10 may 2017

San Isidro, The Patron Saint of Madrid

This weekend, a celebratory atmosphere descends on Madrid once more as the city comes together to celebrate the Fiesta de San Isidro on 15 May. But where does the festival come from, and why do madrileños love it so much?

The tradition is centuries old, and originates from a feast day established to celebrate San Isidro, a labourer who lived in the 1100s and was famous for his generosity and compassion for animals and the poor. He was married to María Torribia, also known as Santa María de la Cabeza (Saint Mary of the Head), as after her death her head was preserved and carried out in procession as a form of prayer. The most famous miracle performed by the pair is said to be that of their son, Illán. When he was a baby, he fell into a well and as the parents had no other ways to rescue him, so they prayed. Miraculously, the water level in the well rose, and the baby was rescued.

The chotis dance in traditional chulapo dress
Celebrations of the Fiesta de San Isidro usually last for 9 days, from the Friday before the feast day until the following Sunday, but the majority celebrate over the weekend, this year being 12-15 May.  The 15 May also marks the beginning of bullfighting season, so expect to see bullfighters from around the world performing the tradition at the famous Las Ventas bullring. You can also expect to see people dressed in “traje de chulapo/chulapa”, historic madrileño dress, dancing chotis, a local dance that originated in the working-class neighbourhoods of Lavapiés and El Rastro in the 19th century.

Here are our top picks of where to enjoy this weekend:

Plaza de la Villa
Don’t miss the one and only “Gigantes y Cabezudos” parade on Friday 12th, starting at 6pm. The square will be filled with enormous figures that are integral to Spanish tradition, and there’s nothing quite like it.

Pradera de San Isidro
This is where the festival originally began, and is the perfect place to join hundreds in a picnic on the Sunday. Bring your own food or take your pick from the numerous stands in the park.

Plaza Mayor
Many of the main events of the weekend are taking place here, and it is made even more special by the fact that Plaza Mayor is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. There is live music here during the whole weekend, from midday all the way into the night.

Retiro Park
To round off the weekend, there will be spectacular fireworks in the iconic Retiro Park on Sunday and Monday evening, at 20:30h and 22:30h both nights.

The full programme of all festivities can be found here:

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