Magerit, ‘land rich in water’. This is what the Arabs called this area, located on the central
Magerit, ‘land rich in water’. This is what the Arabs called this area, located on the centralplain of the Iberian Peninsula, close to Sierra de Guadarrama, where King Phillip II of Spain later established the royal court. Afterwards, it grew into the big city we know today.
The first historical record of Madrid dates back to the year 865, when Emir Muhammad I commissioned the construction of a fortress in the village of Mayrit, on the banks of the river Manzanares. ‘Mayrit’ means ‘plenty of waterways’, which is why the city’s first recorded coat of arms read, ‘I was built on water / My walls are made of fire / This is my flag and my coat of arms’. Madrid belonged to the Islamic world until 1083, when Alfonso VI of Castile took over the city.
Few vestiges have remained from this era. On Calle Mayor, next to the Institute of Italian Culture, there used to stand the Grand Mosque and, most probably, as in every Muslim city, the souk. On the site of the former mosque rose the Church of Santa María, of which some remains can still be seen. Close by, on Cuesta de la Vega, there are parts of the old town walls that enclosed the medina or citadel. It was inside these walls that the Christians found a statuette of Virgin Mary with a candle that had been burning for over 400 years at the time they seized the area. Almudena, derived from the Arabic al-mudayna that translates as ‘the little city’ or ‘citadel’, has since then been the name mostly used by Madrileños to refer to the Virgin.
In the Medieval district of Madrid you can go to the National Archaeological Museum and experience a really interesting collection of decorative objects from the Visigoth Kingdom of Toledo to the Late Middle Ages. The rooms dedicated to Medieval and Renaissance art in the Lázaro Galdiano Museum and the Prado Museum are well worth a visit too.
MADRID BY DAY
The Royal Palace, whose architect drew inspiration from the sketches by Bernini for Paris’s Louvre, is a must-visit in a tour of traditional Madrid.
You can’t miss taking pictures in Plaza Mayor or the Kilometre zero marker in Puerta del Sol, from which the national roads starting in Madrid fan out. The plaque is located facing the former Royal Post Office building, currently home to the Regional Government of the Region of Madrid. The square is the epicentre of New Year’s Eve celebrations in Madrid. On 31st December every year, people gather to watch the huge clock that dominates the square ticking down to midnight. El Oso y el Madroño, a statue depicting a bear eating from a strawberry tree that also appears in the city’s coat of arms, is also in Puerta del Sol.
On your walk towards El Retiro Park, you’ll see the Cibeles Fountain, one of the symbols of Madrid, and Puerta de Alcalá gate, a triumphal arch that is one of Madrid’s most photographed landmarks.
If you’re an art lover visiting the capital of Spain, the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofía Museum (MNCARS) are places you can’t miss. The stars of the collection in the Prado are Goya’s The Nude Maja and Velázquez’s Las Meninas, while the collection at the Reina Sofía includes Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica, an artwork that can be described as a synthesis of the Avant Garde Movement. In this moving painting, the artist conveys the suffering caused by the bombing of Guernica in 1937.
Going shopping at El Rastro flea market and recharging batteries with a scrumptious cocido (chickpea-based stew) or just a few tapas and a refreshing beer are among the many things you can do in Madrid. Cocido madrileño is a traditional dish from the capital of Spain. It’s made with chickpeas, vegetables, meat, bacon and chorizo.
The Santiago Bernabeu and the Vicente Calderón football stadiums are two must-visit places for football fans, while flamenco enthusiasts have an array of traditional tablaos (clubs) to choose from.
Finally, Barrio de Chueca is worth mentioning too, as it’s great to go for tapas or window shopping. The trendiest shops are found in this neighbourhood.
MADRID BY NIGHT
Known as a trendsetter, Barrio de Malasaña/Triball saw the birth of the earliest movida musicians and bands back in the Spanish transition era in the 1980s, when this countercultural movement came to life.
Rock, punk and indie pop provide the music for the many 1980s-style venues in Malasaña. In the streets of this district, you’ll travel back in time to the years of the revolutionary break from Spain’s musical past. You’ll also listen to international music that originated later.
Clubs like TupperWare, Penta or La Vía Láctea, on Calle de La Palma and Calle Velarde, and the Madrid Me Mata museum-bar are all frequented by a heterogeneous group of patrons, mostly young but also people who feel nostalgia for the old days of the movida, or artists and bands like Radio Futura, Los Secretos, Alaska and many others. The terraces of the cafés around Plaza del Dos de Mayo can get quite busy too.
Playing dance, house and the latest commercial music, the nightclubs and pubs in Barrio de Salamanca have a uniquely glamorous style that sets this area apart from the rest of Madrid’s nightlife spots.
People of all ages can choose from a wide array of places to go out at night, which stand along the main shopping thoroughfares in the area, such as Serrano, Goya, Ortega y Gasset or Juan Bravo. Establishments catering to the middle-aged are interspersed with select cocktail bars attracting a more mature clientele.
Located right in the Golden Mile shopping district, the Serrano 41 nightclub is one of the most popular in Madrid and a true icon of Salamanca’s nightlife, boasting three different areas—the terrace, the chill-out space and the dance floor on the ground level, where you can move to the beat of funky, pop and house music after 11pm. Another of the many favourites in Barrio de Salamanca is The Office disco-bar (also known as Vanitas Vanitatis) in Calle Velázquez, with its fine décor and open-air lounge.
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