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Madrid History

“Madrid” means “abundant and rich in waters.” Documents referring to the city’s history show that the founder of Madrid was the Emir Cordova Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Rahman.

Its first inhabitants were hunters and gatherers in pre-historic times during the Paleolithic era. Excavations done along the River Manzanares show the existence of pre-historic objects and ceramics, as well as

remains that prove the existence of large mammals. After these pre-historic inhabitants, Madrid’s population was Iberian and later Roman.

In the late 10th century, the Moors, who had migrated from Northern Africa, had conquered much of Spain and occupied a castle where the Royal Palace stands today. The River Manzanares was called al-Magrit by the Moors (source of water). From this name derived Magerit, which later became what is known today as Madrid. The Moors had control over the area until 1085, when King Alfonso VI conquered the city. Alfonso ordered the mosque within the castle walls to be consecrated as a Catholic church. During the Spanish Reconquista, when thousands of non-Christians were either tortured and killed or expelled from Spain, Jews and Moors formed a vast population in the area, which today still carries the name of Moreria. In 1494, however, inhabitants of this area were also expelled and any buildings they had built disappeared with them.

During Alfonso’s reign, Madrid continued to be a relatively undeveloped village in the shadows of Toledo’s prosperity until the early 16th century. It was then that Charles V took interest in the town and granted Madrid the right to use the coveted royal crown on the city seal. Charles’ son, Philip II, made Madrid Spain’s capital in 1561. Throughout this time, the city grew rapidly and because of its isolated location, focused primarily on strengthening the crown and its court. This included keeping and developing its stronghold on the Americas and its vast interest in the newly discovered land. The Austrian Hapsburg rulers oversaw the building of most of Madrid’s historic buildings and sights during this time. The city’s Plaza Mayor dates back to this era, as does many of Madrid’s churches and elaborate private homes.

In the early 18th century, the last Hapsburg king died without an heir to rule his thrown. It was then that the Bourbons, a French royal family took over Madrid and began their rule. During their reign, they oversaw the building of the royal palace, Palacio Real, as well as the building that today houses the famous Prado Museum. Napolean Bonaparte overthrew the Bourbon family in the 1800’s and placed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the Spanish thrown. Bonaparte was an extremely unpopular ruler and was overthrown by the people during what became known as the Peninsula Wars and the Bourbons resumed the throne. During this time, Madrid’s isolation began to ease, as railroads began connecting cities and modern urban design became a focal point. In the 20th century, Madrid continued to grow and develop until the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s. Battles were fought in downtown Madrid, as General Franco’s Nationalist Party nearly destroyed the city during the years the war was fought. After the civil war ended, the modernization model of the 19th century was used to rebuild the city. At the end of Franco’s dictatorship, democracy reigned and in the ensuing years, Madrid became one of Europe’s most vibrant and prosperous cities.

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