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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Madrid, Spain (Capital)

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The capital of Spain and of the province of Madrid, on the left bank of the river Manzanares, a right-hand tributary of the Jarama, which flows south into the Tagus. Pop. (1877), 397,8 16; (1887), 472,228; (1897), 512; 150; (1900), 539,835. Madrid was the largest city in Spain in 1900; it is the see of an archbishop, the focus of the principal Spanish railways, the headquarters of an army corps, the seat of a university, the meeting-place of parliament, and the chief residence of the king, the court, and the captain-general of New Castile. It is, however, surpassed in ecclesiastical importance by Toledo and in commerce by Barcelona.

1 Situation and Climate

2 Modern Development of the City

3 Principal Buildings

4 Education, Religion and Charity

5 Industries

6 History

Situation and Climate

Madrid is built on an elevated and undulating plateau of sand and clay, which is bounded on the north by the Sierra Guadarrama and merges on all other sides into the barren and treeless table-land of New Castile. Numerous water-courses (arroyos ), dry except at rare intervals, furrow the surface of the plateau; these as they pass through the city have in certain cases been converted into roads - e.g. the Paseo de Recoletos and Prado, which are still so liable to be flooded after prolonged rain that special channels have been constructed to carry away the water. The highest point in Madrid is 2372 ft. above sea-level. The city is close to the geographical centre of the peninsula, nearly equidistant from the Bay of Biscay, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Owing to its high altitude and open situation it is liable to sudden and frequent variations of climate, and the daily range of temperature sometimes exceeds 50° F. In summer the heat is rendered doubly oppressive by the fiery, dust-laden winds which sweep across the Castilian tableland; at this season a temperature of 109° has been registered in the shade. In winter the northerly gales from the Sierra Guadarrama bring intense cold; snow falls frequently, and skating is carried on in the Buen Retiro park. A Spanish proverb describes the wind of Madrid as so deadly and subtle that "it will kill a man when it will not blow out a candle"; but, though pulmonary diseases are not uncommon, the climate appears to be exceptionally healthy. In 1901 the death-rate was 22

07 per 1000, or lower than that of any other town on the Spanish mainland. The Sierra Guadarrama renders the atmosphere unusually dry and clear by intercepting the moisture of the north-western winds which prevail in summer; hence the average daily number of deaths decreases from 80 in winter to about 25 in summer. The sanitation of the older quarters is defective, and overcrowding is common, partly owing to the royal decrees which formerly prohibited the extension of the city; but much has been done in modern times to remove or mitigate these evils.

The Inner City. - The form of Madrid proper (exclusive of the modern suburbs) is almost that of a square with the corners rounded off; from east to west it measures rather less than from north to south. It was formerly surrounded by a poor wall, partly of brick, partly of earth, some 20 ft. in height, and pierced by five principal gates (puertas ) and eleven doorways (portillos). Of these only three, the Puerta de Alcala on the east, the Puerta de Toledo on the south and the Portillo de San Vicente on the west, actually exist; the first and the third were erected in the time of Charles III. (1759-1788), and the second in honour of the restoration of Ferdinand VII. (1827). The Manzanares - or rather its bed, for the stream is at most seasons of the year quite insignificant - is spanned by six bridges, the Puente de Toledo and Puente de Segovia being the chief.

The Puerta del Sol is the centre of Madrid, the largest of its many plazas, and the place of most traffic. It derived its name from the former east gate of the city, which stood here until 1570, and had on its front a representation of the sun. On its south side stands the Palacio de la Gobernacion, or ministry of the interior, a heavy square building by a French architect, J. Marquet, dating from 1768. From the Puerta del Sol diverge, immediately or mediately, ten of the principal streets of Madrid - eastward by north, the Calle de Alcala, terminating beyond the Buen Retiro park; eastward, the Carrera de San Jeronimo, terminating by the Plaza de las Cortes in the Prado; southward, the Calle de Carretas; westward, the Calle Mayor, which leads to the council chamber and to the palace, and the Calle del Arenal, terminating in the Plaza de Isabel II. and the royal opera house; north-westward, the Calles de Preciados and Del Carmen; and northward, the Calle de la Montera, which afterwards divides into the Calle de Fuencarral to the left and the Calle de Hortaleza to the right. The contract for another wide street through central Madrid, to be called the Gran Via, was given to an English firm in 1905.

