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social sciences

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Located in the heart of Castile, the central region of the Iberian peninsula, Madrid is the political capital and economic and cultural center of Spain. The largest city in the country, Madrid has nearly four million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, including a substantial glbtq population.

Following the death of the dictator Francisco Franco (b. 1892, ruled 1939-75) on November 20, 1975, glbtq activists in Madrid emerged from clandestine associations, and gradually assumed leadership of a national effort for full civil rights. On April 21, 2005, Spain became the third country in Europe to legalize same-sex marriage, and polls indicate that this move is supported by a very large majority of the country, despite protests of the Roman Catholic Church.

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Despite the current widespread acceptance of lifestyles, Madrid has a long history of official efforts to eradicate any type of sexual and gender deviance. Nevertheless, the limited documentation available suggests that there have been "underground" communities committed to same-sex love in Madrid from the sixteenth century onwards. This proto-"queer" subculture impacted mainstream culture in various ways. For instance, despite rigorous censorship in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the theater literally served as the stage for the display of alternative lifestyles.

Origins and Development of the City<

Madrid was founded about 875 by the Emir of Córdoba, Muhammad I, who chose a strategic site on a promontory, overlooking the Manzanares River to the west and sloping sharply down to the south. In the northern half of the new city, the large fortress, known as the Alacázar, was intended to help stop the southward advance of the Christian armies that were trying to conquer the Muslims, who had governed most of the Iberian peninsula since 711. Protected by its own system of walls, the medina--the market and residential area to the south--had a system of winding lanes, still preserved in the heart of "old Madrid."

Alfonso VI, King of Castile and Leon, conquered Madrid sometime between 1080 and 1090, but the city was retaken in 1109 by Alí ben Yusuf, an Almoravid king. Alfonso VII definitively reconquered the city in 1129. Located near the confluence of several rivers in the middle of the Iberian peninsula, Madrid became a major trading center by the thirteenth century; Parliament (Cortes) first met in Madrid in 1309.

Governing the Kingdoms of Castile and Leon between 1260 and 1379, the Trastámara dynasty gave the city numerous privileges. For example, Henry IV (reigned 1451-77) established a "free market" opposite the Alcázar, which he converted into a palace; he also introduced "regularized" planning through his foundation of the Plaza del San Salvador and other projects.

In 1561, Philip II made Madrid the capital of Spain, which, until then, had not had a single permanent seat of government. Among the factors that influenced the selection of the city was the fact that (unlike other important Spanish cities) it did not have an entrenched aristocracy that might detract from the authority and splendor of the royal court. Beginning in the later sixteenth century, Madrid experienced rapid population expansion--growing from 20,000 in 1558 to 60,000 in 1598 and nearly 150,000 by 1621.

Juan de Herrera (1530-97), chief royal architect to Philip II, designed some of the city's most distinctive features, including the Plaza Mayor (built after his plans, 1617-19; rebuilt after fires of 1631, 1672, and 1790), the model for public squares throughout the Spanish-speaking world for the next two centuries. Constructed in a distinctive version of the Renaissance style, the Plaza Mayor (121 x 85 m.) has balconied apartments over an arcaded passage running around the sides, lined with shops and bars.

Much of the other construction of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was shoddy, and most living quarters were very cramped. The almost rural Paseo del Prado, intended for promenades, and other public areas on the edges of the city, provided relief from the congestion. Despite the shortage of housing, the city continued to attract immigrants, lured by the prospect of secure positions in the constantly expanding government bureaucracy and by the dynamic cultural life of the city.

In accord with the principles of the Enlightenment, Bourbon monarchs of the eighteenth century sought to enhance the recreational and educational opportunities of residents through the establishment of the Botanic Garden (1781), Natural History Museum (1771), and other parks and museums. To foster decorative arts, the Bourbons founded prestigious schools and factories for the production of ceramics, tapestries, and hard stone sculpture, and strongly encouraged the metal arts, which had been an important local industry since the sixteenth century.

In 1808, Madrid was seized by French armies, who installed Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844, brother of the Emperor Napoleon) as King of Spain; he immediately instituted many major reforms to the benefit of the general population (universal education, divorce, minimum wage, etc.). Nevertheless, a spontaneous mass uprising against him began the brutal Guerra de Independencia (War of Independence), which lasted until 1814 when Fernando VII (one of the most oppressive rulers in Spanish history) was installed as king by popular acclaim.

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An aerial photograph of Madrid by Hans Lohninger.
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