Paseo to Lavapiés

On Wednesday, April 10, we had our last paseo. 🙁 With the week of Easter being our spring break, this week was the end of all of our classes at the AU Study Center. When we come back from spring break, we’ll have exams and then head on a trip to Northern Spain before all the Iberian Experience kids start leaving us to go back home. Though I only have one more exam after they all leave, I still officially have a month left of my program and it’ll be really weird to be in Madrid missing half of the people who came here with us!

For our last paseo, Kike took us to the Lavapiés neighborhood, which is south of Sol, close to La Latina, and not too far from Legazpi, where we met for our paseo to the Matadero. The area used to be the Jewish neighborhood of city, before the Sephardi were expelled from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs, which might explain the origin of the name, lavapies, a possible reference to washing one’s feet before entering the synagogue. Today, the barrio is home to many immigrants, especially Senegalese and Bengali. Kike actually works for an organization in the neighborhood, ASLIM, which helps new immigrants assimilate to the culture and teaches them Spanish.

The neighborhood has a long history of being the home to the common people. Many of the early residents were laborers and construction workers. Beyond the immigrants today, there is also a strong Bohemian feeling in the area, with lots of people with tattoos and piercing, and a tradition of squatting and liberal political activism. The anarchist movement in Madrid actually has its root in the neighborhood, with the anarchism union, Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) still having some signs up in the area. We also saw a very cool community center that was actually formerly a tobacco factory, the Tabacalera, whose cheap community-sponsored activities for the community is actually very indicative of the atmosphere within the area.

There’s a nice plaza and playground in the middle of Lavapiés Square and on the day of our paseo, the weather was so nice that there were lots of people just hanging out in the square and lots of children playing. Even though many of them were immigrants, they definitely seem to share the Spaniards’ love of enjoying the city’s open spaces and public areas, really helping show the idea of “you’re from where you live”. Kike really stressed that this all showed how Lavapiés is one of the castizo, true or authentic, neighborhoods in the city that is very different from many of the other areas in Madrid today. Although it was sad that it was our last paseo, it was definitely cool to end on a different perspective and walk around some of Madrid’s more unique neighborhoods.

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About Casey Brown

Student at American University in Washington, DC, studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. News addict. Traveler. Linguaphile. Volunteer. Techie. Movie lover. Networker. Learner. Casey.
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