of immigrants. These immigrants now account for 17% of the city’s population. Madrid’s population accounts for 7% of the total population of the country and is twice as large as Barcelona’s population and four times that of Valencia. The city’s population is past the halfway mark of the total population of Madrid’s autonomous community.
Ecuadorians are the largest immigrant group in the city, numbering over 104,000 while Romanians are a distant second at just under 53,000. Bolivians, Columbians, Peruvians, Chinese, Moroccans, Dominicans, Brazilians, Paraguayans and Filipinos also have a strong presence in the city. There are also people from Equatorial Guinea, Bulgaria, India, Italy, Argentina, Senegal and Poland. The immigrants of the city are most concentrated in the districts of Carabanchel, Tetuán, Centro and Usera.
Spanish is the official language spoken in the city. Not everyone is fluent in English so it’s best to know a bit of Spanish to get around. Basque, Catalan and Galician are other languages spoken.
In 2000, about 64% of the city’s residents were married, although almost 70% of homes in the city had no children. This translates to a low population growth in Madrid. The average household size is 2.47 residents per home.
About 16% of the city’s residents are in their 30s, while more than half of the total residents are between the ages of 20-59 years old. About 28.5% are below the age of 20, while over 21% of the population is over the age of 60. The median age in the city is only 37 years old. Life expectancy in the city of Madrid is high and is one of the world’s highest, with 79 years the average for men and 85 years for women.
Madrid’s economy took off during the middle ages when it became the capital of the Spanish Empire. It developed industrially in the 20th century, with motor vehicles, aircraft, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, printed materials, processed food, leather goods and electronic devices manufacturing leading the way of its economic boom. It is second to the city of Barcelona as a Spanish industrial center. Today, Madrid is an important financial leader in the world, ranking in the 11th place as a top center of commerce in the world. In Europe, it is among the top 5 important financial centers.
The city of Madrid is the financial heart of Spain and is one of the largest financial centers in the European community. In the 21st century, the service sector began to emerge as a leading industry in the city, representing 80.4% of total economic output in 2010. Transport and communications, as well as property and financial services generate over half of the city’s gross added value. The city has a stable GDP and strong bond market.
In terms of absolute GDP, Madrid boasts of being one of the richest European cities in the world. In 2010, the city’s GDP hit €209,342 billion, with an income per capita of €32,923. Madrid’s GDP per capita and PPP is way ahead of the Spanish average and above the per capita average of the other 27 European Union member countries. The purchasing power of its citizens is almost at par with New Yorkers, providing its citizens with a high standard of living.
The city’s unemployment level, at 16% in 2010 is still lower than the national average and the wages are still higher compared to the rest of the country. The people in Madrid earn wages exceeding the Spanish average. In 2007, the average salary in the city was at €2,540, compared to €2,085 salary average in Spain. Madrid also has the highest net earnings among Spanish cities and ranks 28th place in the world in terms of net earnings.
Three of the largest companies in the world are based in Madrid. These are Telefónica, Repsol-YPF and Banco Santander. Finance and insurance are leading industries in the city as well. There are also many textile, metal works and food factories located on the southern end of Madrid. The city is also an important center of publishing Spanish language materials. At the same time, the city continues to invest in research and development and is a key player in innovation and technology, far exceeding the investor average of its European counterparts. Businesses may need the services of a professional language translation service provider in order to tap into the other European markets while based in Madrid.
In spite of the global recession, the tourism industry has continued to generate employment for Madrileños. In 2009 over 7.2 million tourists traveled to Madrid, increasing to more than 7.4 million in 2010. The city has 47,000 establishments catering to the millions of tourists. Madrid boasts of 12 Michelin star restaurants among the 8,000 that operates in the city, together with 37,000 bars and 2,000 cafeterias. It also has 27 golf courses aside from its other sports facilities. The city’s agricultural products such as wheat, olives and vines continue to have strong demand. Education is also a strong component of the city’s economy, as Madrid continues to be home to a number of premiere public and private universities and institutes and research and technology centers. There are 152,000 foreign students enrolled in the various institutions for higher learning in Madrid, representing nearly 20% of all foreign students studying in Spain.
Prior to the use of the euro in 2002, the currency used in the country was the peseta. Today, Madrid is well on its way to a economic recovery following the global recession that marked that first decade of the 21st century. The city continues to be an important financial, insurance and tourism center in the country, backed by numerous profitable industries.
