25 Mind-Blowing Fun Facts About Madrid, Spain

I love everything about Spain’s capital, from the views to the food to the people, and yes, I also love hearing fun facts about Madrid. It’s a city that always keeps surprising me and getting to know its past and secrets makes me adore it even more.

So without further ado, here are some of my favorite Madrid facts that will surely make you fall in love with it.

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Interesting and fun facts about Madrid: 25 facts about Spain's capital




HISTORICAL FACTS ABOUT MADRID, SPAIN

MADRID WAS FOUNDED IN THE 9TH CENTURY

When you think about the Arab history of Spain, your mind immediately goes to the region of Andalucia, but did you know that Madrid was also founded by the Moors?

While the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, the first official historical record of Madrid dates back to the 9th century.

That’s when a fortress was built on the banks of the Manzanares River by the order of Muhammad I, the ruler of the Islamic Emirate of Córdoba.

It was only in the 11th century that the city was conquered by the Spanish monarchs.

WHY IS THE CITY’S SYMBOL A BEAR?

You can’t visit Madrid and not take a picture of the iconic statue of El Oso y el Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree), the biggest symbol of the city. But why a bear?

For centuries, the beloved animal has been a part of Madrid’s coat of arms, which is thought to be inspired by the large number of bears found in the natural areas surrounding the city.

While the strawberry tree was added to the city’s coat of arms in the 13th century, the previous designs already included a bear and seven stars of the Ursa Major (Great Bear).

The Bear and the Strawberry Tree, Madrid

MADRID BECAME SPAIN’S CAPITAL IN THE 16TH CENTURY

It was only in the 16th century that King Philip II moved the seat of the court to Madrid. It’s difficult to imagine other cities as the capital of Spain, but before Madrid, that list included Burgos, Valladolid, and Toledo. 

ITS NAME COMES FROM ARABIC

When Madrid was first founded by the Arabs on the banks of the Manzanares River, it was called Mayrit, meaning something like ‘an abundance of water’ or ‘a place of many waterways.’

The lake of El Retiro park, Madrid

THE MADRILEÑOS ARE CALLED ‘GATOS’ (CATS)

Calling Madrilenians ‘Gatos’ (cats) sounds like a relatively recent tradition. But this nickname is actually connected to a legend from the 11th century when the city was conquered by the Spanish monarchs.

So what’s the story here? At that time, Madrid was surrounded by a wall, which made it very difficult to make a plan to conquer it.

When the troops of King Alfonso VI were near the wall, a young, brave soldier with feline skills and only a dagger in his hand managed to climb up, remove the Arab flag, and throw a rope to his companions who completed the conquest.

After the other soldiers called him ‘cat,’ he even adopted the name Gato as his surname, and as his story spread throughout the region, the nickname stuck.

But not everyone can be a ‘cat’ because the name refers to those who are at least a 3rd generation of natives.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid Spain


INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT MADRID’S POINTS OF INTEREST

MADRID IS HOME TO THE OLDEST RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD

Have you ever heard of Sobrino de Botín? According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the oldest restaurant in the world still in operation.

Founded in 1725, the Spanish restaurant occupies all four floors of the building in which it is housed, each with its own unique decor.

Extra fun fact #1: Some of the visitors to the restaurant throughout the years include Ernest Hemingway and famous painter Francisco de Goya. The latter also worked at Botin as a waiter (supposedly) while he was waiting to get accepted to the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Extra fun fact #2: The restaurant still uses the same wood-burning oven as it did back in 1725!

MADRID IS HOME TO THE LARGEST FUNCTIONING PALACE IN EUROPE

The Royal Palace (Palacio Real) is not only a magnificent piece of history, a baroque architectural masterpiece, and a must-visit landmark in Madrid.

As the Spanish royal family’s official residence in Madrid, which spreads across 135,000 m2 (1,450,000 sq ft) and contains more than 3,400 rooms, it is also Europe’s largest functioning royal palace.

The Royal Palace of Madrid, Europe's largest functioning royal palace

IT ALSO HOUSES THE ROYAL QUARTET

The Royal Palace houses hundreds, if not thousands, of items with great historical and artistic importance like paintings by Goya and Carravaggio, personal arms of the Kings of Spain, and much more.

