History of Madrid, Spain

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Although there were prehistoric settlements here, Madrid is a young city by European and Spanish standards.

In the 9th century the Moorish ruler Mohamed I had a small fortress constructed near a river called al-Magrit (now Manzanares), from which the city inherits its name. The citadel was re-conquered by King Alfonso VI in 1085 and it would eventually become today’s royal palace. Moors and Jews were initially tolerated but eventually expelled and their quarters and places of worship obliterated when the Christian ‘Re-conquest’ of Spain neared completion.

The Catholic Monarchs Fernando of Aragon and Isabel of Castilla jointly completed the re-conquest of Spain in 1492, and the country was unified by King Carlos I. In 1561, his son Felipe II moved the royal court from Valladolid to Madrid, which has been the country capital ever since. During Spain’s colonial golden age in the 16th and 17th century, the city’s economy remained relatively small compared to those of the trading ports of Seville and Cadiz.

The golden age passed and the city grew under subsequent kings, especially Carlos III in the 18th century. The political situation became agitated under his successor Carlos IV, whose own son Fernando VII led a revolt from nearby Aranjuez and took over the throne.

In 1808 came Napoleon, whose rule of Madrid and other parts of Spain would last until 1814 when Spain won the war of independence and Fernando VII was reinstated. Mirroring events other European countries the 19th century saw a general stirring of the masses and the beginning of a century of bitter clashes between absolutist ‘conservatives’ and progressive ‘liberals’, who successively deposed each other’s governments.

In the 20th century the violence continued and culminated in the civil war (1936-1939). Along with Barcelona, Madrid saw some of the worst battles between nationalists and republicans. It was bombed by General Franco’s nationalist forces. The city grew both economically and demographically during the dictator’s rule, becoming a large industrial capital and the heart of a highly centralized government.

After Franco’s death in 1975 and the instauration of Spain as a constitutional monarchy committed to democracy and decentralisation, the capital also became one of the country’s autonomous communities.

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