The Callen de Alcala is bordered on both sides with acacias, anti contains the Real Academia de Bellas Artes, founded in 1752 as an academy of art and music; its collection of paintings by Spanish masters includes some of the best-known works of Murillo. The handsome Bank of Spain (1884-1891)stands where the Calle de Alcala meets the Prado; in the oval Plaza de Madrid, at the same point, is a fine 18th-century fountain with a marble group representing the goddess Cybele drawn in a chariot by two lions. The Calle de Alcala is continued eastward past the Buen Retiro gardens and park, and through the Plaza de Independencia, in the middle of which is the Puerta de Alcala. The Plaza de las Cortes is so called from the Congreso de los Diputados, or House of Commons, on its north side. The square contains a bronze statue of Cervantes, by Antonio Sola, erected in 1835. The Calle de Carretas, on the west side of which is the General Post Office, ranks with the Carrera de San Jeronimo and Calle de la Montera for the excellence of its shops. From the Calle Mayor is entered the PlazaMayor,a rectangle of about 430 330 ft., formerly the scene of tournaments, bull fights, autos de fe, acts of canonization (including that of Ignatius Loyola in 1622) and similar exhibitions, which used to be viewed by the royal family from the balcony of one of the houses called the Panaderia (belonging to the guild of bakers). The square, which was built under Philip III. in 1619, is surrounded by an arcade; the houses are uniform in height and decoration. In the centre stands a bronze equestrian statue of Philip III., designed by Giovanni da Bologna, after a painting by Pantoja de la Cruz, and finished by Pietro Tacca. From the southeast angle of the Plaza Mayor the Calle de Atocha,one of the principal thoroughfares of Madrid, leads to the outskirts of the inner city; it contains two large hospitals and part of the university buildings (faculty of medicine). The house occupied by Cervantes from 1606 until his death in 1616 stands at the point where it meets the Calle de Leon; in this street is the Real Academia de la Historia, with a valuable library and collections of MSS. and plate. From the southwest angle of the Plaza Mayor begins the Calle de Toledo, the chief mart for the various woollen and silken fabrics from which the picturesque costumes peculiar to the peninsula are made. In the Plaza de Isabel II., at the western extremity of the Calle del Arenal, stands the royal opera-house, the principal front of which faces the Plaza del Oriente and the royal palace. In the centre of the plaza is a fine bronze equestrian statue of Philip I V. (1621-1665); it was designed by Velazquez and cast by Tacca, while Galileo is said to have suggested the means by which the balance is preserved. The gift of the grand duke of Tuscany in 1640, it stood in the Buen Retiro gardens until 1844.

Modern Development of the City

The north and east of the city - the new suburbs - have developed past the Retiro Park as far as the Bull-ring, and have covered all the vast space included between the Retiro, the Bull-ring, the long Castellana Drive to the race-course and the exhibition building. On the slopes of the other side of the Castellana, and along what were the northern limits of Madrid in 1875, the modern suburbs have extended to the vicinity of the fine cellular prison that was built at the close of the reign of King Alphonso XII. to replace the gloomy building known as El Saladero.

The new parts of the capital, with their broad streets and squares, and their villas sometimes surrounded with gardens, their boulevards lined by rather stunted trees, and their modern public buildings, all resemble the similar features of other European capitals, and contrast with the old Madrid that has preserved so many of its traits in architecture, popular life and habits. Some of the streets have been slightly widened, and in many thoroughfares new houses are being built among the ugly, irregular dwelling-places of the 18th and earlier centuries. This contrast is to be seen especially in and about the Calle Mayor, the Plaza Mayor, the Calle de Toledo, the Rastro, and the heart of the city.