In fact, one of the most unique things you can see in the palace is the Royal Quartet – a set of two violins, a cello, and a viola – all created by the infamous Antonio Stradivari around 1700.

Along with another cello, they also form the Stradivarius Palatinos, the only complete Stradivarius string quintet in the world!

A UNIQUE PLAQUE CAN EASILY BE MISSED IN THE PUERTA DEL SOL

With all the hustle and bustle of Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s busiest square, it’s easy to miss the plaque of Kilometre Zero, located right next to the Royal House of the Post Office (Real Casa de Correos).

It not only marks the location from which the distances of the national roads are measured (and is considered the geographical center of Spain) but also the starting point of the number of the city’s streets.

Kilometer 0, Madrid

MADRID IS HOME TO EUROPE’S FIRST SKYSCRAPER

While walking along Gran Via street, you can’t miss the Telefonica Building, the first skyscraper in Europe (and the tallest building on the continent at that time), built in 1926-1929 and inspired the skyscrapers of New York City.

During the Spanish Civil War, it was both a major communication center and an air-raid shelter, and today, it’s a cultural space that hosts all kinds of cool exhibitions (which you can visit free of charge).

IT’S THE ONLY CITY IN THE WORLD WITH A PUBLIC STATUE DEDICATED TO THE DEVIL

Another place to visit in El Retiro Park is the 19th-century fountain and statue of the Fallen Angel, representing Lucifer, the angel who was expelled from Heaven for rebelling against God.

Considered the only sculpture depicting Lucifer in the entire world, it is literally one of a kind.

Fallen Angel statue

YOU’LL FIND AN EGYPTIAN TEMPLE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CITY

The Temple of Debod is one of my favorite sunset spots in Madrid, and it’s also an unusual spot in the city. As distinct as its appearance may be, it’s hard to believe that it is an Egyptian temple dating back to the 2nd century BC.

What does it have anything to do with Madrid? When Spain helped to save Egypt’s Abu Simbel Temples from the waters of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s, the Egyptian government donated the ancient Temple of Debod to Spain as a symbol of gratitude.

After somehow being transported overseas, it was carefully rebuilt, stone by stone, and today, it is a place in Madrid you simply cannot miss.

Debod Temple

YOU CAN ALSO SEE SOME REMAINS OF BERLIN’S WALL

While not as impressive as an ancient Egyptian temple, the three blocks of the original Berlin wall you can find in Berlin Park are still worth mentioning.

The park was opened 22 years before the fall of the wall, and Madrid and Berlin have been twin cities since 1988, so when the wall was demolished, a few pieces were brought to the park.

IT’S ALSO HOME TO THE FIRST TRIUMPHAL ARCH BUILT IN EUROPE AFTER THE FALL OF THE ROMANS

From Paris’ Arc de Triomphe to Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, there’s no shortage of important and impressive triumphal arches in Europe. But did you know that Madrid’s Puerta de Alcala was the first of its kind?

Constructed in 1778 by the order of King Carlos III, it was not only the main entrance to the city (which was still surrounded by medieval walls) but also the first Arc de Triomphe built in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire, making it a must-see landmark in Madrid.

Madrid facts - Puerta de Alcala, first triumphal arc in Europe after the Romans

DO YOU KNOW THE LEGEND OF THE ELF OF EL RETIRO PARK?

I love getting to know European myths and legends, and I especially love uncovering the secrets of Madrid. Even the beloved Retiro Park keeps a few of them, including a quirky story about a magical elf.

Back in the 18th century, when the park wasn’t open to the public and only accessed by the king’s court, King Philip V used to love strolling around its gardens.

The strange thing was that every day the flowers seemed to be changing their color and shape as if they were moving from one place to another, and so the rumor about a little gardening elf came to life.

In homage to the unusual character, now you can find a statue of his sitting on the Antigua “Casa de las Fieras” in the eastern part of the park.

El Retiro Park, Madrid Spain

THE REMAINS OF CERVANTES WERE LOST IN MADRID FOR 400 YEARS

Even if you haven’t read ‘Don Quixote’ (aka one of the most iconic books set in Spain and what is considered the first modern novel), I’m sure you know the name of its infamous author, Miguel de Cervantes.

