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Madrid (Municipality, Community of Madrid, Spain)

Last modified: 2019-03-09 by ivan sache
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Flag of Madrid - Image by Ivan Sache, 23 February 2019

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Presentation of Madrid

The municipality of Madrid (3,165,235 inhabitants in 2014; 60,800 ha; (municipal website) is the capital of the Kingdom of Spain and of the Community of Madrid. The municipality is divided into 21 districts, established in 1988: Centro, Arganzuela, Retiro, Salamanca, Chamartín, Tetuán, Chamberí, Fuencarral-El Pardo, Moncloa-Aravaca, Latina, Carabanchel, Usera, Puente de Vallecas, Moratalaz, Ciudad Lineal, Hortaleza, Villaverde, Ville de Vallecas, Vicálvaro, San Blas-Canillejas, and Barajas.

Madrid was already settled by the Celtiberians and the Romans, as evidenced by archeological remains. The exact origin of the town, however, remains obscure. Madrid had been identified with Miaccum, shown on the Antonine Itinerary; the name of Miaccum was said to be derived from Hebrew Miaccum, allegedly meaning "stone walls surrounded with fire". The first settlement would have been established on the right bank of river Manzanares, whose name is said to have ben derived from Miaci-Nahar, Miacum River, or, from Man-Nahar, the Nourishing River.
During the Roman rule, Madrid would have been named Ursaria, from ursus, "a bear", for the abundance of such animals in the area, or from Hebrew ur, again referring to fire. Due to its increase, the town would have been renamed to Maioritum. This name is indeed nothing but a latinised version of Magerit, the Morisco name of Madrid, which evolved after the Christian reconquest to Mageridum, Magritum, Matritum...
Although Madrid was known during the Arab rule as Mayrit, there is no consensus on the Arab origin of the name of the town; some refer to Matrice, meaning in Latin "the Mother of the Waters".

Madrid was established between 860 and 880 by Mohamed I (823-886), the 5th Emir of al-Ándalus, as a place fortified against the southwards advance of the Christian kings marching to Toledo. The town was organized around a big alcazar, which was definitively suppressed in 1734 by a blaze and replaced by the Royal Palace, inaugurated in 1764.
The alcazar allowed the watch of the Sierra de Guadarrama, the main route of Christian raids. The Arab wall, 12-feet thick, was protected by three gates (Puerta de la Sagra - for the access of the troops, Puerta de Santa María, and Puerta de la Vega - for access to the river) and 128 towers, of which only two smaller towers have been preserved until now. Ferdinand I, Count of Castile (1928-1037), then King of León and Castile (1037-1065), seized Madrid in 1047, which he soon abandoned, not convinced of its strategical significance.

Alfonso VI the Brave (1047-1109), King of León, Galicia and Castile. seized Madrid in 1083; the assaulters climbed to the wall like cats, therefore the subsequent nickname given to the inhabitants of Madrid, gatos (cats). The demographic boom of the town required the erection of a second wall, protected by four fortified gates (Puerta de Moros, Puerta Cerrada, Puerta de Guadalajara, Puerta de Valnadú). Madrid, still a border town, was mostly inhabited by knights and members of the high nobility and church. The limits between the rival Councils of Madrid and Segovia were defined in 1190.
In 1202, a Charter granted during the reign of Alfonso VIII (1158-1214) organized the Community of the Town and Villages of Madrid, which extended the privileges of use of the neighboring land and mountains. The same year, a lawsuit started that opposed the Community to the religious authorities for ownership of the pastures, land, trees and hunting places in the mountains; the dispute was settled only in 1222, the church being granted the land and the Council the trees and the hunting resource.
The nickname of "Town of the Bear and of the Strawberry Tree" appears to date from the 13th century. A document dated 1219 lists Rodrigo Rodríguez as "justicia mayor de Madrid" - a kind of Mayor -, which indicates that Madrid had consolidated its organization at the time. Madrid already had some political significance in the Middle Ages. The Cortes frequently gathered there, for the first time on 1309. The neighboring hunting domains, such as Mount Pardo, caused the intermittent residence of kings fond of hunting, such as Henry III (1390-1406), in Madrid. The town was granted in 1435 the status of ciudad, with permanent representation at the Cortes.
The Catholic Monarchs stayed 14 times in the town, mostly to settle administrative issues; the first norms for the urban organization of Madrid were issued in 1494.
[G. García-Solans Molina. Madrid medieval]

