History of Madrid

Brief history of Madrid summarized

As a summary, this brief history of Madrid, the capital of Spain.

The beginnings of Madrid

Muhammad I, Emir of Córdoba from 852 to 886, commissioned the construction of a fortress on the banks of the Manzanares River and called it “Mayrit”.

The fortress was built in the place where the Royal Palace of Madrid currently stands. The citadel was strategically built on a hill, overlooking the Sierra de Guadarrama. From this place, the Moors could organize raids against the Christian kingdoms to the north.

The meaning of “Mayrit” is not entirely clear, although it seems to be the hybrid of two toponyms; “matrice” means fountain in the Mozarabic language and “majrà”, which means bed or course of a river in Arabic. Both words refer to the abundance of water, rivers and groundwater that existed in this part of Spain.

The citadel was temporarily conquered by Ramiro II in 932, but the Moors managed to reconquer the castle until they were overthrown by Alfonso VI of León and Castile in 1085, when he was on his way to occupy Toledo.

Favored by the monarch’s measures to repopulate the territory, in particular by the compilation of laws called Fuero de 1202, the city began to grow around the fortress during this period.

In 1339 and 1340, Alfonso XI convened the court of the Kingdom of Castile in Madrid, as would Henry III of Castile.

Madrid becomes the capital of Spain

Madrid did not become an influential city until Philip II of Spain transferred the capital from Toledo to Madrid in 1561. When the Court moved, it became clear that urban reforms were needed and suburbs soon grew outside its medieval walls.

The number of inhabitants increased from 4,060 (1530) to 37,500 (1594). In April 1637, there were 1,300 “lawful poor and handicapped” and 3,300 beggars in court. Most of them were foreigners, former soldiers and pilgrims from Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. These formed, together with the swindlers and ruffians, the base of the Madrid social pyramid.

The discontent of the population due to the shortage of bread and inflation was used by some parties to foment the riots, for example, “The riots of the cats” in Madrid.

The royal court attracted many Spanish and foreign artists and the city became the artistic and literary center of Spain. The most impressive buildings in Madrid de los Austrias (as the old part of the city is known), include the Plaza Mayor, the Town Hall, some churches and the court jail.

Century XVIII

During the 18th century, Madrid participated in the War of the Spanish Succession, caused by the death of Carlos II, who died without an heir. The empire was sought after by the royal houses of Austria (Habsburg), France (Bourbon) and Bavaria (Wittelsbach).

Madrid had supported the Bourbon family since 1706 and when Louis XIV of France (House of Bourbon) finally sent his grandson to Madrid to become King Philip V of Spain, so the country was run by a member of the House of Bourbon.

As a thank you to Madrid for its support, Felipe V commissioned new palaces and buildings, including the Puente de Toledo and the Royal Palace of Madrid (1737), built to replace the Real Alcázar, burned down in 1734.

Ferdinand VI of Spain, and especially Charles III, made great efforts to modernize the city, for example by cleaning the streets, installing stone pavements, introducing streetlights, and employing people to watch the streets at night, among many other interesting measures. Carlos IV continued with these reforms, but on a smaller scale.

Madrid society also changed, it became more open to artisan and liberal families and ceased to be confused and multifaceted. However, the lower classes were still exposed to periodic famines and their discontent led to political disturbances, such as the Esquilache riots (March 1766) and the Aranjuez riot (1808). That same year, the Madrid working class will fight against the French on May 2 during the Dos de Mayo revolts.

XIX century-Today

The efforts of the Bourbons to transform Madrid into a modern and developed city were interrupted by the Napoleonic wars. The city did not fully recover until the 1830s.

Between 1840 and 1850 many old convents and ecclesiastical estates that had been bought by merchants, landowners, liberal workers and financiers on the occasion of the Ecclesiastical Disentailment of Mendizábal in 1836 (confiscation by Mendizábal of ecclesiastical properties) were demolished and new neighborhoods were established.. However, Madrid was practically the same size as it was in Habsburg times.

The population of Madrid did not increase thanks to the industrialization of the city, since most of the industrial companies of the 20th century were still very traditional and only satisfied the needs of the city. Starting in 1920, immigration caused important demographic changes and, in 1930, 46.9% of the inhabitants of the capital had been born outside of Madrid.

After the Second World War, Madrid, in addition to being a key consumer market, went through a period of modernization in which large companies were created and some industries such as chemical-pharmaceutical, metallurgical and electromechanical began to develop.

Currently, six million people live in the province of Madrid and it is one of the most important cities in Europe and the world.

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