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Madrid History

The area that Madrid now stands on was inhabited in prehistoric times and there is evidence of a Roman settlement nearby dating back to the 4th century. The real founding of Madrid, though, came courtesy of Muhammad I of Cordoba in 9th century, who built a castle on the site of the present-day Palacio Real.

In the 11th century, the Christians took Madrid from the Moors, turning the mosque into a cathedral, and in the 14th century, Ferdinand IV of Castile sowed the seeds of the Spanish parliament here. During the Spanish Inquisition that took hold in 15th century, Jews and Moors were persecuted and eventually expelled from the city.

Charles I of Spain moved the court to Madrid in 1561, and the city became the Spanish capital. By the 17th century, it had become wealthy, with money pouring in via the now vast Spanish Empire. The Siglo de Oro, or Golden Century, had arrived and the population increased dramatically.

Madrid was greatly modernised in the 18th century, with new city gates, bridges and buildings springing up. The Palacio Real was constructed next to the large Plaza de Oriente square on the site of the ruins of the Alcazar (the old Moorish castle, destroyed by fire in 1734).

In the early 19th century, Napoleon seized control of the country. After his defeat, Spain saw a period of decline leading up to the formation of the short-lived First Spanish Republic.

The Second Spanish Republic came in 1931 and culminated in 1936 with the Spanish Civil War, during which Madrid was damaged heavily. In 1939, General Franco assumed control of the country. The city was greatly expanded and industrialised, while Spain was massively centralised around Madrid.

After Franco’s death in 1975, his named successor, King Juan Carlos I, helped guide the country back to democracy. As Spain opened up to the world after decades of repressive dictatorship, Madrid became a centre of counterculture with boldly liberal art, music and film. In spite of the eurozone crisis that hit Spain in 2009, Madrid maintains this dynamic outlook today.

Did you know?
• During the Spanish Civil War, Madrid became the first European city to be bombed from the skies.
• Lying in the very heart of Spain, Madrid might seem an ideally based capital, but the Moors probably first built a citadel here to defend the long-time capital, Toledo.
• The city became one of the main centres for art in 16th and 17th centuries, boasting painters like Velazquez and El Greco. Cervantes’ Don Quixote was also first published here in early 17th century.

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Featured Hotels


Hotel Paris

One of the popular cheap options in Madrid’s Puerta de Alcalá area, Hotel Paris' 120 rooms are surprisingly spacious, decorated in classic style – this was one of the first luxury hotels in Madrid at the start of the 20th century. It was only when the Ritz was established in 1910 that it was relegated to a more modest category. Its main attraction is its location, right on the Puerta del Sol, with the main cultural stops right on its doorstep.

Hotel Unico

Despite the name, this five-star property in the heart of Madrid's most affluent neighbourhood, Salamanca, is not exactly unique – at least in terms of interior design. But based in a 19th-century palace, it is smart and elegant, with numerous luxurious touches such as the coffee machine in the rooms, the ground-floor garden that manages to block out the noise of the city and the staff who deliver complimentary chocolates and water to your room in the afternoon. Breakfast in the aforementioned garden is an extravagant affair, with fresh-baked pastries, Iberico ham, fine cheese and eggs to order.

The Principal

Concealed behind a palatial facade, The Principal is situated on the corner of one of Madrid's most important streets, Gran Vía. The entrance, reception and dining area are handsomely decorated, with portraits of aristocrats and fine wooden furnishings conjuring 19th century grandeur. Rooms are stylish without being ostentatious; expect carpeted floors and elegant but simple furniture. Ask for a room overlooking Gran Vía for terrific views over the city, or you can always pop up to the roof terrace for a drink.

Hesperia Madrid

Looming over the grandest boulevard in Madrid, Hesperia is a haven from the rush and frenzy of the capital city sprawling beyond its doors. The lobby and dining area are enormous, which means finding a quiet corner of your own is easy. The rooms are large too, many of them with separate lounge and sleeping areas, and all furnished with warm tones and classic woodwork. Book a room with a view of Paseo de la Castellana, the noise of which is inaudible thanks to triple-glazed windows.

Hotel AC Santo Mauro

This small luxury Madrid hotel, part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, is situated in a leafy corner of the historic Chamberí neighbourhood and is housed in a 19th-century palace that once served as an embassy. It has been reconstructed in a tasteful combination of neoclassical and avant-garde styles. The lounges, ornamented with stucco mouldings, mirrors and fluted pilasters, evoke the refinement of a bygone age and are the perfect setting for entertaining clients. Other facilities include business services, six conference rooms (occupying the former ballrooms), interpreting services, multilingual staff, an indoor swimming pool and a fitness centre.

Casual Madrid de Teatro

It’s not just the location that makes this a great value hotel, although being a stone’s throw from Plaza Santa Ana and Plaza del Angel doesn’t hurt. The building is a lovely 1920s throwback, and the rooms are bright and airy, with high ceilings. Many hotels are charging much more for way less. One of the best cheap hotels in Madrid.