Madrid was made the capital of Castile and of the Kingdom of Spain in 1561, when King Philip II (1555-1598) ordered the transfer of the Court from Toledo to Madrid. Philip II probably selected Madrid, a town with limited political and economical significance at the time, to establish his new capital in a town without social conflict, which he could model in his own way without any pressure.
Another reason for the selection of Madrid as the capital is the location of the town in the geographical center of Spain, at the crossing of old roads. Communication with the south was possible via Toledo; the Guadarrama road placed Madrid at mid distance of Toledo and Segovia, while the road of Alcalá de Henares connected the town with Saragosse, the valley of Ebro and Barcelona. Madrid was abundantly supplied with freshwater from river Manzanares and a network of wells and underground galleries established during the Moorish rule. Eventually, Madrid already had a convenient Royal palace, the alcazar inherited from the Moors.
Madrid progressively became the capital of the kingdom and the permanent seat of the Court, except for a short period (1601-1606) during which the Court was transferred to Valladolid by Philip III (1598-1621), influenced by his favorite, the Duke of Lerma (1553-1625).

Madrid was modernized and embellished by Charles III (1759-1788), still remembered as "the best Mayor of Madrid". At the time, the town was still known as "Europa's dunghill". The king forbid pig prowling in the town and set up a sewerage system; the architect Sabatini invented carts to collect garbage, soon nicknamed Sabatini's chocolate factories. The sanitation efforts of the kings were perceived with some reluctance; the king said "My vassals are like children who cry when they are washed". Several parts of the town were paved and supplied with street lighting.
Charles III was also known as the "King Mason", since he commissioned the most famous architects to erect new buildings, such as the Royal Astronomical Observatory. Drafted by Juan de Villanueva (1739-1811), the observatory is one of the best representatives of neo-classical style, imported to Spain by Charles III from Italy, where he had reigned in Naples and Sicily (1734-1759). Several palaces, fountains and museums are also part of Charles III's contribution to the development of Madrid.
[Ana María Charle Sanz. El Madrid de Carlos III]

Ivan Sache, 23 February 2019

Symbols of Madrid

The flag (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo) and arms of Madrid are prescribed in the By Law for the Functioning of the Plenary Assembly and the Permanent Commission of the Municipality of Madrid, adopted on 28 May 1982 and published on 22 July 1982 in the official gazette of the Municipality of Madrid, No. 4,460, pp. 633-637 (text), as follows:

Article 3.
The coat of arms of Madrid is made of the following heraldic components. On a field argent, a strawberry tree vert on a base of the same fructed gules supported by a bear rampant sable, a bordure azure charged with seven six-pointed stars argent. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown ancient.

Article 4.
The flag of the Town of Madrid is made of the coat of arms described in Title 1, Article 3., centered on a crimson color.

Article 5.
1. The flag of the Town of Madrid shall be displayed outside all the municipal buildings, from sunset to sundown, jointly with the flags of Spain and of the Community of Madrid, placed at the left of the national flag.
2. The flag of the Town of Madrid shall be displayed in a prominent place in the plenary meeting room and in the official cabinet of the Mayor, of the Deputy Mayors and of the political groups with municipal representation, joint with the national flag.
3. In public municipal events, the flag of Madrid shall be displayed, in a prominent place, jointly with the national flag.

Article 6.
Acronyms and symbols representing parties, unions, associations and other kinds of entities cannot be added to the flag of the Town of Madrid.

Article 7.
The banner [pendón] of Madrid, hoisted on a silver staff, featuring the arms of the town embroidered on crimson damask, shall be displayed in a prominent place in the official cabinet of the first municipal authority during events whose exceptional significance requires its presence.

This is repeated, verbatim, in the By-Law for Protocol and Ceremonial, adopted on 22 December 1988, and published on 23 February 1989 in the official gazette of the Municipality of Madrid, No. 804, pp. 286-288 (text).