Everything and everyone comes together at Plaza Mayor. Dating back to the early 17th century, the cobblestone streets of the Plaza have been used for bullfights as well as the Spanish Inquisition in the past. Today the bustling center of activity is probably the most popular plaza in Madrid. A statue of Philip III marks the center of the plaza facing the Casa de la Panaderia.
Puerta del Sol is located at the heart of the city. It is an important transportation hub, so many travelers are sure to find their way here. It is the venue for many local festivals, public demonstrations, street performers and vendors and a number of coffee shops. There are many important monuments in the plaza. A statue of King Charles III here faces the Royal Post Office, which was originally the city’s first post office before evolving into the office of the country’s president. This is the place to be during New Year’s Eve celebrations as Madrileños watch the clock tower to mark the coming of the New Year as well as observe the tradition of eating Twelve Grapes, one for each strike of the bell before it marks the New Year. The Kilómetro Cero that marks the city center and where the national highway system starts is in front of the pot office. There is also a statue of Madrid’s symbol, the Bear and the Madroño Tree, which is found on the coat of arms of the city.
Plaza de Cibeles is the location of one of the most iconic fountains in the city, the Fountain of Cibeles. This beautiful monument shows the Roman goddess of fertility, Ceres or Cibeles on a chariot that is being pulled by two massive lions. Plaza de Cibeles is located at the crossroads of Calle de Alcala and Paseo del Prado. On one side of the Plaza is the Palacio de Cibeles. This is considered one of the most beautiful city halls in the world, with a façade more fitting for a castle than a government office. It was first intended to be the Communications Palace. On the other side is the Banco de España Building. It is the central bank of the country, and houses its gold reserves. Before it was outfitted with modern security system, the basement where the gold is located was flooded as a protective measure. On the northeast side is Palacio de Linares. This is where Casa de América, an art gallery and cultural center dedicated to promoting Latin American works is located.
Some of the best museums in the world are in Madrid. At the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, visitors would find the best collection of Spanish contemporary art. Picasso’s Guernica is the centerpiece of the museum’s collection. Other artists featured here are Juan Gris, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and Georges Braque. Unlike other museums in the city, which are closed on Mondays, Reina Sofia museum is closed in Tuesdays.
The Museo del Prado is considered one of the most important art museums in the world. It is home to more than 7,000 pieces of artworks that span the 12th to 19th centuries. Museum highlights include the Las Pinturas Negras or Black Painting of Goya, works by Rubens and Murillo and the royal paintings made by Diego Velásquez. Some of the other masterpieces here are Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco, Carravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath and The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch. Museo del Prado is one of the most visited museums in the world and is considered one of the most important where you can feast your eyes on some of the masterpieces of the world’s masters, including van Dyck, Brueghel, Titian, Botticelli, Tintoretto and Albrecht Dürer.
Rounding up the Triangle of Art at the Paseo del Prado in Madrid is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. The museum’s collection was once the second largest private collection in the world, before it was donated to the museum. There are over 1,600 paintings in its galleries, covering various artistic periods such as Impressionism, Expressionism and European and American modern art. Works by Renoir, Picasso, Bacon, Lichtenstein, Van Gogh, Degas, Goya, Monet and Mondrian are on display here.
Madrid’s answer to Buckingham Palace is the Palacio Real. Although it is considered the official residence of Juan Carlos I of Spain, the lavish palace is now the stage for royal ceremonies since the royal family now resides at the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela. It was constructed during the reign of Felipe V, although he died before it was completed. Construction of the palace began in 1738 and finished in 1755. The palace boasts of 2,800 rooms and features Italianate Baroque design. In terms of floor area, it is larger than any other palace in Europe. Tours of the palace will take visitors to 50 rooms, such as the banquet hall, throne room, the Royal Armory, Royal Pharmacy and residential areas that are ornately decorated and feature several artworks by famed Spanish artist Goya and many other premier artists, and collections of historical importance.
Plaza de Oriente is reminiscent of Versailles and is the square located on the eastern side of the grand Palacio Real. This rectangular plaza has three gardens and one of the most notable features is the limestone statue path lined with the 44 Gothic kings of Spain.
The National Archeological Museum of Spain contains an impressive collection of artifacts from the Pre-historic period to the Celtic, Iberian, Greek, Roman and Medieval periods. There is a replica of the Altamira Cave, which is the first cave wherein cave paintings were found dating back to pre-historic times. The best example of Visigothic goldsmith work is on display here, the Treasure of Guarrazar. Other museum highlights include the Lady of Baza, Biche of Balazote and the Lady of Elx, which are fine examples of Iberian sculpture.
