Why Is Madrid the Capital of Spain?

And how did it grow from a backwater to a global capital?

Tomas Pueyo

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Source: ChatGPT, so take with a grain of salt. This is directionally correct though, as I spot-checked. I welcome a better-sourced graph. I didn’t include some countries with very special situations, like Turkey’s Ankara, to keep the message simple. Ankara also has its weird reasons for being the capital, which I’ll eventually cover.

Most of the capitals of countries around the Mediterranean have existed for thousands of years. In fact, Romans didn’t found the majority, but rather further developed the biggest and best positioned ones. London is an exception because it required a bridge that locals couldn’t build.

London in Roman times. Source.

Indeed, bridges are a common theme in European capitals:

Nearly all the capitals have bridges because they have rivers.

But can you name Madrid’s river?
No?
You sure?
Fret not. Madrid’s river is puny. It is weak. It is an affront on capital rivers. It is a feeble stream.

Madrid’s Manzanares River

Don’t let the overdone bridges and embankments fool you. Notice instead that bridges are so low that ducks have a hard time passing below them. The “islands” in the middle are sandbars. Why do Madrileños allow these sandbars to form? Because there’s no point in clearing them: The only thing that navigates the Manzanares is its inferiority complex.

But Spain is one of the oldest countries in Europe. How is it possible that its capital is so young and has this unacceptable river?

And we’re not done with the weirdness. When Madrid became the capital of Spain in 1561, it was not the biggest city in the country. It was not even the 2nd biggest city, or the 3rd. It was the 10th!

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Tomas Pueyo

2 MSc in Engineering. Stanford MBA. Ex-Consultant. Creator of applications with >20M users. Currently leading a billion-dollar business @ Course Hero