The general aspect of Madrid is modern, with boulevards and fashionable shopping areas, but the old quarters have picturesque streets. Its landmarks include the huge royal palace; a restored 1850 opera house; the Buen Retiro park, opened in 1631; the imposing 19th-century building containing the national library (founded 1712), the national archives, and an archaeological museum; and three superb art museums—the Prado , which houses one of the finest art collections in the world; the Queen Sofía Museum of modern art; and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, housed in the renovated Villahermosa Palace. Also noteworthy is the modern Ciudad Universitaria [university city].
Madrid was first mentioned in the 10th cent. as a Moorish fortress. Alfonso VI of Castile drove out the Moors in 1083. The Cortes of Castile met in Madrid several times, and Ferdinand and Isabella as well as Emperor Charles V often resided there, but Madrid became the capital of Spain only in 1561, in the reign of Philip II. The city developed slowly at first, but it expanded rapidly in the 18th cent. under the Bourbon kings (especially Charles III). From that period date the royal palace and the Prado. At the beginning of the Peninsular War a popular uprising against the French took place at Madrid on May 2, 1808, and a fierce battle was fought in the Puerta del Sol, the city's central square. In reprisal, hundreds of citizens were shot at night along the Prado promenade. The events of that day were immortalized by two of Goya's most celebrated paintings, both in the Prado gallery. Madrid again played a heroic role in the Spanish civil war (1936–39), when, under the command of Gen. José Miaja, it resisted 29 months of siege by the Nationalists, suffering several bombardments and air attacks and surrendering, thus ending the war, only late in Mar., 1939.
See R. Levine, Madrid and the North of Spain (1989).
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