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May, a festive spring month


May is the king of spring, temperatures are gradually on the rise (without being that of the stifling summer days) and the days keep on getting longer, basking in more daylight hours. We have a popular saying that refers to it: “Windy March and rainy April lead to a flowery and beautiful May”, which for the time being this 2009 we are carrying out to perfection. All of which seems to point to the fact that May is one of the ideal months to visit Madrid.

It is also one of the most traditional months, with two emblematic fiestas:


Let´s go back two hundred years: Napoleon Bonaparte aimed to politically unify Europe under the ideals of the French Revolution and the French political, economical and military hegemony: after having dethroned the successive absolute monarchs of Europe, Bonaparte had established an aggressive policy of implanting new French monarchs, tied to his family, in each country. Only Great Britain and Portugal, its ally, had managed to resist. In order to get to the latter, Bonaparte obliged Spain, in a clear attempt of concealed invasion, to allow a French army of invasion entrance into the country. Taking advantage of the critical situation of the Spanish government at the time (Charles IV had abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand VII), Napoleon decides to dethrone the Bourbons by way of force in order to establish a French monarch in the country (his brother Jose Bonaparte). In March the people of Madrid had already taken to the streets in support of Ferdinand VII, proving that their popular violent actions could influence their frightened leaders. The presence in Madrid of more than 20,000 French soldiers in an arrogant and defiant pose began to rouse passions and after various conspiracies, on Monday the 2nd of May the lowest spheres of the Madrid people took to the streets in front of the Royal Palace in order to prevent the departure of the last royal prince. The people, on their own and with no arms, began a bloody battle against the French. By two in the afternoon they had been stifled in blood by more than 20,000 French soldiers. 410 were killed and executed before the imperial firing squads and hundreds were wounded. Six years later and after almost a million dead, Spain, now a nation under the 1812 Constitution, won the war, sending the French outside of the Peninsula with the aid of their British and Portuguese allies.

In this manner the Madrid people’s uprising against the troops of Napoleon is thus commemorated every 2nd of May. They are the most important fiestas of the area and are celebrated with verbenas (night parties) the most animated of which are found in the Malasaña neighbourhood. Other meeting points are the Jardines de las Vistillas where there are fireworks (on the night of the 1st or the 2nd) and the Plaza de Oriente, with its traditional military retreat in the afternoon. There are also bullfights (during the Community Fair) in the Plaza de las Ventas. The San Juan Evangelista Jazz Festival also takes place during these days.

Where? : Plaza del 2 de Mayo, Las Vistillas, Madrid
Nearest Subway stop: Bilbao
Program of activities:


It is said that Madrid has some of the best water in Spain but it seems that the water that comes out of the sinks today pales in comparison to that which came from the springs that emerged from the earth one day, thanks to Isidro, a well hunter from Madrid who later became a woodcutter, and who, one day, with just a single strike of his mattock supplied the whole city with water.
Isidro Labrador is the patron saint of Madrid. There are many legends surrounding him, some of them having even been recorded in the Acts of Canonisation that made him Saint Isidro in 1622. It was mentioned in these that he had the priceless aid of two angels who would help him plough the earth quicker thanks to their prayers.
It is said that San Isidro lived between the 11th and 12th centuries. His death was recorded on the 15th of May of 1130. As San Isidro was originally from Madrid on this same day every year, the 15th of May, these festivities are celebrated in his honour in Madrid.
It is traditional on this day to visit the Saint´s hermitage next to the Manzanares River in order to drink the water from the San Isidro spring, as well as to eat a cocido (type of stew) outdoors in the Prado de San Isidro. There are many people who come to this event dressed up as chulapos and chulapas (name given to those originally from Madrid). The chotis is also a part of the folklore of these days (a popular dance which is performed by couples: the man turning in circles around the woman while she stands with her feet together, allowing him to turn around her) as well as the barquilleros (street vendors dressed as chulapos who sell the traditional barquillos, type of wafers)and organilleros (organ grinders). It is a good time to take a stroll through the stalls and stands which are put up in the central neighbourhood of Vistillas and where you can taste the traditional pastries of these fiestas: the “silly” “smart” or “Santa Clara” rosquillas (fried pastries).
The famous San Isidro Bullfighting Fair, one of the most prestigious bullfighting events on an international scale, is also celebrated during this time in the Plaza de las Ventas.

Where? The concerts, exhibitions and other activities that are organised during these fiestas from the 12th to the 14th of May take place in different locations within the centre of Madrid (Plaza Mayor, Jardines Sabatini, the Retiro…)You can find the program in:

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