When we were first walking around Madrid, we came across a museum about the city’s history. We were pretty excited because Kevin had looked online and not been able to find one. Naturally, 20 minutes into exploring the city and we found it! We marked down the location and aimed to check it out later in the week.
Weirdly enough, there’s no english Wikipedia entry for this museum, but according to a different tourist site:
“Housed in one of Madrid’s impressive Baroque buildings, formerly the San Fernando Hospice, the History Museum offers an overview of the arts, industries, lifestyles and customs of Madrileños from 1561, the year when Madrid was established as the Spanish capital, to the present.
Following thorough renovation, the museum reopened in 2014 with a collection comprising 60,000 objects linked to the city’s history: paintings, prints, maps, scale models, drawings, photographs, postcards, sculptures, porcelains, silverwork, fans, furniture, weapons, coins and medals.”
The building that housed the museum was beautiful, but the collection itself was a bit dry. Madrid has a long and complicated history, and it’s covered in great detail in the museum. Coming from the sprawling GTA, we were keen to learn about how Madrid came to be a landmark of density and great city planning. I’m not sure we got all that, but we did learn quite a bit.
Fortunately, Madrid itself has a very lengthy Wikipedia page to summarize what we learned:
Although the site of modern-day Madrid has been occupied since prehistoric times, and there are archaeological remains of Carpetani settlement, Roman villas, a Visigoth basilica near the church of Santa María de la Almudena and three Visigoth necropoleis near Casa de Campo, Tetúan and Vicálvaro, the first historical document about the existence of an established settlement in Madrid dates from the Muslim age. At the second half of the 9th century, Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba built a fortress on a headland near the river Manzanares, as one of the many fortresses he ordered to be built on the border between Al-Andalus and the kingdoms of León and Castile, with the objective of protecting Toledo from the Christian invasions and also as a starting point for Muslim offensives. After the disintegration of the Caliphate of Córdoba, Madrid was integrated in the Taifa of Toledo.
With the surrender of Toledo to Alfonso VI of León and Castile, the city was conquered by Christians in 1085, and it was integrated into the kingdom of Castile as a property of the Crown. Christians replaced Muslims in the occupation of the centre of the city, while Muslims and Jews settled in the suburbs. The city was thriving and was given the title of Villa, whose administrative district extended from the Jarama in the east to the river Guadarrama in the west.
Since the unification of the kingdoms of Spain under a common Crown, the Courts were convened in Madrid more often.
In June 1561, when the town had 30,000 inhabitants, Philip II of Spain moved his court from Valladolid to Madrid, installing it in the old castle. Thanks to this, the city of Madrid became the political centre of the monarchy, being the capital of Spain except for a short period between 1601 and 1606 (Philip III of Spain‘s government), in which the Court returned to Valladolid. This fact was decisive for the evolution of the city and influenced its fate.
During the reign of Philip III and Philip IV of Spain, Madrid saw a period of exceptional cultural brilliance, with the presence of geniuses such as Miguel de Cervantes, Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Quevedo and Lope de Vega.
Philip V built the Royal Palace, the Royal Tapestry Factory and the main Royal Academies. But the most important Bourbon was King Charles III of Spain, who was known as “the best mayor of Madrid”. Charles III took upon himself the feat of transforming Madrid into a capital worthy of this category. He ordered the construction of sewers, street lighting, cemeteries outside the city, and many monuments (Puerta de Alcalá, Cibeles Fountain), and cultural institutions (El Prado Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens, Royal Observatory, etc.).
The Peninsular War against Napoleon, despite the last absolutist claims during the reign of Ferdinand VII, gave birth to a new country with a liberal and bourgeois character, open to influences coming from the rest of Europe. Madrid, the capital of Spain, experienced like no other city the changes caused by this opening and filled with theatres, cafés and newspapers. Madrid was frequently altered by revolutionary outbreaks and pronouncements.
However, in the early 20th century Madrid looked more like a small town than a modern city. During the first third of the 20th century the population nearly doubled, reaching more than 950,000 inhabitants. New suburbs such as Las Ventas, Tetuán and El Carmen became the homes of the influx of workers, while Ensanche became a middle-class neighbourhood of Madrid.
To be clear, this was not the most well curated museum, but it was free admission, so worth checking out. The history of Madrid involved a lot of royalty-related drama, revolutions, etc and documenting that took centre stage over a history of urban planning. The museum also had a weird amount of rules and staff. We got in trouble for making too much noise, for drinking water in the wrong room, and carrying a backpack.
When we finished at the museum, we then walked to the oldest plazas in Madrid to see all the stuff we’d just learned about. After that, we headed up to the rooftop bar at the Circulo de Bellas Artes, on Zoya’s recommendation. It’s one of the best views of the city, and a great place to grab a drink. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t that great, but we snapped some great photos. Standing up on the rooftop, you can see out of the city into the countryside all around the city, which really highlights how dense Madrid is.
That night, we met up with Zoya and Shrip for a top notch sushi dinner in their neighbourhood. It was the perfect way to wrap up a long day of indulgence punctuated by walking. Also one of the only nights that we went to bed early!