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The Spanish capital not just for its geographic appointment but also for its financial, educational, fashionable, culinary, artistic achievements as well, not to mention of course home to one of the world’s finest football teams. It’s a city that sits at 10th most liveable in the world, third largest GDP in the European Union and for a while hosted the incredibly famous actor Antonio Banderas, all making it a city to see for any traveller.
- Madrid is the capital of Spain and with a population of over six and a half million people, is also the second largest city in the EU behind its German compatriot Berlin.
- Home to the Golden triangle of Art. A place on the Paseo del Prado in central Madrid made up of three museums, Prado Museum, Renia Sofia Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum that hold treasures of the modern and historic art world. The collection spans centuries.
- With over 15 cathedrals and churches the city has its personal holiness. The population in a census is said to be around 63% catholic.
- There is a considerable amount of migration that has happened over the past thirty years, with the immigrant population enriching the city with its heritage. Approximately 17% of the population are immigrants from Latin America, Europe, Asia, North and West Africa.
- There are five main universities in Madrid and their alumni includes writers, journalists, footballers, actors, artists, politicians. Some of the more famous of these attendees are the founder of The Pirate Party of Spain Carlos Ayala Vargas, the party is based on the Swiss Pirate Party model. World renowned philosophers Domingo De Soto, Raimon Panikkar and the late great Antonio de Nebrija who wrote the first complete Spanish dictionary and is known for saying ‘Your Majesty, language has always been the perfect instrument of empire’. Of course the most famous of all, who didn’t attend, but accepted a Doctor of Science degree is the incomparable Albert Einstein.
- Madrid is around a four hour drive from the south and north coasts of Spain. There are trains that run cross country and Madrid is almost always one of their stops.
- Madrid, although being referred to as a city is in fact a state. There are a number of autonomous states in Spain and Madrid is the largest.
- Plays host to one of the only statues of the fallen angel, Angel Caido. This is said to be the only known statue of the devil in the world.
- Driving is subject to many protocols that are enforced for environmental measures.
- The speed limits are split into five main areas. Motorways and Dual carriage ways that carry a 120 km/h maximum limit, National road 100km/h, City roads 30km/h, Shared bike lanes again 30km/h and Residential areas 20km/h.
- Athens and Madrid battle it out for the sunniest city in the EU with both having approximately 340 sunny days per year.
- The main river that Madrid is close to is the Manzanares.
Guide to Madrid
There is no doubt that Spain has been home to the greatest chefs in the world, it has been a birthplace for the artists and philosophers that have defined generations of unique thought, Madrid has no shortage of this. So where to start when thinking about a city that is overflowing with culture, it can be overwhelming.
Start with a park as Madrid has many places to sit and contemplate in, one of the most popular in the city is Retiro Park, this is situated right in the centre and spreads over 125 hectares. The attractions of the park not only include the Jardines de Cecilio Rodrigues(Classist gardens), the Galapagos fountain, which was built in honour of the famed Isabella II, it also has what is considered to be Madrid’s oldest tree. The Mexican conifer that is in Parterre Frances, is supposedly four hundred years old. From history to quaint almost comical, Parque Europa, it’s free to enter like most parks should be however this is more of an amusement park than your classic sit under a tree and breathe. The park plays host to a number of replicas like London’s Tower Bridge, The Eiffel Tower and Italy’s Trevi Fountain, this is a little busier compared to the other parks but worth a look. A trip to Madrid is never complete without a stroll around the Royal Gardens, Campo del Moro Gardens, they are gardens that up until 1980s were only ever used by royalty or devout Francoist’s. After Franco’s death the parks were opened to the public.
Madrid is so full of places to romance you into a Spanish dream, one of those being the wrought iron fronted Mercado de San Miguel, it’s a market yes but with all the great eats and drinks of a whole city nay even a whole culture with tapas from €1.50 and beers from €2. Mercado de San Fernando is a huge favourite of the locals, it was rundown and forgotten till only recently and has been restored to a more than 60 vendor strong hub. With tapas available throughout again with price tags that start around the €1 mark so that you could eat and drink here for hours.
Although bullfighting is usually on the list of things to do, being that we are in a world where it can be frowned upon take the intellectual bullfighting route and attend a show at Micro Teatro. This is a former brothel turned into a theatre where the Madrilenian’s come to flesh out the issues of today. There are usually five performances that run for 15 minutes a piece and they rotate on their issues each week, head there even if you don’t understand the language you are guaranteed to soak up the sentiment.
