Madrid Altitude is about 650 meters. When going for a walk around Madrid city-centre you may find nameplates with information on an event, a well-known person or a building related to the place where they are. This plaques pass usually unnoticed, but the city is full of them and they are of very different types.
In Plaza de la Villa, next to the fence that gives access to the House of Cisneros, there is a very special plaque that informs us about
Madrid Altitude , measured -according to the inscription in the plaque- from the “average level of the Mediterranean in Alicante”, that is 646,4 meters.
But Madrid is a city with a lot of slopes, hills and stream beds, so the altitude varies a lot from zone to zone. One of the lowest points is Madrid Barajas airport, at 582 m over the sea level, while Fuencarral neighborhood is one of the highest areas, at 742 m over the sea level. But this altitude is nothing compared with the highest point in Madrid Autonomous Community, the mountain range of Peñalara, at 2.428 m.
The levelling plaque -that’s its technical name- in the Plaza de la Villa and other similar ones are being placed all over Spain since 1871.
In fact, one of the first to be placed, that same year, was the Royal Observatory plaque in Madrid at 656,8 m. It was an extreme of the first altimetric itinerary between Madrid and Alicante.
The reference point for the zero level was and still is the first step of the staircase at the entrance of the City Hall of Alicante. From there, the levels advance for all the Spanish geography, nowadays along the roads, but formerly they went along the railways. That’s why, even though sometimes they have to be thoroughly searched, these plaques can be still found in railway stations like Atocha, Delicias and Príncipe Pío.
But they have been placed too at City Halls and other public buildings. In Madrid, you can also find them at the Royal Palace, at the Congress of Deputies or at Alcalá Gate, among other places. And, of course, you can’t miss the one at the Royal Mail House in Puerta del Sol, very near from another emblematic and famous plaque, the Kilometer 0.
And talking about plaques, the Kilometer 0 needs an explanation.
This is the point from which every radial road starts in Spain, which leads to logically think that this is the geographic centre of the Peninsula. But this is not true, it is not even the geographic centre of Madrid. The geographic centre of the Peninsula is considered the Cerro de los Ángeles (Angel Hill), although this is always something difficult to establish because it depends on the coast line. In Madrid, the geographic centre is at the crossroad between Serrano and Goya streets; formerly it was at the back of the Prado Museum. So, it seems that something apparently so objective as the central point of a territory is not so easy to establish.
The institution in charge of defining the spots for the levelling plaques, as well as of making the altitude measurements, is the National Institute of Geography, formerly the Geographic and Statistic Institute. That’s why the oldest plaques (prior to 1925) refer to this old Institute; many of them have lost its original function as reference points due to changes in the environment and the appearance of new and much more precise measure instruments.
But coming back to the altitude of Madrid, the range fluctuates between 580 and 750 m above the sea level. This leads to curious situations because some spots in the city are at 666 m over the sea level, which coincides with the number of the beast. Maybe that’s why Spanish film director Álex de la Iglesia chose Madrid as the birthplace of the Antichrist in his film The day of the beast, whose main character was played by sadly deceased Álex Angulo. As a gesture of this esoteric relationship between Madrid and the devil, Álex de la Iglesia chose the Statue of the Fallen Angel -a statue placed at the Retiro Park at an altitude of 666 m- as an image for the film credits. But this statue and the relationship between the devil and Madrid deserve a post by themselves, so we will talk about them in the future.