Few capitals have more extensively developed their electric and horse tramways, gas and electric light installations and telephones. Much was done to improve the sanitary conditions of the city in the last twenty years of the 19th century. The streets are deluged three times a day with fire-hose, but even that has little effect upon the dust. Unfortunately the water supply, which used to be famed for its abundance and purity, became wholly insufficient owing to the growth of the cit y. The old reservoir of the Lozoya canal, a cutting 32 m. long, and the additional reservoir opened in 1883, are quite inadequate for the requirements of modern Madrid, and were formerly kept in such an unsatisfactory state that for several months in 1898 and 1899 the water not only was on the point of giving out, but at times was of such inferior quality that the people had recourse to the many wells and fountains available. The construction of new waterworks was delayed by a terrible accident, which occurred on the 8th of April 1905; the whole structure collapsed, and nearly 400 persons lost their lives in the flooded ruins. A decided improvement has been made in the burial customs of Madrid. No bodies are allowed to be interred in the churches and convents. Some of the older burial grounds in the northern suburbs have been closed altogether, and in those which remain open few coffins are placed in the niche vaults in the depth of the thick walls, as was once the practice. A large modern necropolis has been established a few miles to the north-east.

Principal Buildings

As compared with other capitals Madrid has very few buildings of much architectural interest. The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Atocha, on the Paseo de Atocha, a continuation of the Calle de Atocha, was originally founded in 1523. After being almost destroyed by the French, it was restored by Ferdinand VII., and rebuilt after 1896. The modern church is Romanesque in style; it contains a much venerated statue of the Virgin, attributed to St Luke. The collegiate church of San Isidro el Real, in the Calle de Toledo, dates from 1651; it has no architectural merit, but contains one or two valuable pictures and other works of art. It was originally owned by the Jesuits, but after their expulsion in 1769 it was reconsecrated, and dedicated to St Isidore the Labourer (d. 1170), the patron saint of Madrid, whose remains were entombed here. When the diocese of Madrid was separated from that of Toledo San Isidro was chosen as the cathedral. The modern Gothic church of San Jeronimo el Real occupies a conspicuous site eastward of the town. The church of San Francisco el Grande, which contains many interesting monuments, is also known as the National Pantheon. An act was passed in 1837 declaring that the remains of all the most distinguished Spaniards should be buried here; but no attempt to enforce the act systematically was made until 1869, and even then the attempt failed. Towards the close of the 19th century the church was splendidly restored at the expense of the state. Its interior was decorated with paintings and statuary by most of the leading Spanish artists of the time. Of secular buildings unquestionably the most important is the royal palace (Palacio Real), on the west side of the town, on rising ground overhanging the Manzanares. It occupies the site of the ancient Moorish alcazar (citadel), where a hunting seat was built by Henry IV.; this was enlarged and improved by Charles V. when he first made Madrid his residence in 1532; was further developed by Phillip II., but ultimately was destroyed by fire in 1734. The present edifice was begun under Philip V. in 1737 by Sacchetti of Turin, and was finished in 1764. It is in the Tuscan style, and is 470 ft. square and loo ft. in height, the material being white Colmenar granite, resembling marble. To the north of the palace are the royal stables and coach-houses, remarkable for their extent; to the south is the armoury (Museo de la Real Armeria), containing what is possibly the best collection of the kind in existence. After the Palacio Real may be mentioned the royal picture gallery (Real Museo de Pinturas), adjoining the Salon del Prado; it was built about 1785 for Charles III. by Juan de Villanueva as a museum of natural history and academy of sciences. It contains the collections of Charles V., Philip II. and Philip IV., and the pictures number upwards of two thousand. The specimens of Titian, Raphael, Tintoretto, Velazquez, Vandyck, Rubens and Teniers give it a claim to be considered the finest picture gallery in the world. The Biblioteca Nacional, in the Paseo de Recoletos, was founded in 1866, and completed in 1892. Not only the national library, with its important collections of MSS. and documents, but the archaeological museum, the museums of modern painting and sculpture, and the fine arts academy of San Fernando, are within its walls. The two houses of the Cortes meet in separate buildings. The deputies have a handsome building with a very valuable library in the Carrera San Jeronimo; the senators have an old Augustinian convent which contains some fine pictures. A large and handsome building near the Retiro Park contains the offices of the ministers of public works, agriculture and commerce, and of fine arts and education; nearly opposite stands the new station of the Southern Railway Company. The Great Northern and the Spain to Portugal Railway Companies have also replaced their old stations by very spacious, handsome structures, much resembling those of Paris. In 1896 the Royal Exchange was installed in a large monumental building with a fine colonnade facing the Dos de Mayo monument, not far from the museum of paintings.

