Cultural Notes 1: About Madrid and Barcelona, Spain

If you are like me, one of the things I like about planning is that I learn more about the history and culture of the destination before going. This gives me a greater understanding and appreciation of the place I’m visiting. Hence, I am going to start having a series of ‘Cultural Notes’. See if it works out. :)

Read on to find out more about Madrid and Barcelona of Spain, especially if you are travelling to these cities.


About Madrid and Barcelona, Spain

Madrid is the capital city of Spain and is located right in the center of the country. It is the largest city in Spain and the third largest city in the European Union. There are around 3.2 million inhabitants in Madrid. Other than being the capital city of Madrid, it is also the administrative, commercial, and cultural hub of Spain and home to the Spanish Royal family, whose lineage dates back to the 1300s.

Origin of the name ‘Madrid’

The origin of the name ‘Madrid’ is highly contested, but recent excavations pointed it to a 2nd century BC Roman settlement on the banks of the Manzanares river. The village was first named ‘Matrice’, and later changed to ‘Mayrit’ under Islamic Conquest.

The Manzanares river is a river in central Spain, which flows through Madrid. Since the first recorded instance of the city’s name as ‘Magerit’, which means the place of abundant water, the city’s name continued to be in reference of this water that flowed through it.

The Emblem of Madrid

The emblem of Madrid since the Middle Ages is a bear climbing a strawberry tree. This is because there are many bears in the nearby fields and forests around Madrid. Some even contend that the city was once known as ‘Ursaria’, Latin for land of the bears. You can find a statue of a bear and strawberry tree at one of their famous plazas, La Puerta del Sol.

La Plaza Mayor

A few blocks away from La Perta del Sol is La Plaza Mayor, the central plaza of Madrid. Built in 1619, it is a great big square located in the center of the city. Other than being a great meeting spot for tourists, this plaza has been used for almost everything — Christmas markets, saint beatifications, bullfights, concerts, and even public executions!

Madrid and the arts

For art lovers, Madrid has it all! Museums in Madrid boast some of the most important Spanish art collections in the world. For example, you can find the famous painting, Las Meninas by Velázquez, in Museo del Prado and Picasso’s Guernica in Museo Reina Sofía.

Picasso’s most famous work, Guernica, is a depiction of the bombing of the Basque village of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso sought to show the tragedy of war, focusing on its civilian death and destruction. Picasso stated that the painting could only return to Spain once it had regained liberty and democracy. Its first Spanish exhibition was in Madrid in 1981.

La Movida Madrileña

When visiting Madrid and the rest of Spain today, it’s hard to imagine that less than 40 years ago, the country was ruled by the dictator, Francisco Franco. One of the more unique aspects of his oppressive rule was the suppression of Spanish cultural diversity. He established castellano as Spain’s official language, and cherry-picked regional cultural traditions, like bullfighting, as representative of the country as a whole.

It’s no surprise then, that upon his death in 1975, the cultural scene in Spain exploded. This resurgence of creativity, freedom of expression, Spanish identity, and Spanish language was centered in Madrid and known as la Movida Madrileña, or the happening.

Many famous artists, authors, and musicians were products of this movement. One of them is Pedro Almodóvar, the Oscar-nominated director of Volver, Hable con ella, and Todo sobre mi madre. He got his start directing underground short-films for the movida crowds.

El Real Madrid

Madrid’s home team, el Real Madrid Club de Fútbol, was founded in 1902 and has become one of the richest clubs in the world. The Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is the home of this famous team and can hold up to 85,454 spectators. Attending a game is the icing on the cake to the Madrid experience!

And like the Madrileños, Barceloneses live for soccer. Hence, this could only mean fierce competition between Barça and Real Madrid, the natural rivals of the most renowned local football teams.


As the capital of Cataluña, Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain after Madrid and the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean sea. Located in the northeast of Spain, it is one of Europe’s principal ports, and the country’s industrial and transport hub. Moreover, Barcelona’s history, economic power, political influence, and cultural legacy has helped make Spain one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

Art and Architecture

Are Messi and Piqué the only famous people associated with Barcelona? Think again!

Many of the famous artists of the turn of the century found their inspiration in this city. Ever heard of Picasso, Dalí, and Miró? These artists revolutionized the art world with their Cubist and Surrealist works, cementing Barcelona’s status as one of the world’s art capitals.

However, no one shaped Barcelona’s city scape more than Antoni Gaudí. This visionary architect built some of the most creative landmarks of Catalan Modernism.

Gaudí incorporates organic elements of nature within a Gothic aesthetic and this characterises his unique emblematic style. He was ahead of his time in both the materials he used and his designs. He repurposed and reused materials such as colorful tile and glass and created buildings with a sense of playfulness, fluid and undulating lines, and a harmony of colors and light.

One of his masterpieces is Casa Batlló, a renowned building located in the centre of Barcelona. Also, he designed Park Guell, a public park in Barcelona. Gaudi planned and directed the construction as a residential park for Eusebi Guell, intended for sixty single- family residences. However, the project was unsuccessful and never fully completed. The park became city property in 1923. It is remains one of his most colorful and playful works.

La Sagrada Familia is arguably Gaudí’s masterpiece and Barcelona’s most famous monument. Construction began in 1882 and is still ongoing, making it the only cathedral in the world still under construction. It is projected to be finished in 2026, to coincide with the centennial of Gaudí’s death.

Las Ramblas

If you’re not into art and museums, Barcelona still has a lot to offer. The food, the shopping, the beaches, and the nightlife make this city one of Europe’s most happening places.

Head to Las Ramblas, a street in central Barcelona that’s popular with tourists and locals. So walk down the tree-lined avenue that stretches for 1.2 kilometres and enjoy this amazing city!

Do you have other interesting facts to share about these cities? :) Tell us below or on our Facebook Page or Instagram

The content is provided by, used with permission and amended by Christina Siew. Fluencia is an online platform for learning Spanish through interactive lessons, an intuitive interface, and personalized feedback. The team of Spanish experts behind developed this platform.

Other References: Wikipedia,

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