Why visit Madrid, Spain?
Why visit Madrid?
Is there a city on earth that parties like Madrid? Throughout the night the streets hum with voices from the wine bar to the squat. Effortlessly cool and down-right grimy, Madrid is all things to all people whether you love shopping for Gucci or sharing a can with a down and outer. Not happy with merely being a great place to live the good life, is also one of the high culture capitals of the world, packed with some of the world’s most renowned art galleries. Throw in its passionate and friendly people and some of the finest tapas and restaurants in the land, the allure of the marvellous place is both spell-binding and varied.
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Madrid: the facts
Madrid has a city population of 3.3 million, an urban population of 6.5 million and is the capital and largest city of Spain. It is the 3rd largest city in the EU, after London and Berlin, and covers an area of 604 km2. With its high standard of living and economic output, Madrid is considered to be the major financial centre of southern Europe. It seats Spain’s national government and houses its royal family in numerous palaces in and around the city.
Madrid has always been a strategically important place due to its position in the heart of the peninsula and frequently changed hands between the Muslims and Christians during the Reconquista. It was not, however, until 1561, when King Philip II moved his court permanently to the city, that Madrid became the focal point of politics, culture and power in Spain. During the reign of Philip IV (1621 – 1649) a cultural golden age blossomed as masters such as Miguel de Cervantes, Diego Velázquez and Lope de Vega lived and worked in the city. King Charles III (1734 – 1759), who was hailed as “the best major of Madrid”, instigated the construction of many of the city’s iconic monuments and museums as well as raising the living quality of the inhabitants.
The Napoleonic annexation of Spain (1808) led to a violent uprising that was swiftly and brutally repressed by Murat, Napoleon’s trusted marshal. In paintings like “The Third of May 1808” Goya captures the mercilessness on those who choose to rebel on 2nd May.
In the 20th century Madrid was at the centre of the Spanish Civil War. The scene of crazed fighting when war broke out as citizens fought back against the military. The armed militias eventually forced the military rebels from the city and a 3 year siege (1936 – 1939) followed. The city was regularly bombed from the air and by artillery and eventually fell as the Republican war effort disintegrated.
The post-war boom saw an influx of rural economic migrants and of construction, with new barrios (neighbourhoods) springing up from the carnage. The south of the city became more industrialised as the new urban elite built new property to the north.
Nowadays Madrid is a major centre for international business and its financial centre is one of Europe’s largest. The service economy generates over 50% of the city’s wealth in which the international Barajas Airport plays a key role. Government-paid construction projects have also helped to rejuvenate the city, but the economic crisis has hit hard with record levels of unemployment.
Madrid has a Continental Mediterranean climate and so summers are glorious with temperatures often over 30oC but rarely above 40oC with very little rain. Strangely, Madrid has a reputation among Spaniards as being unbearably hot in summer, although the statistics don’t bear that out. However, due to its altitude (650m) winters can be chilly with temperatures often dipping below freezing.
Weather in Madrid now
Madrileños are sport fanatics. Real Madrid, is one of the most prestigious football teams in the world and its stadium Santiago Bernabéu is a Mecca for supporters. Madrid is also home to three other teams in La Liga (Spain’s top league), two basketball teams, a handball team and a motorsports racing circuit. In 1972, 2012, and 2016 Madrid petitioned to host the Summer Olympics but was unsuccessful on each occasion. Recently Madrid has signalled its intend to bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, time will tell if it is successful.
The cultural capital of Spain, Madrid is home to the spectacular ‘Golden Triangle of Art’. Centred around Paseo del Prado, it comprises three art galleries containing some of the most important artwork in the world. The Prado Museum, with works from Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya, the Reina Sofia Museum, where Picasso’s Guernica hangs, and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum combine to form an unbelievable body of work.
The city is also a major stage for alternative performances and expressive art, playing host to numerous festivals including the Festival of Alternative Art and the Festival of the Alternative Scene. The week long party Fiesta de San Isidro takes place in May and is a chance for Madrileños to let their hair down and frequent the numerous bars, pubs, clubs and cafés of the city.
Las Ventas, the largest Plaza de Toros (bullring) in Spain, is seen by aficionados as the spiritual home and world centre of bullfighting and has a capacity of up to 25,000. The bullfighting season starts in March and ends in October and fights are held every day during San Isidro.