El Rio Manzanares, Madrid, Spain

Category: Madrid

The city of Madrid, Spain’s beautiful capital and economic and political center, is one of the most exciting places to visit in the world, with literally thousands of sites and attractions to see and visit.  Among other sites, this includes the majestic river on which the city was originally founded and stands today, El Rio Manzanares, or the Manzanares River.  In this brief profile we will discuss El Rio Manzanares in a bit more detail, including its course and the role it has played in the city’s history over the course of several centuries.

El Rio Manzanares

El Rio Manzanares is a river in central Spain, a river that flows from the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains, past Madrid and eventually empties into the Jarama River in the south.

The source of El Rio Manzanares is very near the Navacerrada mountain pass in the Guadarrama mountain range.  Its upper river basin is protected as natural resource, or more specifically as the Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, a nature reserve which is recognized by the United Nations UNESCO program as a biosphere reserve.  El Rio Manzanares flows in a southeasterly direction from its source, passing through the ancient town of Manzanares el Real where it is dammed to form the Santillana reservoir, one of the most important water supplies for the people of Madrid.  As it makes its way towards Madrid, it takes a more southerly direction, passing through Monte del Prado, an area of important ecological significance on the outskirts of the capital.

As El Rio Manzanares flows through Madrid it is canalized where it passes through the more established and built up areas of the city.  In some areas, beaches have been created to provide additional recreational space for Madrilenos.  The river then slides by the westernmost part of the city, and as it continues its trek downstream it serves as an important dividing line between the old center of the city and the Carabanchel and Usera neighborhoods to the southwest.  This stretch is significant, as it here that it begins to pass along the Atletico Madrid’s football stadium, the Vicente Calderon.  Finally, the river leaves the city as its southernmost tip, making its way to the Jarama River.

The Importance of El Rio Manzanares

This El Rio Manzanares, which is neither large nor geographically important, has had a close relation with Madrid through the centuries and is thus very historically significant to the city and its people.  In fact, the Moors, who long ago founded the city of Madrid in the ninth century, did so in large part because of its proximity to El Rio Manzanares.  Not only has the river served as Madrid’s main water source for hundreds of years, it has created a beautiful backdrop for some of the city’s most important buildings, monuments and attractions and a source of much water recreation for locals and tourists alike.

In terms of protection and resistance, El Rio Manzanares has also played a very significant role, serving as a line of defense for the Republican forces during the Siege of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).  In addition, the Bridge of the French, which crosses the Manzanares, was also of crucial importance due to its strategic location—a location where nationalists forces were consistently repelled and denied access to Madrid’s city center. Today, tourists can still visit the many bunkers that remain along the river’s edge, particularly in the village of Perales del Rio where they have been preserved

The fondness locals feel for El Rio Manzanares cannot be adequately described with words, but the river has been immortalized by many of the important artistic works completed over the years.  The image of the river, for example, is featured in many of the paintings of Francisco de Goya, a renowned Spanish artist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, who often portrayed the people of Madrid among the river, dancing, having picnics or engaged in other social activities.

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