Madrid was chosen as the capital city of Spain in 1561 – it was selected for its central location. It is located on a high central plain, 600 metres high, in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula. Its height makes it the highest capital city in Europe, and makes it subject to extremes of heat and cold.

The city has many attractions for the visitor, including the two squares of the Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol. The Prado Museum houses works by Goya, Velasquez and El Greco, while the more modern Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia includes those by Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. The huge Palacio Real or Royal Palace was built in 1764. The Museo de la Real Academia de Bella Artes offers further artworks, and the Café de Chinitas is the best venue to see Spanish flamenco dancers. The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is the city’s bull-fighting arena. An old Egyptian temple, the Templo de Debod, was presented to the city by the Egyptian government and rebuilt here.

Madrid began as a fortress built by the emir of Cordoba in 854, dividing the Islamic south of the country from the Christian kingdoms to the north. King Alfonso VI of Castile took over the region in 1085, bringing an end to Islamic dominance. Felipe II made Madrid the permanent seat of the royal court in 1561. After Napoleon occupied Spain, the ensuing Peninsular War for independence led to starvation in the city. Madrid was besieged by Nationalists between 1936 and 1939 during the Spanish Civil War. Franco made his home in the city following his victory, and named Juan Carlos as his successor on his death. Under the king, democracy was gradually restored.

Madrid suffered a major terrorist attack on 11 March, 2004, when commuter trains were targeted by suicide bombers, and over 200 people were killed.

Real Madrid is one of Europe's premier football clubs. In May 2002 they won the Champions League final in Glasgow, winning 2-1 against their German rivals Bayer Leverkusen.

The opera tenor Placido Domingo was born in the city, as was the singer Julio Iglesias, father of Enrique Iglesias. Penelope Cruz was also born here.


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