Madison is an appealing small city (2000 pop. 208,000), where I've lived, studied, and worked since 1956. Capital of Wisconsin, the city of Madison sits on low, rolling hills in the middle of Dane County. Unquestionably the greatest single influence on local life is the University of Wisconsin.
The city's most prominent geographic feature is its four lakes, the two largest of which appear in the photo above. In decreasing order of size, they are: Mendota [men-doh'-ta], Monona [ma-noh'-na], Waubesa [waw-bee'-sa] and Kegonsa [kee-gahn'-za]. They are interconnected by a river, the Yahara [ya-hair'-a]. The Native Americans who originally lived here called the region "Four Lakes." Actually, there is a fifth lake, Lake Wingra, but it is quite small compared to the others; I think it was formed by a small dam after the town was established.
For a truly visionary approach to what Madison might have become, check out the work of landscape architect John Nolen, who in 1910 proposed amazingly beautiful spaces for this city. As so often happens, these great ideas came to naught.
Anyone planning on coming to Madison could do worse than to consult Wisconline, which offers detailed event schedules and a wide variety of other helpful resources. The city's own website is also very useful.
As a footnote, I've been surprised how many people have found my web pages as a result of an interest in Madison. Many of them once lived here and regret ever having moved away. Others are parents (from as far away as Europe!) concerned about the place their children might go to school. No one ever said they hated the place and couldn't wait to leave it forever, which is something I might say about Peoria, Illinois, where I was born and lived until I was 18.