Madrid through its neighborhoods: Lavapiés

We want to bring you closer to Madrid, so you can discover its very own essence. That’s why we start this series of articles on neighborhoods in the city, so you learn where to go, what to find, and what to expect when you arrive here.

Lavapiés is, without any doubt, the most multicultural neighborhood of Madrid. Just like any other district downtown, you will find many traditional Spanish tapas bars (most of them pretty cheap though, even cheaper than in nearby neighborhoods). However, you will also run into many other types of cuisines (Indian, Chinese, Moroccan Lebanese, Senegalese, Ethiopian… you name it), and many other cultures than Spanish, all mixed in a way that the rhythm of the city changes in Lavapiés.

So you know, the neighborhood is a melting pot of cultures and traditions that has never been stripped of its essence. So worthy to go down to Lavapiés on a Sunday morning for example and walk up and down its streets while seeing live happen. You will see how old and new converge, as well as trendy young people with traditional elders.

Dance exhibition at Tabacalera [Picture: @ondasderuido on Flickr]

It is a place to try something new, but we are not only talking about food. You should stop by Tabacalera (a once abandoned now occupy building that holds many social and artistic movements) and see Spanish community at its essence. Also, you can’t miss the opportunity to see a play at Teatro del Barrio, a wonderful cultural cooperative that tries to achieve social justice through arts. These two places will show you a new understanding of Spanish culture, away from the mainstream that you usually experience as a tourist.

A bit or history

Lavapiés Festival [Picture: Olga Berrios on Flickr]

The neighborhood got its name through a fountain where the Jews used to wash their feet (lava – wash, pies – feet). Just take the subway to metro station Lavapiés. Once you get off, you’ll notice that this Lavapiés is a very unique neighborhood due to its demographic appearance, as well as its steep, narrow and maze-like streets. All of these remind us that the area emerged in the Middle Ages as a quarter outside the walled town soon after Madrid became the capital of the kingdom in 1561.

Since the sixteenth century, Lavapiés has been inhabited by the lower and popular classes. Local residents used to live in apartment blocks called corralas that were arranged around an interior courtyard. An example of this typical building can be found at the corner of Tribulete and Mesón de Paredes.

Typical building [Picture: Gonzalo Malpartida on Flickr]

Lavapiés is closely linked to Madrid and what people here call castizo (meaning someone or something typical from old days Madrid). Though, if you’ve been to Inhispania’s welcome meeting, you must’ve heard about Lavapiés being a bit dangerous (for Madrid standards), but there is nothing you have to worry about (apart from having some random person offering marihuana to you). Lavapiés, as almost the whole city of Madrid, is quite safe and it’s OK for you to walk around even by yourself. Also, daytime is quite safe anywhere you go in town.

What is your experience about Lavapiés?

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