One of the city’s best features is the numerous parks found in the city. For a bit of greenery, one of the most beautiful spots in the city is Parque del Buen Retiro. In the 17th century, King Felipe IV used it as a preserve of members of the royalty. In the 19th century, it was opened to the public and is today a good place to meander through the marble monuments, take in the landscaped lawns, take a boat ride or simply enjoy the sunny outdoors. This is the largest park in Central Madrid measuring an area of over 1.4 square kilometers or 350 acres. On Sundays, there are tarot card readers, stalls selling candy and other treats and various street entertainers. It is also here where the Forest of the Departed can be found. Also called Bosque de los Ausentes, this is a memorial for the 191 people who died during the March 11, 2004 Madrid Attacks. Another feature of the park is the glass structure called the Crystal Palace.
The largest park in all of Spain is Casa de Campo. It measures over 1,700 hectares or 6.6 square miles. This is the location of the Madrid Zoo, an amusement park, an outdoor pool and a fairground. The ecosystems that comprise the park are hundred-year old oak trees, river and lush pine groves, creating the green lungs of the city. This is also the home of about 133 vertebrate species.
The Royal Botanic Garden is at the Plaza de Murillo. Also known as the Real Jardin Botanico, it covers eight hectares and dates back to the 18th century. Carlos III established it to house various plant species that were collected by the Spanish explorers from different parts of the world. Today, the garden includes a research facility onsite that specializes in the development of herbal remedies and likewise plays an integral part in the preservation of the ecosystem of Europe.
To get a bird’s eye view of the city, travelers go on the Teleférico or sky lift. This is one of the most horizontal cable cars in the world rising about 40 meters from the ground. The cable car stretches 2.5 kilometers over Casa de Campo and affords visitors a view of the western portion of the city.
Daytrips to nearby locations can be done from Madrid. Six UNESCO World Heritage sites are accessible by train from the country’s capital. Alcala de Henares is the first planned university city in the world and dates back to 1499. This is where Miguel de Cervantes was born and visitors are able to see his actual home.
Aranjuez is another UNESCO World Heritage site where travelers get to see the summer home of the Bourbons called Royal Palace. Less than 50 kilometers from Madrid, it is used as a royal estate of the Spanish monarchy. The many attractions here include Casa del Labrador, various gardens such as Isle Garden and Isabella’s Garden, the House of Trades and Knights, House of Infantes and Atarfe, the town hall, Saint Pascual’s Royal Convent and Silvela’s Palace.
A trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Avila is like taking a trip back to the medieval ages. Also called the “City of Pebble and Saints,” Avila is built with medieval city walls in Romanesque style and is known for having the most number of Romanesque and Gothic churches.
At the UNESCO World Heritage site of El Escorial, travelers will find the largest monastery in the country, the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Also, about two hours from Madrid is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Segovia. This medieval town is home to the Spanish Mint, as well as the famous aqueduct dating back to Roman times in the 1st century AD. The 11th century Alcazar in Segovia is where Orson Welles filmed his movie “Chimes at Midnight.”
Finally, the medieval walled city of Toledo is where one of the best cathedrals in Europe is located, the Cathedral of Toledo. The main altar is bedecked in gold, while the ceilings are adorned with impressive frescos. The cathedral also has an art gallery featuring works by Rubens, Goya and Raphael, as well as one of El Greco’s masterpieces, The Disrobing of Christ. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is only half an hour away from Madrid by train and used to serve as a capital of Spain.
It’s no wonder why millions of visitors flock to Madrid each year. With so many places to see in and out of the capital city, Madrid remains on the top of the list of many travel itineraries to Europe.
One of the fascinating aspects about visiting Madrid is the rich and vibrant culture. The history of the city is reflected by its amazing architecture around the streets of Madrid, such as Gran Via, Paseo de la Castellana and Alcalá Street.
Madrid is a mix of the new and old. Alongside plazas dating back to the Middle Ages are soaring new constructions, such as Cuatro Torres, which are the tallest skyscrapers in the country.
The city has some of the best museums in the world and there are more than 44 museums in Madrid. It is home to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, featuring works by Correggio, Rubens, Goya, Murillo, Juan Gris and Pablo Serrano. One of the academy’s directors is none other than Francisco Goya, while some of its famous graduates include notable artists such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Juan Luna, Fernando Botero and Antonio López Garcia.
