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Europe's highest capital hums and vibrates in the dry and barren heart of Spain. That's Madrid in a nutshell. As well as being Spain's economic, political and cultural capital, Madrid has another much more important reputation to maintain, that of party city numero uno!

With over forty theatres, twelve extra public holidays and more bars than some countries, it's not hard to keep yourself entertained in Madrid. A visit to Madrid without tasting the nightlife at least once, is like visiting Rome without seeing the Vatican.

Madrilenos take their food very seriously. Madrid has the reputation of being Spain's port - rather strange for a city that lies hundreds of kilometres from the nearest harbour. But it's true. Everywhere you look you'll see the freshest fish and the most delicious oysters, just waiting to be consumed with a glass of cold vino blanco. The city offers a wide choice of pleasant, reasonably priced restaurants. Apart from that, you'll also find traditional tapas bars on many street corners. Tapas are small appetizing savouries typically served in Spanish cafes with a glass of beer or wine.

For (fashion) shops, head to the lively and bustling Puerta del Sol. You'll find all the many Spanish labels (ZARA, Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti) and international fashion labels too. If you're looking for a quieter area then go to Calle Fuencarral. Fuencarral and Calle de Hortaleza together make up a trendy part of Madrid with great clothing and design shops.

So, is Madrid only about eating, drinking and partying? No, far from it. Madrid is home to numerous museums, including the world-renowned Prado museum with its classic masterpieces. There's also plenty of impressive modern art, like Picasso's la Guernica at Reina Sofia.

Madrid has many cultural sights and impressive museums. Add to this the numerous entertainment opportunities and a dash of one final ingredient, Spanish temperament, and you have a city that may well be the ultimate destination for a successful trip.

History

The city of Madrid was founded in 854 by Mehmed I of Granada. Madrid belonged to the Moors and it's role was to defend the city of Toledo. It was not a favourable site for a city. There was nowhere to lay a harbour, nor was it on the route to other major cities. In spite of this, the number of settlements around Madrid continued to grow and it slowly evolved into a city.

Madrid was appointed as Spain's capital by Felipe II in 1561. The construction of Plaza Mayor began in 1617 and in the first half of the 18th century, during the reign of Felipe V, the Palacio Real was built. Velazquez and Goya, the court painters, were already leading artists by then. The city's development flourished under Carlos III (1716-1788). He commissioned many buildings, bridges, hospitals and parks.

Napoleon occupied Spain in 1808, however the first republic was declared by Emilio Castelar in Madrid as early as 1873. The second republic followed in 1931 and in 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. Madrid was among the cities which suffered heaviest during the Civil War, which ended in 1939. Power then fell into the hands of the dictator Franco. After Franco's death in the 70s, Spain once again became a constitutional monarchy. The current King is Juan Carlos I. It was not until 1979 that the first democratic elections were held.

Terrorists struck Madrid on 11 March 2004. A series of bombs exploded on-board trains during the morning rush hour. Over 190 people were killed and many more were injured.

During the 80s and 90s, Madrid evolved into a leading economic, cultural and artistic centre. These days it's one of modern Europe's biggest and most important cities. It's a bubbly city, where life never stands still.