As he had requested, he was buried in the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians (in my beloved Barrio de las Letras) when he passed away in 1616. But when the convent underwent some reconstruction in 1673, Cervantes’ remains went missing.

It was only in 2015 that his remains were rediscovered (shocker), and they were formally reburied.

A year later, the convent conducted guided visits to the tomb, but now, it seems that the only way to visit it is to contact the number appearing here (at the bottom) to arrange a tour.

Cervantes Tomb, Madrid


OTHER FUN FACTS ABOUT MADRID, SPAIN

OFFICIALLY, IT’S CALLED A VILLA, NOT A CITY

I love this cool fact about Madrid because it’s incredibly surprising to know that Madrid is not officially a ‘city.’

It started as a small village, developed into a bigger town known as a villa, and kept growing and growing.

But even when it became the capital of Spain, the king didn’t grant it the title of a city, and until today, it is still called a Villa y Corte (Village and [the King’s] Court).

IT IS THE SUNNIEST CAPITAL CITY IN EUROPE

Along with Athens, Madrid is Europe’s sunniest capital city, enjoying about 350 sunny days per year.

Plaza Oriente, Madrid Spain

IT IS THE HIGHEST CAPITAL CITY IN EUROPE

Technically, you can say that Europe’s highest capital city is Andorra La Vela (1,023 m / 3,356 ft). Still, if you exclude microstates or principalities, Madrid takes first place with an altitude of 667 m (2,188 ft).

MADRID IS ALSO THE GREENEST CITY IN EUROPE

One of my favorite things about Madrid is its outrageous number of parks, gardens, and other green areas. In fact, Madrid is the city with the highest number of trees and green surfaces per inhabitant in all of Europe.

A park in Madrid

SOME OF ITS METRO STATIONS ARE VERY UNUSUAL

Is it weird that one of my favorite things about Madrid is its Metro system? I’ve never enjoyed using public transportation as much as I enjoy it when I visit Madrid, and I love the fact that some of the stations are quite bizarre.

From the abandoned “ghost station” in Chamberi to the city’s largest underground archaeological museum in Opera to the remains of monks found behind the walls of Tirso de Molina, you’ll find plenty of quirky Metro stations in Madrid.

YOU CAN GET FREE TAPAS IN MADRID

Who can say no to free food (free tapas, to be exact)?

Thanks to the brilliant (and old) concept that tapas should be served for free to anyone ordering a drink, you’ll find places where you only need to pay for the beer to leave with a stomach full of food.

Though you won’t find too many of these free tapas bars in Madrid, a few spots to check out include La Pequeña Graná, El Tigre (which has 3 locations), and Mareas Vivas.

Tapas bar, Madrid

YOU CAN ALSO BUY COOKIES FROM CLOISTERED NUNS

While Madrid is not the only city where you can buy baked goods from nuns, it’s certainly an adventure to find your way to the hidden bakery of the 17th-century Monasterio de Corpus Christi, a convent of cloistered nuns.

Well, the only thing you actually get to see there is a cookie menu alongside a small spinning door on the wall (through which you pay and get your cookies), which definitely makes the experience unique.

IT’S NOT COASTAL, BUT ONE OF ITS TYPICAL FOODS IS SEAFOOD

Trying a bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich) in Madrid is a must, but how come a seafood dish has become such a staple in a city not even close to the sea?

Centuries ago, when religion-based limitations on meat consumption took place, fish and seafood from other regions had to be imported.

Since the journey from these coastal areas was longer than just a few days, ice was not enough to keep the ingredients fresh, but thankfully, it was easy to preserve squid in salt. Pretty fascinating, right?

Now, the calamari sandwich is one of the most typical foods in the Spanish capital, best served with some beer on the side.

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About Or Amir

Hey, I'm Or! I'm a passionate traveler with a severe coffee, chocolate, and pastry addiction (or any other carb for that matter). Obsessed with anything Spain-related, I'm always planning my next trip (and the excitement alone can bring tears to my eyes, not that it's difficult to make me cry).

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