Of the promenades and open places of public resort the most fashionable and most frequented is the Prado (Paseo del Prado, Salon del Prado) on the east side of the town, with its northward continuation - the Paseo de Recoletos. To the south of the town is the Paseo de las Delicias, and on the west, below the royal palace, and skirting the Manzanares, is the Paseo de la Virgen del Puerto, used chiefly by the poorer classes. Eastward from the Prado are the Buen Retiro Gardens, with ponds and pavilions, and a menagerie. The gardens were formerly the grounds surrounding a royal hunting seat, on the site of which a palace was built for Philip IV. in 1633; it was destroyed during the French occupation.

Education, Religion and Charity

Madrid University developed gradually out of the college of Dona Maria de Aragon, established in 1590 by Alphonso Orozco. Schools of mathematics and natural science were added in the 16th and 17th centuries, and in 1786 the medical and surgical college of San Carlos was opened. In1836-1837the university of Alcalá de Henares (q.v.) was transferred to the capital and the older foundations incorporated with it. The university of Madrid thenceforth became the headquarters of education in central Spain. It has an observatory, and a library containing more than 2,000,000 printed books and about 5500 MSS. It gives instruction, chiefly in law and medicine, but also in literature, philosophy, mathematics and physics, to about 5000 students. Associated with the university is the preparatory school of San Isidro, founded by Philip IV. (1621-1665), and reorganized by Charles III. in 1770.

There are upwards of 100 official primary schools and a large number of private ones, among which the schools conducted by the Jesuits and the Scolapian fathers claim special mention. Madrid also has schools of agriculture, architecture, civil and mining engineering, the fine arts, veterinary science and music. The school of military engineering is at Guadalajara. Besides these special schools there are a self-supporting institute for preparing girls for the higher degrees and for certificates as primary teachers, and an institute for secondary education, conducted chiefly by ecclesiastics. Among the educational institutions may be reckoned the botanical garden, dating from 1781, the libraries of the palace, the university, and San Isidro, and the museum of natural science, exceedingly rich in the mineralogical department. The principal learned society is the royal Spanish Academy, founded in 1713 for the cultivation and improvement of the Spanish tongue. The Academy of History possesses a good library, rich in MSS. and incunabula, as well as a fine collection of coins and medals. In addition to the academies of fine arts, the exact sciences, moral and political science, medicine and surgery, and jurisprudence and legislation, all of which possess 1 braries, there are also anthropological, economic and geographical societies, and a scientific and literary athenaeum. Madrid has a British cemetery opened in 1853, when the older Protestant cemetery in the Paseo de Recoletos was closed. The town also contains a British embassy chapel, a German chapel, and several Spanish Protestant chapels, attended by over 1200 native Protestants, while the Protestant schools, chiefly supported by British, German and American contributions, are attended by more than 2500 children. The first Protestant bishop of Madrid was consecrated in 1895 by Archbishop Plunkett of Dublin. The charitable institutions were greatly improved between 1885 and 1905. The Princess Hospital was completely restored on modern methods, and can accommodate several hundred patients. The old contagious diseases hospital of San Juan de Dios was pulled down and a fine new hospital built in the suburbs beyond the Retiro Park, to hold 700 patients. The military hospital was demolished and a very good one built in the suburbs. There are in all twenty hospitals in Madrid, and a lunatic asylum on the outskirts of the capital, founded by one of the most eminent of Spanish surgeons, and admirably conducted. New buildings have been provided for the orphanages, and for the asylums for the blind, deaf and dumb, incurables and aged paupers. There are hospitals supported by the French, Italian and Belgian colonies; these are old and well-endowed foundations. Public charity generally is very active. In Madrid, as in the rest of Spain, there has been an unprecedented increase in convents, monasteries and religious institutions, societies and Roman Catholic workmen's clubs and classes.

