The last stop on the Bethel-in-Spain itinerary is the city of Madrid. In comparison with some of the more ancient cities in Spain with Visigothic, Roman and even Iberian origins, Madrid was only founded in the middle of the ninth century by the Moorish king, Mohammed the First. Alfonso VI conquered what was then just a small hamlet in his advance towards Toledo, but it was Felipe II who finally moved the royal court of Spain to Madrid in 1561, and thus it became the de facto capital. Since then the city has evolved from a provincial town to a booming metropolis, particularly since the inclusion of Spain in the European Union . Presently, Madrid is a fully modernized European capital city with its own subway, regional transportation system, centralized highway network, and booming economy. There are many important cultural and tourist spots within the city, including the so-called Golden Triangle of Art, located along the Paseo del Prado and comprised of the famous Prado Museum, (with extensive collections of the Spanish masters Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya), the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum (where Pablo Picasso 's Guernica hangs). We will visit both the Prado and the Reina Sofia as part of the program, and on their own time students can visit the Plaza Mayor (the city’s central plaza); the Gran Via (its shopping district); Las Ventas (perhaps the most famous bullring in all of Spain); the Parque del Buen Retiro; and many other cultural, historical, and social sites.
During our stay in Madrid, we will take an excursion to the nearby town of Toledo which was famous for its swordsmiths and is still known for housing the most extensive collection of artwork by El Greco in its many churches, convents, museums, and galleries. Originally a Roman outpost in Spain, Toledo is far older than Madrid and has been controlled intermittently by the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and finally the Christian Spanish forces under Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085. Toledo is also know for its alcazar (Arabic for castle), as well as its dramatic geographical setting atop a steep cliff which overlooks the Tagus River.