The Spanish capital prides itself on its multicultural identity. It is an open, hospitable city where visitors are always welcomed. As well as being home to the headquarters of the State's highest institutions, it is an important centre for trade, finance and industry and its influence extends beyond its own boundaries.
Although the first human settlements date back about half a million years to the prehistoric age, the city was first truly founded in the ninth century by Mohammed I who ordered the construction of a fort called Mayrit on the hill where the Royal Palace now stands. Many battles took place between Moors and Christians to take control of the fort until in 1083 Alfonso VI stormed the walls and took the city. Although this did not put a complete stop to hostilities, it led to a different atmosphere in which Jews, Moors and Christians could live together peacefully. Over the twelfth century the city boundaries were extended towards the East and the ruins of this historic city wall can still be seen today.
The definitive move of the Hapsburg Court to Madrid in 1606 brought with it a period of enormous urban and demographic growth. Felipe IV thus ordered the construction of a perimeter wall within which the city was contained until the nineteenth century.
The eighteenth century saw the Spanish throne taken over from the Hapsburgs by the Bourbon dynasty. These new monarchs, particularly Felipe V and Carlos III, were to be responsible for introducing a French style into the Court and for modernising the country's Administration. Culture and Science, important Enlightenment concepts, were particularly highly esteemed in the city and at the Bourbon Court.
The dawn of the nineteenth century brought with it the War of Independence against the Napoleonic troops. The City and the Court would have to wait for the reign of Isabel II before they would see another modern age of reform, developing infrastructures and urban and population growth which would only be curtailed by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Madrid would then become a city under siege and suffer the consequences for the duration of the conflict. This terrible period saw not only the destruction of part of the city's monumental heritage but also the sudden axing of all the projects for the renovation and modernisation of Madrid initiated under the Republic.
Once the worst of the post-war years were over (towards the 1950s) the city saw a new period of growth and of improvements in its infrastructure which is still continuing today. There was no recovery of cultural life however until the death of Franco and the dawn of democracy, after which Madrid regained the cosmopolitan character it had enjoyed before the war.
Madrid's long and vibrant history is reflected in every corner of the city. Its high regard for culture is evident in its many museums, theatres, auditoriums and cinemas while Madrid's fondness for living well can be clearly seen in the innumerable places of leisure that can be found throughout the city.