Madrid is an ancient city, although remnants of its ancient past are hard to find. Its origins date back to the ninth century, when the Muslim emir Mohamed I ordered construction of a fortress along the Manzanares River. Now all that is left of Madrid’s Muslim past are the fort’s ruins.
In 1083, Madrid and its surroundings were conquered by the Catholic King Alfonso VI, but the city did not become the capital of Spain until 1561, when King Phillip II relocated his court from the nearby ancient city of Toledo to Madrid. Kings Phillip III & Phillip IV expanded and beautified the city during their reigns, but it was King Charles III, dubbed “The Mayor of Madrid,” who really enabled the city to flourish.
It was under King Charles’ reign during the XVIII century that the city’s major roadways were developed. He was also responsible for creating the now world famous Prado Art Museum, which was used to store and display the crown’s art collection.
The XIX Century brought with it the War of Independence from the French occupation led by Napoleon. May 2, 1808 would mark the capital city’s history forever, when the citizen’s of Madrid led an uprising against Napoleon’s troops, which led to the assassinations of civilians by firing squad depicted in Spanish painter Francisco de Goya’s “Third of May” painting, which hangs at the Prado Art Museum.
The XX Century brought the Spanish Civil War, sparked by the military coup led by General Francisco Franco to overthrow the democratically elected government of the Second Spanish Republic. The war pit parties from the left (Republicans, Communists, Anarchists, etc.) against the extreme right (Monarchists and Fascists). After three years of fighting, in 1939, General Francisco Franco became the Fascist dictator of Spain; his rule would last until his death in 1975.
With Franco’s passing, the Third Spanish Republic was established and helmed by the democratically elected Socialist Party. Spain has prospered at a surprising speed over the past 35 years. After 36 years of stagnation under the dictatorship, Spain rebounded quickly and has the ninth strongest economy in the world.
Spain’s economic and cultural wealth is best seen in its capital. Madrid is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that has over the past ten years become increasingly more multicultural. Not only does this beautiful city attract members of the EU for study, work and pleasure, but it also has a large immigrant population from Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. As an expat in Madrid, you should have no problem finding your niche or finding other native English speakers, although you’re bound to have a more authentic and enjoyable experience if you make the effort to learn Spanish and befriend the locals.