Madrid, a crazy city

Madrid, a crazy city
Isabel del Rio
Spain in the Middle Ages

Spain in the Middle Ages

From the beginning Madrid was a crazy city. How about a city placed away from the sea, without a major river or harbor? Neither Paris nor London nor Rome nor New York nor Tokyo nor Vienna… The other cities of the world aren’t located in the middle of anywhere.

During centuries, Madrid was just a village founded by the Muslims. Yes, in those Middle Ages times, when Spain was split between two main areas of influence: Christian kingdoms in the North and Muslim territories in the South, the important town in the center of the Iberian Peninsula was Toledo, and Madrid was used as a little fortification to guard Toledo of a possible Christian invasion. You can still see the ruins of the Muslim wall near the current Royal Palace (the biggest Royal palace in the world… but uninhabited, as a part of our peculiarities).

The situation was the same after the Reconquest of the whole peninsula by the Christians of the North. Madrid continued being a little village with a market and a church, surrounded by good hunting lands.

However, one day, a powerful king (Philip II of Spain) decided to move the Spainish capital (in that moment it was Valladolid) to the geographical center: problems with communications and supplies? ‘Solve them!’ the king said. In fact,

Muslim wall in Madrid

Muslim wall in Madrid

they studied even a project for the sea to come to Madrid, a complicated system of locks. Imagine hundreds of kilometers of locks to allow the ships arrive at the capital! Of course, the project was a failure and the important city was Seville and his harbor which received the galleons with the American gold and silver.

In Madrid, crazy city, things were peculiar during the Renaissance and Baroque: full of palaces to house the king’s court, the streets were dirty and had no sewage. Improvisation? Yes, and improvisation that lasted several centuries. In the late 19, the French Impressionist painter Manet came to Madrid. He wrote a diary telling his innumerable hardships: bandits, broken wagons, damaged roads, no hotels… However, he discovered Diego de Velazquez and Francisco de Goya, he discovered the Prado Museum and he discovered Madrid parties and people, music and conversations. Manet was happy and loved Madrid. Who couldn’t love this crazy city?

I’m from Madrid and I know its problems: more expensive apartments than in Manhattan (believe me, because it’s true!!!), a high unemployment (bearable only by the family support), inadequate social services, poor urban planning, constant noise, the courts are overwhelmed and almost computerize… but, miracle!, in the evening people come out to celebrate life, to celebrate they are still alive and willing to keep living in this crazy place. We don’t speak about our miseries (the politicians) because we can speak about our fantastic football teams, singers, artists, authors, tennis players, actors, pilots, designers, vintners, archaeologists, teachers, doctors, waiters, plumbers, firefighters, smiling children… Yes, a crazy city! But this dear crazy city has started to be sensible (I think for first time in its history), because we have started to speak about politicians. Bad thing!

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Isabel del Rio

Managing Editor at Yareah® Magazine. Author of ‘Ariza’ (2008) and ‘The Girls of Oil’ (2010)

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