Madrid,Spain, the capital of Spain and of Madrid province, and the country's largest city. It is on the Manzanares River in the New Castile region, near Spain's geographic center. Madrid covers more than 200 square miles (520 km2) and lies on the Meseta, a broad plateau, at an average elevation of 2,130 feet (650 m). Winters are moderately cold and rainy; summers are usually quite hot and dry.
Madrid is the hub of Spain's railway, airline, and highway systems and is a major distribution point for the interior. It is also the nation's chief financial center and a leading industrial, educational, and cultural center. The city produces automobiles, machinery, electrical equipment, leather goods, textiles, chemicals, and beverages and processed foods. There are also printing and publishing firms and motion-picture studios.
Madrid has a number of attractive and historically noteworthy squares. The Plaza Mayor, or Great Plaza, dates from the 17th century and was once the site of bullfights and various celebrations and ceremonial occasions. The plaza Puerta del Sol is the meeting place of several of Madrid's busiest streets; beneath the plaza is the main transfer point of the subway system. It was named for the eastern gate in the city wall that once stood here. A monument to the writer Miguel de Cervantes stands in the Plaza de España.
The Royal Palace, built by Philip V in the 18th century, is one of Madrid's outstanding landmarks. It houses former royal apartments and a number of museums; their collections include period furnishings, decorative items, tapestries, and arms and armor. Just east of the palace, across a large square, stands the Royal Theater.
The Prado, ranking among the world's finest art galleries, is the best-known of the city's numerous museums. It contains Flemish and Italian masterpieces and many of the best works of such masters as El Greco, Velàzquez, and Goya. Near the Prado is the Parque del Retiro, one of Madrid's notable parks, created as the grounds of a royal palace in the 17th century. At one corner of the park is the Plaza de la Independencia, in which stands the Puerta de Alcalà, an impressive triumphal arch erected in the late 18th century. Other parks include Parque del Oeste, which overlooks the Manzanares River; Casa de Campo, which has an amusement park and a zoo; and the Campo del Moro. In the Parque del Oeste is the ancient Temple of Debod, a gift from Egypt in 1972.
Among the other attractions is El Rastro, Madrid's flea market, which offers a large selection of goods, including antiques. Las Ventas is one of Spain's foremost bullfighting stadiums, seating more than 23,000.
Madrid is the home of the Spanish Institute, which consists of eight royal academies of the arts and sciences. The National Library, the National Historical Archives, and numerous universities and institutes are also in Madrid. The University of Madrid, founded in 1508, is Spain's largest institution of higher learning. It is one of several educational institutions located in the University City section of the city. The Royal Theater is the home of the national symphony orchestra and of opera and ballet productions.
The earliest known settlement on Madrid's site was a Moorish fortress in the 10th century. Alfonso VI captured it for the Christians in 1083. Madrid remained a small town until Philip II made it the capital of Spain in 1561. It then grew steadily, becoming an artistic and literary center by the early 17th century. The city continued to flourish under the Bourbon kings in the 1700's. Napoleon's forces occupied Madrid during the Peninsular War (1808-14).
After the coming of the railroads in the late 19th century, Madrid expanded rapidly. During the civil war of 1936-39, General Francisco Franco's Nationalist forces besieged the city, a Republican (Loyalist) stronghold, for 29 months before it surrendered on March 28, 1939. Badly damaged, Madrid was gradually rebuilt under the Franco regime.