If you are looking for a quiet time listening to Mozarts musings on springtime with a view of the royal palace in the background you might be better off in old Madrid or Huertas. This area is not for the faint hearted but for those of you who feel like an adventure it is the most exciting multicultural lively and vibrant neighbourhood in the city. It began as the low lying neighbourhood, both physically and economically. It was the Jewish area until they were expelled in the 15th century and became home to the working class with old fashioned country style houses called corralas (corrals) and communal style living. Men had precarious part time jobs while women played a protagonist role cleaning and ironing to make ends meet. The enterprising spirit of these resourceful ladies went so far as to start a clandestine cigarette making business in the abandoned factory on Embajadores street. It was originally built to manufacture state owned brandy and playing cards but lay idle after the Napoleonic war in the 19th century. A mix of astute business ambition and survival instinct lead these ladies to claim the basements for their underground enterprise. History has repeated itself recently when the factory lay idle once more and is now being used as a self run social space for art, workshops and interdisciplinary creation known as the tobacco factory, La Tabacalera
This area has also become a beacon for immigration with the amount of non Spanish doubling that in the rest of the city. With people from South America, Africa, Bangladesh and China, it feels like you have left Madrid behind to enter a multicultural melting pot. For all foodies out there who enjoy amazing curry, delicious Senegalese dishes or moreish Moroccan feasts, this area is a must.
Bangladeshi babies, Senegalese sprouts, Moroccan mammies, the playground in this square is like a postcard from It is a small world after all ride at Disneyland. If it were not for the odd beer can and group of teenagers, everyone would probably break into song. Plaza Lavapies comes alive at night, neighbours bring their deck chairs down and conquer this patch of public property with gossip and complaints about the weather and price of rent. An authentic piece of local Madrid, even though everyone is from a different country.
Even though Madrid is completely landlocked, they say the view of the Escuelas Pias ruins
resting on the horizon surrounded by blue sky, gives you a maritime feeling. This historic building was once in the heart of barrio de los ninos, the childrens neighbourhood. In this square, Plaza Agustin Lara, there once stood childrens refuge and maternity hospital in the 18th century. The ruins of this former church were connected to a school. Their educational legacy was revived in 2002 after being bombed in the civil war in 1936. Go inside and marvel at the ancient bricks that are now home to a library for the distance learning university. Upstairs there is a terrace with a bar and fantastic views of the sun kissed terracotta roof tiles.
Opposite the Escuelas Pias ruins is one example of a Corrala, the original housing built for country people upon their arrival to the city to work in factories back in the 18th century. The interior of this one on Meson de Paredes street is visible because half of it was bombed during the civil war. It was only restored in the 1980s, and thanks to the restoration we get the chance to imagine communal style living they experienced. With one toilet per floor and spaces ranging from 18-30m2, its easy to understand why Madrilenos love going out to socialize.
The Reina Sofia
This modern art museum houses impressive Spanish art from the 20th century and also boasts vast exhibition space dedicated to the most cutting edge contemporary artists. Its wonderful collection of modern art includes paintings by the two most important Spanish artists of the 20th century: Picasso and Dali. A visit to see Guernica by Picasso is unmissable.
Our Guided Tours
of this museum looks at Spanish artists and their exploration of Modernism. We continue by discussing the invention of film and photography which contributed to the origins of Cubism. We look at Pablo Picassos early collage and continue to the wistful portraits of early Dali. We continue our exploration of Dali and after he joins the surrealists in Paris and the dramatic change his work undergoes. Our tour then takes you to the iconic Guernica by Picasso, painted in only 30 days for the International Fair in Paris in 1937, one year into Spains civil war. We finally look at Miros painting and a mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder which we compare to another much larger work by him in the beautiful and peaceful garden of the museum.
Food and Drink
Fresh samosas, spicy curry and mango lassi for less than 10euro is what keeps these Indian restaurants packed most nights of the week. The best one is Lavapies Shapla, but do not tell the others we said that.
Short grain rice, yucca and exotic tastes is what to expect at Baobab, the first Senegalese restaurant in the area. For an even more authentic experience check out the second one to open up just down the street. Make sure youre not a fussy eater though; sometimes they are out of what is on the menu and offer you the special of the day.
El Granero is the best vegetarian restaurant in the neighbourhood. With a daily menu for 10euro which includes starter main and desert, this homely eatery is a local favourite.
If you are looking for something more contemporary than the Prado, expect the unexpected La Casa Encendida
. This contemporary art exhibition and event space recently hosted artist Anya Gallacio who included hundreds of rotting strawberries suspended in transparent thread and a dead crow in their exhibition of ephemeral art. Another gem was their room filled with birds landing on musical instruments to peck at the seeds scattered for them and in doing so created a spontaneous avian symphony of sounds. There is also a fair trade shop and many a film screening or roller disco to be enjoyed.
For offbeat oddly themed film from all eras check out the Filmoteca
. For the modest price of 2euro you can afford to take a chance on any of their many film screenings and almost always come out pleasantly surprised or intrigued. We use the word intrigued in reference to the vintage horror movie theme they just had.
This is a square Esta es una Plaza
, is a simple but forceful declaration which marks this urban allotments triumph over vacant privately owned space. It has not been easy, with the occasional eviction attempt on behalf of the local council, but these neighbours have persevered and managed to create a small oasis of nature in the big smoke. With marmalade making afternoons and apples ripe for the picking, its hard to leave once you venture inside this secret garden.
Paying 6euro for a great concert is our kind of bargain. Juglar
has a jam packed line up of upcoming talents ready for you to discover, and mention smugly to your friends who will never have heard of them.
For all you anarchists out there, the bookshop Traficantes de Suenos
offers books full of anti-capitalist conspiracy theories. Finding it is a challenge, the last door in what looks like an apartment building corridor. Literary gems await you however, with self-published books on themes from globalization to the cultural industry. Check out its events calendar for workshops and talks and while your there do not forget to check out their fair-trade shop. Believe us, the chocolate spread alone is worth the visit.
Lavapies is connected to the metro
and bus routes
ME Madrid Reina Victoria