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Madrid is the capital of Spain, located in the heart of the península and right in the center of  the Castillian plain 646 meters above sea level, with a population of over three million. A cosmopolitan city, a business center, headquarters for the Public Administration, Government, Spanish Parliament and the home of the Spanish Royal Family, Madrid also plays a major role in both the banking and industrial sectors. Madrid is characterized by intense cultural and artistic activity and a very lively nightlife. Although now a world city it has managed to maintain its own stylish and quirky identity.
The grand metropolis of Madrid can trace its origins to the times of Arab Emir Mohamed I (852-886), who ordered the construction of a fortress on the left bank of the Manzanares River. It later became the subject of a dispute between the Christians and Arabs until it was conquered by Alfonso VI in the 11th century. But it was thanks to Felipe II who moved the Government here in 1561 that the city went on to thrive. At the end of the 17th century, a defensive wall was built for the protection of the new outlying areas, tracing the roads of Segovia, Toledo and Valencia. During the 18th century, under the reign of Carlos III, the great arteries of the city were designed, such as the Paseo de la Castellana, Paseo de Recoletos, Paseo del Prado and Paseo de las Acacias. At the beginning of the 19th century, Joseph Bonaparte undertook the reform of the Puerta del Sol and vicinity. The commercial street known as the Gran Vía was built as an east-west avenue at the start of the century. In the 1950´s the north-south boulevard called Paseo de la Castellana was extended and modern buildings were erected housing the major financial institutions. What remains today of the distant past are mainly the Baroque and neoclassical structures of the 17th and 18th centuries, such as the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) and the Palacio Real (Royal Palace).
The Palacio de Oriente, usually called the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) was constructed on the site of a Moorish fortress, destroyed by fire in 1734. The first stone was placed in 1737 and the Italian architects Juan Bautista Sacchetti and Francisco Sabatini were commissioned for its construction.
There are several entrances to the Parque del Retiro (Retiro Park): Calle Alfonso XII, Calle Alcalá, Plaza de la lndependencia and Avenida Menéndez Pelayo. What we know today as the Retiro Park once formed part of the gardens, palaces and dwellings constructed for royal use by order of Felipe IV, inaugurated in the fall of 1632. Inside the park, we can admire the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), a large greenhouse made out of iron and glass and the Palacio de Velázquez (Velázquez Palace), both built at the end of the 19th century and currently used for exhibitions.
The beautifully arcaded Plaza Mayor (Main Square) takes its name at the start of the 16th century. Juan de Herrera was commissioned to remodel the old square of Arrabal, but construction wasn´t begun until 1617 under the direction of Juan Gómez de Mora by order of Felipe Ill. Inaugurated in 1620 it  underwent its lost remodeling in 1853 by Juan de Villanueva. Until the last century, the Plaza Mayor served as a marketplace on weekdays and was the scene of popular events from bullfights to public announcement of sentences during the Inquisition, religious processions, public executions and dance and theater festivals. Beneath the arcades, you can find an assortment of shops that sell fabrics, costume jewelry and souvenirs, along with outdoor cafés, taverns and bakeries. On Sunday mornings a stamp market is held beneath the arches, and during the Christmas holidays numerous stalls offer call types of Christmas decorations for sale. The most striking building in the Plaza Mayor is the Casa de la Panadería (Bakery House), with its colorful fresco-adorned facade. On the opposite side of the square is the Casa de la Carnicería ; this former butcher shop now houses Municipal offices. In the centre of the plaza is the equestrian statue of Felipe III by the Italian Juan de Bolonia.
The Puerta del Sol (Gateway to the Sun) was once a 15th century defensive bulwark, part of a wall which enclosed the town of Madrid limiting it from the populated outskirts. The former Casa de Correos (Post Office) was built in 1768 under the direction of French architect Marquet. It is crowned by a tower with a clock on its four sides; the most famous timepiece in Madrid. At the stroke of midnight on December 31st, madrileños (the inhabitants of Madrid) usher in the New Year to the chimes of its bell. On the ground in front of the building, there is a marker indicating Kilometer zero from which the country´s road distances are measured, and all Spanish roads radiate from here as well as the numbers of the streets. Three historic statues adorn the plaza: one of Venus, a replica of an original in the Museo Municipal (Municipal Museum) called "la Mariblanca"; another called the Oso y el Madroño (bear and berry tree) made of stone and bronze in 1967 and which displays the emblem of the city; the third statue is of King Carlos Ill.
Madrid is famous for its collection of art and  the Prado Museum has one of the oldest and greatest art collections in the world.  Among Spain´s contributions to world culture is her art, and represented here are three of its greatest masters--Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco, but you´ll also find the great works of Rubens and Titian. The Prado first opened in 1819 to display the Spanish royal art collection. With the anticlerical laws of 1836, many churches, monasteries, and convents were forced to hand over their collections. Now the museum holds some seven thousand pieces of art.
But it´s the city´s own inhabitants, the madrileños that are the main attraction. A renowned football city thanks to Real and Atletico. This is a place to enjoy Spain´s gastronomy and nightlife like the locals. Head for the streets around the Puerta del So where there´s an incredible concentration of places to eat and drink.  Madrid is an amazing thriving and fun city that no other city in Spain can match.

Population: 3,142 million (2016)

Area: 604.3 km²

Elevation: 646 m


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