What determines the location of a capital. The case study of Madrid, Spain.

(Submitted on January 14, 2015)

This time, we would like to see how Madrid became the capital of Spain. Did you know that Madrid is located in the center of the Iberian Peninsula, nearly 300 km inland from the nearest coast facing the Mediterranean Sea? Was it just because of the convenience of defending the city from any invading forces? Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of Madrid.


When we go back to the ancient Roman period, Spain was called Hispania and was divided into three provinces; Madrid was non-existent then. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Spain was ruled by one of the German tribes (the Visigoths), and then by Moslem rulers in the 8th Century. Incidentally, it was during this latter period that their capital, Cordoba, “was the largest, richest and most sophisticated city in western Europe. Muslim and Jewish

scholars played an important part in reviving and expanding classical Greek learning in Western Europe” (quoting Wikipedia)


A few centuries on, Christian forces within Spain regained the Spanish territory over Muslim rulers and they set up their own kingdoms. Finally, two powerful kingdoms joined together and in 1561, King Felipe (Philip) II moved his palace to Madrid, thus the birth of Spain’s capital. It is interesting to know that Madrid lies between Toledo, the former capital of the Kingdom of Castile (which was bigger and more powerful), and Saragosa, the former capital of the Kingdom of Aragon, but much closer to Toledo. Under the rule of Felip II, Spain flourished as a great empire, extending to Central and South America (which brought in tremendous wealth), large parts of Italy, (today’s Benelux countries, and in the Pacific area the Philippines (which was named after King Felip II).


As shown in the photos from Wikipedia below, Madrid now is a modern city with many historical monuments and buildings; it has a population of over 3.2 million (2012) and is located at 655 meters above sea level. So coming to the first question as to the location of Madrid, the deciding factor was the unification of Spain as explained, perhaps out of political expedience.


Lastly, let me explain about a remarkable mission that was sent from Japan to Europe for the first time in the 16th Century. Under the initiative of Jesuits who were sent to Japan, some Christian war lords sent four boys to have an audience with the Pope in Italy. The mission also visited Madrid and presented themselves before Felipe II in 1584. The four boys managed to come back to Japan in 1590, bring back a Gutenberg printing machine with them. It was ironic that the timing of their return coincided with the proclamation of Christian persecution by the Japanese rulers.







A news bulletin published in Germany about the four Japanese boys who were sent to Europe in the 16th Century.



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