The life in this one-province region that occupies the geographical centre of the peninsula revolves around the city of Madrid, which since the 16th century has been the country's capital.
Madrid, founded by the Moors in the 9th Century, is currently a modern, active city offering innumerable attractions to the visitor. Its architectural heritage is immense. The medieval village has been preserved around the Plaza de la Paja. The quarter known as Madrid of the Austrian, near the Puerta del Sol, the traditional city centre was built in the Golden Age. In this area are the Plaza Mayor, which is colonaded and considered to be one of the finest in Spain, and the Plaza de la Villa, with its beautiful City Hall Building, both Baroque in style and dating from the 17th century. The royal Palace, surrounded by gardens that are now partially open to the public, is a magnificent example of 18th century palatial art. The city also has numerous interesting treasures from the 19th and 20th centuries and a large number of parks and gardens, among them el Retiro, the Botanical Gardens, crafted by royal decree in the 17th Century, the Parque del Oeste and the Casa de Campo. Among its many museums and art galleries are the Prado Museum and its annexe, El Casón del Buen Retiro, the Archaeological Museum, with collections representing practically all the different cultures that have flourished n Spain, and the Reina Sofia Art Centre, which displays among its many treasures Picasso´s "Guernica".
San Lorenzo de El Escorial, in the Guadarrama Mountains, was the site chosen by Phillip II for his magnificent Palace-Monastery. The work of Juan de Herrera, the greatest genius of Spanish Renaissance architecture, was the grandest Spanish artistic undertaking of its time, while its monumental importance is as great as the influence it once exercised over the territories of the Spanish Empire.
Alcala de Henares, where Cervantes was born, was an important university in the 16 and 17th centuries. Its Old Quarter has preserved interesting architectural gems, among them the old University Building.
Aranjuez was a village that sprung up to serve the splendid royal holiday residence that is still flanked by a magnificent park on the banks of the Tagus River.