Aside from the city’s important art museums, Madrid also boasts of some fine historical museums. There is the Museum of the Americas, which chronicles and houses various artifacts from the American continent, dating as far back as the Paleolithic period to modern times. The National Archeological Museum of Spain features some of the best archeological finds in the country, covering the pre-historic times all the way to the medieval period.
For natural history, there is the National Museum of Natural Sciences, which covers the country’s natural history. The museum covers topics such as biodiversity, evolution, ecology, volcanology, geology and paleo-biology. On the other hand, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia gives visitors a glimpse of the various cultures of the world, showcasing various artifacts and even human remains. As a tribute to Spain’s glorious maritime past, there is the Naval Museum. Visitors get free entrance on the weekends.
Madrid also has many plazas to allow residents and tourists to come together. Plaza Mayor is probably the most famous, while Puerta del Sol is one of the busiest. At Plaza de España, visitors would be greeted by two of the tallest buildings in the city, the Torre de Madrid and the Edificio España. At the center of the plaza is a fountain with an impressive sculpture of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and its creator, Cervantes.
What sets Madrid apart from other capitals of the world is the extensive number of areas dedicated to greenery, creating a perfect balance between preserving the ecosystem and developing the city’s skyline. Madrid ranks second in the world in the number of trees planted within the city – an astounding 300,000 trees. The biggest park in all of Spain is here, the Casa de Campo, while the most popular is Parque del Retiro. There is even a park at the Atocha Railway Station, a Mediterranean Forest in Monte de El Pardo, the vast gardens of the Royal Palace and a UNESCO biosphere reserve at the Soto de Viñuelas. Even the Caixa Forum, which is a private museum, is marked by a vertical garden on its front wall.
Foodies would have a great time sampling the cuisine in the Spanish capital. The city has some of the best tapas bars in the country, and is the best place to find authentic Spanish cuisine, such as paella. Diners who want to get the best meals for the best prices should try the menu del dia, or the menu of the day, which usually sells for about ten euros. Typical Madrid dishes are Callos a la Madrileña, Cocido Madrileño, Oreja de Cerdo, Sopa de Ajo, Gallinejas y Entresijos. What may be surprising is that Madrid has some of the best seafood dishes in the country even if it is not a coastal city. Try the mariscada or seafood feast. Madrid is also the best place to buy traditional Spanish items such as Jamon Iberico, chorizo and morcilla due to the very high quality of meat products available in the city.
The oldest operating restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records is in Madrid. Botin, located at Calle Cuchilleros had been serving customers since 1725. This is where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out, enjoying specialties such as cochinillo or roast suckling pig and cordero or roast lamb.
Madrileños have traditionally set their schedules based on the climate. This is why people take “siestas,” which is a midday break from the heat and is why some small stores close during noontime and reopen later during the day. Lunch breaks are between one to two hours long, usually beginning at one in the afternoon and ending at three to three-thirty. Lunch and dinner are taken at later hours. To tide people over till a 9 P.M. or 10 P.M. dinner, a quick snack at a tapas bar with a few drinks is usually done. Tapas are small plates serving small rations of hams, deli meats, olives and other tasty treats. Bocadillos or rolls are also eaten. During the weekends, it’s not surprising to have people stay up till 5 A.M. enjoying the various entertainments of the city. One of the city’s main roads is Gran Via, and this is called “the place that never sleeps,” thanks to the various nightclubs on the road that stays open till 7 A.M.
The nightlife of Madrid is one of the most frenetic and enjoyable in the world. There is a reason why Madrid is known as having one of the best nightlife in Europe. During the 1980s, Madrid gave rise to the Movida movement, a more liberal and free-spirited way of life and giving rise to famous personalities such as Pedro Almodovar. Gran Via is one of the busiest streets in the city, as this is their cinema district and home to a number of shops, billboards and bars.
Today, Madrid is known for having a high tolerance for the gay lifestyle and continues to be a colorful and quite liberal environment. Chueca is the city’s gay district. The Madrid Gay Pride is an event held at the last week of June to the first of July, wherein more than 1.5 million participants from all over the world take part in the annual celebration.
The Spanish language is preserved and promoted in Madrid. This is the headquarters of the Instituto Cervantes, which promotes the Spanish language and culture. It is also here where the Royal Academy of Spanish Language is located. The National Library of Spain is the largest in the country, with an impressive collection of more than 26 million items ranging from books, manuscripts, newspapers, graphic materials and other printed and audio or electronic materials.
