Madrid, Spain

Evening falls on a shopping street in downtown Madrid. Photo © Sacred Destinations.

Located in the geographical center of Spain, Madrid is the Spanish capital and largest city, with more than 5 million inhabitants. Madrid makes its first major appearance in history in the 9th century AD, when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet I arrived and built a palace, a mosque and a citadel here. Nearby was the River Manzanares, which the Turks called al-Magrit ("source of water"), leading to Madrid's modern name. The Ottoman citadel was conquered in 1085 by King Alfonso VI in his advance towards Toledo. The kingdoms of Castille, with its capital at Toledo, and Aragón, with its capital at Barcelona, were combined into modern Spain under King Carlos I. Though King Carlos favored Madrid, it was his son, Felipe II (1527-1598) who moved the court to Madrid in 1561. Madrid has functioned as the capital of Spain ever since.

After spending much of the 20th century at the center of a totalitarian regime, Madrid has burst back onto the world stage as an open, democratic, growing metropolis. Best known for its shopping, culture and nightlife, Madrid's religious sites do not quite approach the grandeur of those in Barcelona or Toledo. Still, Madrid is home to numerous religious sites worth seeing, especially the huge, modern Almudena Cathedral (paid for in part by Pope John Paul II), the world-class National Archaeological Museum, and even an Ancient Egyptian temple that overlooks tranquil reflecting pools.

Monasterio de La Encarnación
Nestled in a charming little square, the second of Central Madrid's royal Hapsburg monasteries contains a fascinating relics room.
San Francisco el Grande
This 18th-century Franciscan church boasts the largest dome in Spain.
Almudena Cathedral
Dating from the late 19th and 20th centuries, Madrid's cathedral is very new by European standards and its traditional-meets-modern design reflects its youth.
San Pedro el Leal
Madrid's second oldest church, San Pedro el Leal has an original Mudejar tower with a slight lean.
San Nicolás de Los Servitas
Located near the cathedral, this is the oldest church in Madrid (13th century). Its bell tower is the oldest structure in the city (12th century) and may have been part of a mosque.
San Isidro
Built in the 17th century, this Jesuit Baroque church contains the relics of Madrid's patron saint, San Isidro, and his wife, Santa María de la Cabeza.
Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
This Hapsburg convent was founded in 1559 by Joan of Austria, whose daughter hid away here rather than endure marriage to Felipe II. It is now a museum of the treasures given to the convent.
Templo de Debod
Beautifully situated on a reflecting pool near the Plaza de España, this Egyptian temple dates from the 4th century BC and was brought to Madrid in 1971.