Madrid History Facts and Timeline

(Madrid, Spain)

Spain's capital and largest city Madrid, is a rather surprising choice for the administrative heart of a nation. Even the Romans couldn't find a reason to build much of a settlement in the harsh landscape around this city.

When the Moors arrived on the scene they built a palace, marking the first page of Madrid's history, although the city never really took off until the Christian era in the 16th century. Since then, this city has served as the engine driving modern Spain.

An Arab Palace

In the 9th century AD, the Arab Emir Muhammad I ordered a small palace and citadel in order to protect the Moors from hostile Christians. A steady flurry of attacks from Christian forces over the ensuing 300 years hindered the fledgling town from developing. In the year of 1085, the citadel was captured by Alfonso VI, the Christian king of Leon and Castile, as he advanced towards Toledo. Today, the Palacio Real is located on this site.

The Christian Era

The new owners of Madrid levelled every trace of the Moors, and the town settled into a long period of obscurity. Mainly used as a hunting ground for noble Spaniards, nothing much happened in the history of Madrid until Henry III of Castile built a fortified palace in the early years of the 15th century, at El Pardo.

A Royal Court

Madrid was still a small and somewhat insignificant town in 1561, when King Philip II relocated his royal court here. By this time, the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon had been merged into modern Spain through the marriage of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Known as the Catholic Monarchs, they sired Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.

Though the previous capital of Seville still held much commercial power, the new court at Madrid now actually controlled Seville. Philip II ordered the development of the area, with important palaces and churches, such as those of nearby San Lorenzo de El Escorial (roughly 45 km / 28 miles to the north-west of Madrid). These remain as markers of the region's history during this period.

The Golden Century

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain enjoyed its Golden Age and the city was at the centre of the glory. Many of Europe's greatest painters and architects moved to Madrid during this era of cultural and economic prosperity, such as El Greco and Diego Velazquez. The massive Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol were both designed and built during this era, being followed soon after by the Palacio Real de Madrid.

Upheaval in the Capital

At the beginning of May, 1808, French troops invaded Madrid and the locals fought back. The repressive response by the French sparked the Spanish War of Independence and then a series of revolts and political tension, which ultimately led to the Spanish Civil War. Madrid was the scene of a full-on battle in 1936, and was the first European city to be bombed by airplanes in history.

Recovery and Growth

After the dust from the Civil War settled, the dictator Francisco Franco concentrated all Spanish national institutions in Madrid. The city truly prospered in the 1960s and early 1970s.

When Franco died in 1978, Spain made the transition to a constitutional monarchy and King Juan Carlos I established his home here. In the years that followed, Madrid continued to be the driving force behind Spain, and remains a major centre for culture, industry and governance.