Madrid is a center of learning in the country and is home to the oldest university in the world, the Complutense University of Madrid. The country’s top technical university is also here, the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid. There are also a number of private and public universities in the city.
For a taste of the city’s multi-ethnic culture, simply look around and you are likely to find that many of the city’s residents are immigrants from various parts of the world. Lavapiés is considered that city’s multicultural quarter, where more than half of the residents are from Africa, Asia and Latin America. This is the neighborhood to visit when looking for Indian restaurants and South American shops as well as listening to African music. At the Conde Duque Cultural Center, visitors get to see shows, exhibitions and various concerts catering to all sorts of demographics. Visitors could go to Barrio de las Letras or Huertas to get a feel of what inspired some of Spain’s most famous writers who once made this neighborhood home. These include Quevedo and Cervantes.
As one of the purveyors of Catholicism in the world, it’s not surprising that there are a number of churches in the city. San Nicolás de los Servitas is the oldest surviving church in the city, featuring a bell tower that dates back to the 12th century. San Pedro el Real is the next oldest church in Madrid. St. Isidore Cathedral is one of the most important. The Jesuit church features an impressive dome and many artworks inside. It is here that the remains of Madrid’s Patron Saint, St. Isidore the Laborer is reposited. The Catedral de la Almudena faces the Palacio Real. This is where Prince of Asturias Felipe and Letizia had their wedding in 2004.
Many of the city’s holidays are centered on religious events. Holidays include the Epiphany in January, Semana Santa or Holy Week in April, the Assumption of the Virgin on August 15, All Saints Day on November 1, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. One of the biggest celebrations in the city is May 15, which is the feast of the city’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador while November 9 is the feast of the Virgen de la Almudena. Other patron saints of various neighborhoods are also celebrated throughout the year.
Madrid boasts of some of the best shopping options in the country. El Corte Ingles is a major shopping mall in the city and is the largest department store chain in the country. For some high-end shopping, Salamanca is lined with expensive boutiques. Top Spanish designers are to found at Calle Serrano, such as Roberto Verino, Ermenegildo Zegna, fashion designer Carolina Herrera and famed shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. On the other hand, Mercado de San Miguel is an excellent indoor market that was built in 1913. This is a great place to buy dried ham, freshly baked goods, spices, fine wine and other goods to bring back home. Those who prefer to shop for unique finds at the biggest flea market in Europe would love El Rastro on Ribera de Curtidores, which is open every Sunday morning.
The performing arts are alive and well in the city. The city is after all, the birthplace of Spanish actress Carmen Maura and Penélope Cruz, singer Julio Iglesias and tenor Placido Domingo. For a Spanish take on the Operetta, the best place to go is the Teatro de la Zarzuela. The primary opera theatre of the city is Teatro Real located at the Plaza de Oriente. Madrid’s main concert venue is the Auditorio Nacional de Música, home of the Spanish National Orchestra, the Community of Madrid Orchestra and the Madrid Symphony Orchestra.
Visitors to the city shouldn’t miss a Flamenco performance. One of the most famous places to catch this is at the Corral de la Moreria. There are many other venues in the city, many offering authentic Spanish cuisine along with the Flamenco show.
When it comes to sports, Madrileños are avid football fans, often cheering their teams at a fever pitch level. Four teams represent Madrid – Real Madrid, Atlético de Madrid, Rayo Vallecano and Getafe Club de Fútbol. Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is the home ground of Real Madrid while Atlético plays at the Vicente Calderon Stadium. Coliseum Alfonso Pérez in Getafe is the turf of Getafe Club de Fútbol and the Estadio Teresa Rivero is home to football club Rayo Vallecano. Whenever Real Madrid plays against its rival FC Barcelona, it seems like the most sacred of holidays, throwing the Madrileños into a frenzy whenever their team wins. The city is the birthplace of footballers Fernando Torres and Raúl (González).
Bullfighting also traces its roots to the city of Madrid back in 1929. May is bullfighting season during the feast of San Isidro and it is done at the Las Ventas Bullring. The season lasts till October so visitors could watch bullfights every Sunday and public holidays during this period.
Madrid has also greatly influenced the development of Spanish literature. Some of the most notable writers in the Spanish literary world hail from Madrid, such as Lope de Vega who wrote “The Knight of Olmedo,” Francisco de Quevedo, Calderon de la Barca and Tirso de Molina, most famous for his character Don Juan. The homes of these writers are located in the Barrio de las Letras. Other famous writers who have called Madrid home at some point are Cervantes and Luis de Góngora. Modern day writers born in Madrid are Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Dámaso Alonso, Pedro Salinas and Enrique Jardiel Poncela.
