Madrid, a fascinating city (technically not – we’ll come to that later!) which has enthralled all of us here at Hablamos

The first pueblo (village) in the area we now call Madrid se fundó (was founded) in the 9th century. Being so many centuries old, there are a huge number of curious facts and figures we could tell you about the place, so in this blog we’ve narrowed the list down to a few things we reckon you’ll enjoy learning about before you come to study Spanish here in the capital.

¿Por qué se llama Madrid? - Why the name “Madrid”?

As with all towns and cities the world over, Madrid isn’t exactly the original name of the city. To understand the origin of this nombre (name) you need to know that what is now Spain was mostly conquered in the siglos VIII y IX (8th and 9th centuries) by the Moors – a catch-all term for various Muslim groups who entered from North Africa. The emir (or leader) of the Moors at the time, Mohamed I, decided to build fortalezas (fortifications or forts) to maintain a strong presence in the conquered areas against Christian invasions from the remaining Spanish kingdoms. According to the leyenda (legend), Madrid was originally named “Mayrit” as this was the Arabic word for a process of extracting water from underground which was employed in the area dues to the large number of subterranean arroyos (streams) around what is now Madrid. Once the Christian kingdoms initiated la Reconquista (the Reconquest) and reclaimed the city, the name stuck but evolved into Madrid. 

¿Por qué se llaman “gatos” a los madrileños? – Why are people from Madrid called “gatos”?

This strange title also dates to the time of the Moors and the reconquest of Madrid all the way back in 1085 AD. As the tropas (troops) of Alfonso VI, el Bravo (the brave) approached the city, the battle for Madrid began and at first, the king’s soldiers made very slow progress. One brave individual, armed only with una daga (a dagger) climbed the walls of what was then Mayrit with such speed that onlookers nicknamed him el gato (the cat). He then lowered a rope so others could join him and by doing so allowed the Christians to take control. The same soldier’s family then became important in the city, and over time the name gato was used for anyone in Madrid whose padres (parents) and abuelos (grandparents) had also been born there. So you see, when you come to learn Spanish in Madrid, you’ll now know why everyone keeps referring to people as gatos (cats)!

Madrid no siempre ha sido la capital – Madrid hasn’t always been the capital

In many countries, la capital (the capital) has pretty much always been the same city – for instance London in the UK or Paris in France. However, Spain’s capital has changed unas veces (a few times) over the centuries. For many years, the Corte Real (Royal Court) travelled around Spanish territory and had no permanent base. Then, Felipe II in the 16th century decided it was about time that there was a capital city and a fixed meeting place for government. The city of Toledo, not far from Madrid, had always been the most important royal residence, but because of various factors, the King decided to settle in Madrid. Even so, between 1519 and 1561, the emperador Carlos V (Emperor Charles V) decided to move the capital to Toledo, then from 1601 to 1606 it went north to Valladolid, and during the Napoleonic Wars the capital was moved to Sevilla and then Cádiz in the south. Despite being the de facto capital all those centuries, Madrid was only formally recognised as such in 1931!

Madrid no es una ciudad – Madrid isn’t a city

¡¿Qué dices?! (What are you talking about?!). Technically, this is correct even today. Madrid is still not, officially, a city but rather una villa (a type of town) despite having a population of over 3 million! But what does this mean? Well, una villa is a special designation for a town with certain privilegios (privileges) that other places don’t enjoy. In the case of Madrid, it’s pretty obvious that its status as the capital of the country makes it stand out from other “towns”! Given that tradition and political reality has meant that Madrid has grown to become the vast metropolis we all know and love today, nobody has bothered reclassifying it as a true city. Odd, right?

And there you have it, some fun facts about Hablamos’s fabulous hometown! Come and join us and learn much more about Madrid and all its curious history!

Hablamos - full-on Spanish!