Madrid: History, Culture & Facts

Instructor: Valerie Patrick

Valerie has a Master's Degree in Foreign Language Education and has previously taught Spanish as well as Education courses.

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, the city of Madrid boasts a rich history and culture unlike any other. In this lesson, we will take a brief look at the history of this city as well as the cultural aspects that make up Madrid.

History of Madrid


People have been living in the Madrid region since the Stone Age, but its historical record begins in the 9th century, when the emir Muhammad built a castle. The city was called Magerit by Arabs, which means place of many streams.

La Reconquista

For approximately 770 years, the Christians and Moors battled for control of the Iberian Peninsula (the countries of Spain and Portugal). This battle is known as the La Reconquista (The Reconquest) of Spain. La Reconquista began in Portugal in the early 700s and slowly made its way into Spain by the 9th century - right around the time of the founding of the city of Madrid.

Because of the many centuries of fighting that occurred between the Christians and Muslims, the city of Madrid gained a rich mixture of culture and architecture from both sides. However, during the Christian control of the city, all of the Muslim symbols were removed from the city, which resulted in losing a part of the cultural history of Madrid.

Palaces and Royalty

With La Reconquista ending in the early 1400s, Madrid began to grow with the construction of buildings such as La Plaza Mayor and El Palacio Real de El Pardo. This palace was commissioned by Enrique III as a residence for royal visits from Toledo, which up until this time had been the city where the royal family lived. By 1561, the city had grown to such prominence that the Spanish Court transferred its location to Madrid permanently.

El Palacio Real de El Pardo in Madrid.

El Siglo de Oro and Wars

In the 17th century, Madrid experienced what has become known as El Siglo de Oro (The Golden Century). So named for the advancements in arts and literature, this century saw continued growth in Madrid resulting in many famous artists and writers coming to the city, including Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Velázquez.

However, the centuries that followed proved to be extremely bloody for Madrid as the city became a key player in both the Spanish War of Independence, which saw the royal family forcibly removed from the palace, and the Peninsular War.



With a population of over 3 million, Madrid is the largest city in Spain. It is known for its many restaurants and cafés, which can be visited at practically any time of day or night, earning Madrid the nickname, 'the city that never sleeps.'

Dining in Madrid is an experience in and of itself. Breakfast occurs between 8-10 a.m. with many Spaniards having a second breakfast around 11 a.m. The main meal of the day is lunch, which takes place between 2-4 p.m. A light dinner is usually served late around 10 p.m. and might include food like tapas.

In fact, arguably one of the most important parts of the Madrid food culture are tapas. Tapas are like an appetizer or a snack, though they have become a quite sophisticated form of cuisine. Many Spaniards will order several tapas to create a complete meal.

Example of traditional tapas.

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