The city being the centre of Spain and Spain being quite a dense population of Catholics, we would be lead to believe that the foundations of this capital were created during Catholic rule. Although there are remnants of prehistoric times in these region and remains of the Carpentani, a celtic pre roman peoples, including grave sites, villas and a Visigoth Basilica, these are not necessarily the origins of Madrid itself. Madrid was founded and birthed around the second half of the 9th century by Muslims. One ruler of note that ordered walls, fortresses and other protective structures to be built was Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba, his reign was short lived due to being overthrown by the Catholic Christians and also by fellow Muslims in the never ending struggle for power. The Muslims were not completely removed from the area, they resettled in the suburbs along with the Jewish.
Although the city or state of Spain went through a vicious battle for religious identity, it wasn’t until mid 14th century that a marriage between The Catholic Monarchs gave way to the unification of Spain under a single crown. This unification allowed the country to name a capital which was and to this day is Madrid. The city of course became home to the famous newly-weds, Queen Isabella I of Castille and King Ferdinand of Aragon, which drew many others from across Spain, painters and writers of which their memories of the city are immortalised. One of the top renowned authors in history, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, moved there, known for Don Quixote the most translated book after the bible.
King Charles IV of Spain also known as Carlos Antonio Pascual Francisco Javier Juan Nepomuceno José Januario Serafín Diego, was the first to sign the treaty allowing French soldiers passage through Spain to invade Portugal. It was a temporary treaty that lasted only until the French decided they would occupy Spain as well along the way. Places like Barcelona and Pamplona were under French rule till the French attempted to take away the Spanish leaders, a revolt from the people began and the civilians were shot by French troops. The battle was bloody and lasted a few hours, it is depicted in the painting ‘The Second of May 1808(The Charge of the Marmalukes)’ that hangs in Museum del Prado, Madrid, today.
As history goes on into the modern times Madrid made another name for itself, being the spot where the military uprising of the civil war (1936-1939) was defeated by the rebels and Falangists. Madrid fell deep under rule from the Francoists 1939-1975 which created an absence of social mobilization and intellectual life, hard for a city with such a beautiful history of independent thought.
The 1980s saw an increase of financial growth and drew back the progressive’s restoring it to the behemoth of culture it is today.
This history has been truncated for the purposes of this post and many intricate details have been omitted.
Getting to and from Madrid
Madrid Airport (MAD)
There is only one international airport which is also the only commercial airport in Madrid. Madrid Barajas Airport (MAD) better known to the locals as Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport which is located 12 kilometres north east of the city. The name was changed to honour the life of the ex-Spanish president. There are three main terminals that are all located in one building, T1, T2, T3 and then a fourth, T4 that is about a 15 min journey from them. The airport is home to Iberia, the national airline of Spain, they have around 160 aircraft that live there. The numbers for this airport have increased greatly in the last 20 years from it trafficking around 34 million in the early 2000s to beyond 60 million passengers a year travelling through here in 2018 and the passenger traffic is constantly growing.
Airport Car Hire
As it is the only airport within close proximity to the city and the main entry point to Madrid, all the major brands operate out of here. Sixt, Avis, Europcar-InteRrent, Hertz-Firefly, Enterprise, Goldcar. All these companies have desks in both the operating hubs T1 and T4. There are smaller companies that provide a pickup service, they are Record Go, OK Rent a car, Centauro, Ole Car which may provide some more competitive prices as well.
Accessing the city
A car is a useful tool to have when travelling out of the city on a day trip however with the networks of buses, trains and metro that run through the capital city there is less of a necessity for driving. The metro that spreads across all the districts of the city is one of the largest in Europe. It will take between 30 and 40 mins to travel from the airport into the centre balanced against the drive that on a good day may take about 18 minutes. There is a dedicated bus service that can get you to the edge of the centre in around 35 mins.
Where to eat in Madrid
Food, drink, dining
Food is next on the agenda and there is no shortage of tapas on the menu with the majority of places offering free bites with their drinks. If you wish to have a good sit down meal then you will be pleasantly surprised, there are over 20 Michelin starred restaurants in the city alone and Al Bora comes highly recommended, although the price tag may seem high for a cuisine of this calibre it’s not, with dishes like the Iberian Ravioli with truffle Consomme on the menu your salivating will be justified.
Taking the long tasting menu will afford you the gift of the dish Norway lobster, veal stew, cauliflower and Thai sauce, there’s no more to say about it. Community favourite cum tourist hot spot Casa Gonzalez has all the local ingredients your heart can handle, the Manchego cheeses, the Acorn fed Iberico Ham, Andalusian blood sausage, sweet red peppers stuffed with cod, prawns and béchamel sauce, the list goes on and you won’t be begging them to stop.