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Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. It is also the third most populous city (within city limits) in the European Union after London and Berlin, and the third most populous urban area in the European Union after Paris and London. Its economic and political importance, as well as its major cultural influence, ranks Madrid as one of the major global cities of the world.

The city is located on the river Manzanares in the centre of the country, between the autonomous communities of Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha. Due to its economic output, standard of living, and market size, Madrid is considered one of the major financial centres of the Iberian Peninsula, together with Barcelona and Lisbon. As the capital city of Spain, seat of government, and residence of the Spanish monarch, Madrid is also the political centre of Spain.

As the capital of Spain, Madrid is a city of great cultural and political importance. While Madrid possesses a modern infrastructure, it has preserved the look and feel of many of its historic neighbourhoods and streets.

Its landmarks include the huge Royal Palace of Madrid; the Theatre Real (Royal theatre) with its restored 1850 Opera House; the Buena Retiro park, founded in 1631; the imposing 19th-century National Library building (founded in 1712) containing some of Spain's historical archives; an archaeological museum of international reputation; and three superb art museums:

Prado Museum, which hosts one of the finest art collections in the world, the Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a museum of modern art, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, housed in the renovated Villahermosa Palace.

The population of the city was 3.5 million (December 2005), while the estimated urban area population was 5.5 million. The entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area (urban area and suburbs) is calculated to be 5.84 million. The city spans a total of 607 square kilometres (234 sq mi).

Following the restoration of democracy in 1975 and Spain's integration into the European Union, Madrid has played an increasing role in European finances, marking the city as one of the most important European metropolises. The residents of Madrid are called Madrileños, and the current mayor is Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, of the conservative Partido Popular.

There are several theories regarding the origin of the name, "Madrid". Madrid was founded by Ocno Bianor (son of King Tirenio of Tuscany and Mantua) and was named "Metragirta" or "Mantua Carpetana". Others contend that the original name of the city was "Ursa" ("bear" in Latin), due to the high number of these animals that were found in the adjacent forests, which, together with the Madrone tree ("madroño" in Spanish), have been the emblem of the city from the Middle Ages.

Nevertheless, it is now commonly believed that the origin of the current name of the city comes from the 2nd Century B.C., when the Roman Empire established a settlement on the banks of Manzanares River. The name of this first village was "Matrice" (a reference to the river that crossed the settlement).

Following the invasions of the Sueves, Vandals and Alans during the fifth Century A.D., the Roman Empire could not defend its territories on the Iberian Peninsula, and were therefore overrun by the Visigoths. The barbarian tribes subsequently took control of "Matrice".

In the 7th Century the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula saw the name changed to "Mayrit", from the Arabic term "Mayra" (referencing water as a "mother" or "source of life") and the Ibero-Roman suffix "it" that means "place". The modern "Madrid" evolved from the Mozarabic "Matrit", which is still in the Madrilenian gentilic.


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