Apart from private institutions for such purposes, the state maintains in the capital a savings bank for the poorer classes, and acts as pawnbroker for their benefit. The mercantile and industrial classes are organized in gilds, which themselves collect the lump sum of taxation exacted by the exchequer and the municipality from each gremio or class of taxpayers. The working classes also have commercial and industrial circulos or clubs that are obeyed by the gilds with great esprit de corps, a chamber of commerce and industries, and "associations of productions" for the defence of economic interests.


The industries of the capital have developed extraordinarily since 1890. In the town, and within the municipal boundaries in the suburbs, many manufactories have been established, giving employment to more than 30,000 hands, besides the 4000 women and girls of the Tobacco Monopoly Company's factory. Among the most important factories are those which make every article in leather, especially cigar and card cases, purses and pocket-books. Next come the manufactures of fans, umbrellas, sunshades, chemicals, varnishes, buttons, wax candles, beds, cardboard, porcelain, coarse pottery, matches, baskets, sweets and preserves, gloves, guitars, biscuits, furniture, carpets, corks, cards, carriages, jewelry, drinks of all kinds, plate and plated goods. There are also tanneries, saw and flour mills, glass and porcelain works, soap works, brickfields, paper mills, zinc, bronze, copper and iron foundries. The working classes are strongly imbued with socialistic ideas. Strikes and May Day demonstrations have often been trouble some. Order is kept by a garrison of 12,500 men in the barracks of the town and cantonments around, and by a strong force of civil guards or gendarmes quartered in the town itself. The civil and municipal authorities can employ beside the gendarmes the police, about 1400 strong, and what is called the guardias urbanos, another police force whose special duty it is to regulate the street traffic and prevent breaches of the municipal regulations. There is not, on the average, more crime in Madrid than in the provinces.


Spanish archaeologists have frequently claimed for Madrid a very high antiquity, but the earliest authentic historical mention of the town (Majrit, Majoritum) occurs in the Arab chronicle, and does not take us farther back than to the first half of the 10th century. The place was finally taken from the Moors by Alphonso VI. (1083), and was made a hunting-seat by Henry IV., but first rose into importance when Charles V., benefiting by its keen air, made it his occasional residence. Philip II. created it his capital and "only court" (unica corte) in 1560. It is, however, only classed as a town ( villa ), having never received the title of city (ciudad). Fruitless attempts were made by Philip III. and Charles III. respectively to transfer the seat of government to Valladolid and to Seville. (See also Spain: History). See J. Amador de los Rios, Historia de la villa y come de Madrid (Madrid, 1861-1864); Valverde y Alvarez, LaCapitaldeEspana (Madrid, 1883); E. Sepulveda, La Vida en Madrid en 1886 (Madrid, 1887); H. Penasco, Las Calles de Madrid (Madrid, 1889); C. Perez Pastor, Bibliografia madrilena, siglo XVI. (Madrid, 1891); F. X. de Palacio y Garcia, count of las Almenas, La Municipalidad de Madrid (Madrid, 1896); E. Sepulveda, El Madrid de los recuerdos: coleccion de articulos (Madrid, 1897); P. Hauser, Madrid bajo el punto de vista medico-social (Madrid, 1902); L. Williams, Toledo and Madrid, their Records and Romances (London, 1903).

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Madrid, Spain (Capital)'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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