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Madrid, a European City Open to the World
A cosmopolitan city, Madrid is home to the Spanish Parliament (El Congreso de los Diputados) and the Spanish Royal Family. Capital of Spain, Madrid is the largest city of the country. It is also the capital of the autonomous region and province of Madrid. It is the third-most populous municipality in the European Union after Greater London and Berlin, with around 6 million inhabitants. Its metropolitan area, with an estimated 4 million, is the fourth-most populous urban area in the European Union after Paris, London, and the Ruhr Area. The capital is characterized by intense cultural and artistic activity and a very lively nightlife.
Although Madrid lies as far north as New York City and Chicago, its weather is mild most of the year. Winters in Madrid are fairly temperate because the Gulf Stream brings Warm Ocean water along the western coast of Spain and Portugal, and prevailing winds pull warm air inland. At the time of the conference, it will be almost summer in Madrid, with temperature ranging between 20 and 28 degrees Celsius, and very low chance of rain.
Geographically, Madrid is almost in the exact centre of Spain and is the nation's chief transportation and administrative centre. Its commercial and industrial life is rivaled in Spain only by that of Barcelona. Besides its many manufacturing industries, Madrid is foremost as a banking, education, printing, publishing, tourism, and motion-picture centre. Many corporate headquarters are located there.
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, which hosts Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica ; and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, housed in the renovated Villahermosa Palace. Also noteworthy is the modern Ciudad Universitaria [University City].
A little bit of History
The grand metropolis of Madrid can trace its origins back 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. Later, it became the subject of a dispute between the Christians and Arabs until it was conquered by Alonso VI, in the 11th century. During the 18th century, under the reign of Carlos III, the great arteries of the city were designed, such as the Paseo del Prado. Today, the legacy of the distant past can mainly be seen in the Baroque and neoclassical structures of the 17th and 18th centuries, such as the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) and the Palacio Real (Royal Palace).
What to do in Madrid
There is plenty to do in Madrid to suit all tastes, whether you prefer culture, arts, music, sports or just a lazy day, wandering through the city and soaking up the atmosphere! Here are a few highlights, but the list is by no means exhaustive.
El Parque del Buen Retiro. A 350-acre park in Madrid's city center. The park was originally the site of the Royal Palace, built in 1632 under the reign of King Philip IV. It was opened to the public in 1868. Some of the park's main attractions are the Estanque del Retiro (Retiro Lake), with its monument to King Alfonso XII. Around the lake there are regular puppet shows, African drummers and all manner of street performers and fortune tellers. Row boats can be rented to paddle around the Estanque. The park also contains the Palacio de Cristal, a glass pavilion, inspired by The Crystal Palace in London. Another highlight is the Fountain of the Fallen Angel, which is a rare example of a statue of Lucifer. The Forest of the Departed was recently created within the park to commemorate the 191 victims of the 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks.
Plaza de Cibeles & Paseo del Prado. The fountain of Cibeles depicts the goddess Cibeles sitting on a chariot pulled by two lions. On one side of the fountain of Cibeles, the Paseo de Recoletos starts, heading North to join up with the Paseo de la Castellana. On the other side, the Paseo del Prado begins and heads off South, towards the fountain of Neptune, in the Plaza de Canovas del Castillo, and on until Atocha. Up until the 19th century both the fountain of Neptune and Cibeles looked directly at each other, until the city council decided to turn them round to face towards the centre of the city. On the corners of the Plaza de Cibeles square you will find the headquarters of the Spanish Postal Service, housed in a stunning building, which some people compare to a wedding cake. On another corner you will find the equally impressive headquaters of the National Bank of Spain and, opposite it, the Ministry of the Spanish Armed Forces.
El Palacio Real. The site of the palace dates from a 10th century fortress, constructed as an outpost by Mohammed I, Emir of Cordoba. When, in the 1734, The Antiguo Alcazar ("Old Castle") burned down, King Philip V ordered a new palace to be built on the same location. Construction spanned the years 1738 to 1755 and followed a Berniniesque design. The vast palace is richly decorated by artists, such as Velazquez, Tiepolo, Mengs, Gasparini, Juan de Flandes, Caravaggio, and Goya. Several royal collections of great historical importance are kept at the palace, including the Royal Armoury and weapons dating back to the 13th century, and the world's only complete Stradivarius string quintet.
The Almudena Cathedral. Francisco de Cubas, the Marquis of Cubas, was the architect of this Gothic revival style Cathedral. Construction began in 1879 but ceased completely during the Spanish Civil War. The project was abandoned until 1950, when Fernando Chueca Goitia adapted the plans of de Cubas to a neoclassical style exterior to match the grey and white facade of the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), which stands directly opposite. It was not completed until 1993, when the cathedral was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. On May 22, 2004, the marriage of Felipe, Prince of Asturias to Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano (who was thereafter known as Letizia, Princess of Asturias) took place at the cathedral. The Neo-Gothic interior is uniquely modern, with chapels and statues of contemporary artists, in heretogeneous styles, from historical revivals to "pop-art" decor. The Neo-Romanesque crypt houses a 16th century image of the Virgen de la Almudena.
Bernabeu Stadium. The Santiago Bernabeu Football Stadium is home to the Real Madrid team. Its capacity is 80,400. The Bernabeu is one of the world's most famous football venues. It has the proud record of having hosted the European Cup final (1957, 1969 and 1980), the 1964 European Championship final (1964), and the FIFA World Cup final (1982). Its location, in the heart of Madrid's business district, is quite unusual for a football stadium. Visitors to the stadium can take a tour including the grounds, players' changing rooms, the press release rooms and learn about its history—the highs and the lows of Spanish football!
Reina Sofia. The creation of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Reina Sofía Modern Art Museum), met the need for a museum reflecting contemporary Spanish art in an international context. The Museo Reina Sofia's Collections contains works produced between the end of the 19th century up to the present. Today, the art gallery has approximately 16,200 works of art in every medium: approximately 4,000 paintings, more than 1,400 sculptures, nearly 3,000 drawings, more than 5,000 prints, more than 2,600 photographs, approximately 80 videos, about 30 art installations, a number of video installations, more than 100 decorative art pieces and 30 pieces of architecture.
El Prado. The Museo Nacional del Prado (Prado Museum) was created with the double aim of showing the works of art that belonged to the Spanish Crown and to demonstrate to the rest of Europe that Spanish art was of equal merit to that of any other national school. The exceptionally important royal collection forms the nucleus of the present-day Museo del Prado, and has been enriched by some of the masterpieces now displayed in the Prado. These include "The Descent" from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymous Bosch, "Knight with his Hand on his Breast" by El Greco, "The Death of the Virgin" by Mantegna, "The Holy Family" (known as 'La Perla') by Raphael, "Charles V at Mühberg" by Titian, "Christ washing the Disciples' Feet" by Tintoretto, Dürer's Self-portrait, "Las Meninas" by Velazquez, "The Three Graces" by Rubens and "The Family of Charles IV" by Goya. The collection currently comprises around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 2,400 prints and 6,300 drawings, in addition to a large number of works of art and historic documents.
Thyssen Bornemisza. Movements and moments from the history of painting, mainly related to modern art—19th and 20th century works, with special emphasis on Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, German Expressionism, the early Avant-garde movements as well as the 19th century North American School, practically non-existent in European museums, and complemented by representations of other periods, such as the German School and Dutch painting from the 17th century. This museum completes the so-called "Art Triangle" or "Walk", in conjunction with the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofía Modern Art Museum.