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In 1561, King Felipe II made Madrid capital of what soon became the world's biggest empire. Today the Grandeur remains: churches and museums, palaces and parks. The architecture in this city is phenomonal, with its medieval lanes and in stark contrast its modern skyscrapers. That's why Madrid is so unique. No other city on the planet has three art galleries of such high quality within a few minutes' walk of each other. But Madrid has dozens of smaller museums that are less crowded and give an insight into the glory and grandeur that was imperial Spain. And it is all so walkable. Stroll around, or if your feet complain travel on one of the cleanest, safest and cheapest public transport systems in the world. It is easy to get anywhere in minutes. Madrid is the perfect destination if you are visiting for just a few days or a long weekend.
Read more on this destination in The AA Citypack Guide to Madrid.
The history of Madrid
Madrid was controlled by the Arabs during the 9th century. They constructed a fortress and positioned it strategically overlooking the main pass heading down from the mountains, and used it as an outpost to spot Christian invaders. Christian forces tried many times to overpower the Muslims, but were unsuccessful every time. In 1086 Alfonso VI was finally able to conquer Madrid, but it then spent many years under constant attack. By the 14th century, Madrid had risen in popularity and eventually became the seat of the Royal Court. The Spanish empire flourished and the power of the Christians grew. In 1561 Madrid was declared the capital of the Spanish Empire. During the rule of Felipe IV, Madrid was neglected and lost much of its splendor in the 1700's. Madrid finally flourished again during the rule of Felipe V, and many important buildings and monuments were constructed. In 1759 Charles III came to the throne. Charles III is often known as 'the best mayor that Madrid ever had'. More than any other historical figure, he is responsible for today's Madrid. He was a keen proponent of Enlightenment ideals. Madrid then lost many of its remaining colonies during the disastrous 18th and 19th centuries. It was a period of great economic and political crisis for Spain and Madrid. In 1931 General Rivera made the way for democratic elections, by stepping down from power.
Today, Madrid is a cosmopolitan city, with a population of over three million people. It is now Europe's third largest city, after London and Berlin. It is located in the centre of the Castillian plain, right in the heart of the peninsula. The city's culture is wonderfully intense with art and culture being at the very centre. There are around 73 museums housing a variety of artifacts encapsulating Madrids' past. The capital city also has a great reputation for having an active and very lively nightlife, but be prepared for a late night as the party-town doesn't get started until 10 or 11pm at night. Madrid also plays a large part in the banking and industrial sectors and is classed as a major business centre. You will see that there is a large cluster of working factories (metal, food and textiles) located in the Southern area of the city.