Madrid successively used different coats of arms, all of them featuring the bear and, the oldest excepted, a strawberry tree.
The origin of the bear (oso), sometimes described as a she-bear (osa) is not clear. The oldest known arms of Madrid feature a bear passant, the body charged with seven stars. Some historians say that the Madrid militia used a white standard charged with a bear during the expedition against the Kingdom of Murcia (1211) or during the decisive battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212). The bear is sometimes interpreted as the representation of a huge animal killed by Alfonso XI (1312-1350) on Mount Pardo. Traditionally, the bear and stars have been interpreted as a representation of the Ursa Mayor / Great Bear constellation, with reference to the spurious Roman name of Madrid, Ursaria, or to the Carpetani tribe, allegedly named for carpetum, "a cart". More prosaically, some say that the Ursa Mayor constellation was prominently visible in the sky over Madrid.

The appearance of the strawberry tree on the arms of Madrid is much more historically documented. Following the aforementioned settlement of the dispute between the Council and the church in 1222, the Council abandoned the coat of arms featuring the bear passant, symbolizing ownership of the land, to the church, and adopted a coat of arms featuring a bear rampant, supporting a strawberry tree, symbolizing ownership of the trees. Botanists believe that the strawberry tree, however, was never abundant in the region of Madrid; it must have been mistaken for the much more common rowan, which also produces red fruit.
The stars were moved from the bear's fur to a bordure azure, and Charles I (1516-1556) added in 1544 a Royal crown to the arms of Madrid, upon request by Juan Hurtado de Mendoza. Originally placed above the strawberry tree, the crown was moved above the shield in the 17th century.
[G. García-Solans Molina. Madrid medieval; A. Rodríguez Blanco. El Ayuntamiento de Madrid]

The arms of Madrid were dramatically amended in 1859 with the addition of a yellow dragon in the first quarter, the move of the former arms to the second quarter, and the addition of a civic crown in base. The change appears to have been pushed by the Town's archivist, with quite spurious justification.
The dragon is taken from Declaración de las armas de Madrid, a chronicle published in 1569 by Juan López de Hoyos (1511-1583). The humanist reported that Puerta Cerrada, one of the gates of the old fortified town of Madrid, included a sculpted stone featuring a dragon. The report was the source of numerous legends on the Greek-Roman origin of the town. Accordingly, on the coat of arms, the dragon would honor the Greeks, "who used such emblems on the coat of arms of their towns". The civic crown, granted to the town by the Cortes in 1822, would be a reference to "the reward of heroes in ancient Rome".

The Preamble of the Municipal Ordinance of Urban Police and Town Government (text), adopted on 16 July 1948 and published the same day in the Municipality official gazette, describes the coat of arms of the time as follows:

The coat of arms of the Town was established in 1859. It is made of two quarters and grafted in base. In the right [dexter] quarter appears on a field azure a griffin or. In the left [sinister] quarter appears on a field argent a strawberry tree vert with fruit gules and supported by a bear, langued gules, on a base vert. The bordure of this quarter is azure, with seven five-pointed stars or. In the base appears on a field azure the civic crown granted to Madrid by a Decree issued on 27 December 1822 by the Cortes, made of interlaced oak leaves and a crimson ribbon. Charles V, in 1544, authorized the augmentation of the coat of arms of the Town with an Imperial crown.

The dragon was soon believed to symbolize the idiosyncrasy of the inhabitants of the town:
- loyalty, represented by the ears;
- fierceness, represented by the claws;
- vigilance, represented by the bat's wings;
- astuteness and prudence, represented by the snake's neck;
- maternity, represented by the women's breasts.
[ABC, 22 October 2014]

The Municipal Council eventually decided in 1967 to restore the historical arms of the town, removing the odd dragon and civic crown. The same year, a statue representing the bear and the strawberry tree, designed by Antonio Navarro Santafé (1906-1983), a sculptor from Vilena (Alicante), was erected on Puerta del Sol.
[Cosas de los Madriles, 10 September 2013; El Reto Histórico, 11 June 2015]

Former flag of Madrid


Former flag of Madrid - Image by Jaume Ollé, 10 December 1998

Before 1982, Madrid used a similar flag, with a slightly different but heraldically equivalent coat of arms.

Santiago Dotor, 10 December 1998