Planted by royal whim in a harsh, sun-drenched tableland, Madrid flaunts its distinctive Spanish identity as the most vibrant of Europe's capitals. An imperial court, remote from external influences, produced durable curiosities like the siesta, the paseo and a joyously hectic nightlife. A city where decorative display and lunching are often rated above industry and money-making, Madrid's exuberant style nonetheless flourishes in the modern world. Elizabeth Nash explores the chaotic jumble of a city built by in-comers eager to serve - or use - a court by turns austere and ostentatious. In squares, parks, streets and monuments old and new, she tracks down aristocrats and artisans, servants and chancers who bred a unique urban culture combining deference and insolence, conformity and flair. • The city of artists and writers: Velazquez and Goya, realism, the erotic and the macabre; Cervantes, Cela and Hemingway, the traditions of satire, the picaresque hero and the novel of war • The city of power politics: The heart of the Spanish Empire; the scars of civil war and dictatorship; democracy and the movida of hedonistic excess and liberation, celebrated by Oscar-winning film-maker Pedro Almodovar • The city of passions: The intellectual debates of cafi society; fiestas sacred and profane; the cult of bullfighting and the capital's love affair with soccer.