With their national team having just won the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, you can imagine that the residents of the capital city are having quite the summer celebrating. The Spanish national team has how won two straight Euro Cups and also has a World Cup title in between. Some believe this to be one of the best football (soccer) teams of all time – and perhaps even a dynasty. But there is more to know about the beautiful city of Madrid than just its love of football.
The largest city in Spain and the third largest in the European Union, Madrid dates back to the 9th Century after the Visigoths had already made their mark in the western portions of present-day Europe. Muslim factions led by Muhammad I of Cordoba had ordered a palace built near the Manzanares River, or as the Muslims called it, al-Majerit. This was shortened to Majerit and eventually changed to its present name, Madrid. Synonymous with this period was the martyrdom of 48 Christians known as the Martyrs of Cordoba. These Christian idealists spoke out in blasphemy against Islam and specifically the prophet Muhammad. Islam reigned as the premier religion for several centuries, but by the 15th Century, the Spanish Inquisition had driven out those not true to the Catholic Church. Catholicism is now the most practiced religion in Spain.
Madrid is known for its vast and beautiful culture. Many of us are aware of Spaniards’ passion for bullfighting (whether we agree with it or not), known as corrida de toros, but the city also features beautiful architecture, a vibrant nightlife and many well-known art galleries and museums. Referred to as the Golden Triangle of Art, Madrid is home to three world-famous art institutions: the Prado Museum, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum – all of which reside on the Paseo del Prado, one of the oldest urban drags in the city. Its churches are often considered works of art, and the oldest in the city was built in the 13th Century, the San Nicolas de los Servitas. It is speculated that it was originally built as a mosque and then was converted to a church when the city moved toward Catholicism.
The city is divided into 21 districts which are further subdivided into 128 wards (or barrios). Each barrio has its own feel, and thus attracts different residents and tourists. Lavapies is one of the poorest districts near the city center, and is primarily made up of immigrants (Chinese, Arabs and Africans), but because of the international flare, it also attracts artists and bohemians as well as those looking for authentic and affordable ethnic dining. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Cuatro Torres Business Area (CTBA), which is the hub of the financial district. The area is defined and distinguished by its four tallest skyscrapers. But perhaps the most popular barrio in town (at least for nightlife) is La Latina. Lined with beautiful churches but catering to social butterflies, its tapas bars and clubs are an attraction for residents and tourists alike. On Sundays it is home to El Rastro flea market, the largest open-air market in Madrid that houses up to 3,500 vendors – a great place for people watching and a few good deals.
Madrid is the European city with the highest number of trees and acres of green space per inhabitant. Coupled with its rich culture, food and nightlife, it makes for an attractive and exciting place to visit. So if you’re going to stopover some time, take in as many aspects of their vibrancy as you can, and don’t forget to cheer for their national team, La Furia Roja (the Red Fury).