There are many other holidays celebrated in the city of Madrid. Hispanidad Day or Fiesta Nacional de Espana falls on October 12. Spanish Constitution Day is marked on December 6. May 2 is the Official Day of Madrid, where the Region of Madrid commemorates the Spaniards’ uprising against the French back in 1800s. To welcome the New Year, Madrileños head to Puerta del Sol to view the clock tower. The custom of eating 12 grapes is done, to mark each toll of the bell.
• Madrid is famous for its nightlife. It is said that there is one bar for every 100 residents. The city is still alive well until the wee hours of the morning due to raucous partygoers.
• The city of Madrid honors two patron saints. The first patron saint of the city is Isidore the Laborer; also known as Isidore the Farmer. He lived between the 11th and 12th centuries. He is also the patron saint of the city of La Ceiba in Honduras. Madrid’s second patron is the Virgin of Almudena, an icon of the mother of Christ that dates back to medieval times. The Cathedral of Madrid is dedicated to her.
• The Madrid Metropolitan Area is considered as the third largest in the entire European Union. With a population of over 6.5 million residents living in an area measuring 1,935.97 square kilometers, Madrid is also the largest metropolitan area in the country of Spain. It has two zones of urbanization, the Inner ring or primera corona, and the outer ring or the segunda corona.
• Madrid is divided into 21 administrative districts. These are further subdivided into 128 wards or barrios.
• Madrid has one of the oldest universities in the world. The Complutense University of Madrid, which dates back to 1293 is the largest university in the country, with a student body of 117,000 enrollees and a staff of more than 10,000 people.
• Madrid is one of the greenest cities in Europe. It has the most number of trees and green surface per resident in the city, with 8.2% of the city’s grounds dedicated as green areas. Each resident has 16 square meters of green area, which is well above the 10 square meters of green area per inhabitant recommended by the World Health Organization. Madrileños have access to a green area within a quick 15-minute walk. It is second to the city of Tokyo in having the most number of trees, with 300,000.
• The city’s public transport system is one of the best in the world. Madrid has the second largest European Metro network, preceded only by London. Aside from this, there is a current project to build a Spanish high-speed rail network that going to link Madrid to other important provincial cities. After completion, other cities would only by four hours away from the Spanish capital, while Barcelona will only be six hours away by high-speed train.
• Historically, Madrid was the second cheapest capital city to visit in Europe. Since the country switched to the use of the euro in 2002, the cost of living has soared in the city. Madrid is now Spain’s most expensive city. Worldwide, it is the 22nd most expensive city.
• The city’s slogan is “Fui sobre agua edificada, mis muros de fuego son. Esta es mi insignia y blazon.” This translates to “On water I was built, my walls are made of fire. This is my ensign and escutcheon.”
• On the city’s coat of arms are the image of a bear and a strawberry tree. This is in reference to the belief that the city’s original name was Ursunia, which in Latin means “land of bears.” The nearby forests of where Madrid now stands used to be the home of many bears and where many strawberry trees, called Madroño in Spanish were found. This has been the city’s emblem since the Middle Ages.
• The largest demonstration in Madrid happened 36 hours after the bombing of commuter trains on March 11, 2004. Ten bombs were set off on four commuter trains headed for the Atocha station during rush hour, resulting in the loss of lives of 191 people and injury to over 1,700 people. More than three million protestors took to the streets to protest the bombings, which happened just three days before the country’s national elections.
• Madrid is only 300 kilometers from the sea and has an elevation of 650 meters. This makes the city the highest capital city within Europe.
• The Space Tower or the Torre Espacio is a 57-floor building within the city of Madrid. What makes this unique aside from its architectural design is the flashing green LED light on its 33rd floor. The light is meant to symbolize the presence of God due to the chapel on that floor.
• The cartoons drawn by Goya usually appear in the fine tapestries created at the Royal Tapestry Factory.
• Lope de Vega and Miguel de Cervantes were literary rivals during their time. What is ironic is that Cervantes was buried at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians, located at Lope de Vega Street while the museum that used to be the house of De Vega is located on Cervantes Street.
• The city of Madrid is a sister city or twin town of 29 other important cities all over the world. These include New York City, Panama City, Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Lisbon, Lima, Warsaw, Brussels, Abu Dhabi, Beijing and Rabat in Morocco. Madrid is likewise sister city to Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Tripoli, San Salvador, Mexico City, La Paz and Manila.