History

Portrait of Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden workers

The Royal Botanical Gardens in Madrid turned 278 this year, and has become a living museum with over 5,500 living species. Since its founding, it's also been a centre for scientific research with a vast library of over a million flora samples which are constantly being exchanged with other research centres across the globe.

Madrid’s ‘killer’ tornado of 1886

On Wednesday May 12, 1886, according to several reports at the time, the whole of Spain woke up to strong storms. By 6pm that same day, a tornado touched down in the capital and began a diagonal line of destruction between the then-town of Carabanchel and Madrid’s city-centre Retiro Park.

The giant Retiro Park monument to Colombus that (fortunately) never was

Paris has the Eiffel Tower; New York has the Statue of Liberty. But Madrid almost had this: a 200-meter-high globe in the middle of Retiro Park. This “Monumento a Colón” was designed before 1892 to commemorate 400 years since Columbus landed in the Americas, and to attempt to justify the Spanish Empire at a time when it was crumbling.

Unforgotten Spain: An intact concentration camp has finally been put back on the map

A tin of sardines from 1938 has just been unearthed. It's so perfectly preserved that we can still see its original pink paint and decorative lettering, reading, ‘Sardinas en Aceite puro de oliva español (Sardines in pure Spanish olive oil). “It’s one of our best finds,” explains Luís Antonio Ruíz Casero, the leading archaeologist from CSIC out of a team of eight, who have been excavating the site for three weeks.

Three of Madrid’s football stadiums were once Francoist concentration camps

Eighty-three years ago to the month, in 1939, the old Vallecas Stadium was converted into a Francoist concentration camp. In the first four days of April, which were also the first days of a dictatorship that would last 36 years, Franco’s troops crammed around 9,500 people into the old football stadium in Puente de Vallecas.

When Franco bombed Madrid with bread

Eighty-three years ago to the week, in 1938, Franco began bombing Madrid with bread whiter than anyone had seen before. A report in the newspaper Diario de Cadiz published at the time read...

Spain’s Gitano Genocide

In 1749, orders were given by King Fernando VI for “all the gitanos of the kingdom of Spain” to be exterminated as “the final solution” to a population that “wouldn’t conform”. The operation was coined the Gitano Raid and left 12,000 Roma women, men and children dead, thousands of families dispersed and the economy of the Spanish Roma community ruined.

Encerrados en una cárcel que ya no existe

Lo bueno de perderse por una ciudad es que, aunque te propongas un camino, no siempre llegas a donde esperas. Eso me sucedió hace poco, cuando quise ir a una iglesia y acabé encontrándome con dos cárceles, una que ya no existe y una que dicen que no lo es.

The story behind the 1950s photo of a Black teacher in Madrid

In 1950, amateur photographer Vicente Nieto Canedo took a photo of a maths teacher who was working at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Gráficas in Chamberí. It was so unusual to see a Black teacher that Canedo understood this an important moment to capture.

Alcalá No Frills: the side of Alcalá de Henares the tourists never see

Alcalá de Henares, just an hour from Madrid, is a city steeped in history and proud of it; it is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes and Catherine of Aragon and every year holds the largest Medieval market in Europe. But beyond the guidebook tales, the quaint Calle Mayor and the beautifully-manicured squares lies the real Alcalá, where a no-frills paradise awaits. Let me take you on a tour of my town and help you discover some of its lesser-known historical treasures.