Summer in Madrid: August festivals

August festivals in Madrid

Though August is a quiet month in Madrid, three local festivals keep things lively with traditional dance and music. The festivals of San Cayetano, San Lorenzo and the Virgen de la Paloma all take place within the same month in the adjoining neighborhoods of Lavapiés and La Latina. Located in the city’s most castizo (roughly translates as authentically Madrilenian) neighborhoods, they are a great way to see how the locals like to party. Here you’ll see chulapos and chulapas dancing the traditional chotis, zarzuela (a kind of Spanish opera that had its heyday in the late 19th century) performances and stalls selling typical Madrid fare including such dubious delights as entresijos and gallinejas (both made with different parts of lamb intestine).

The Verbena

A chulapo strolls down the street with a gorgeous chulapa on each arm!

A verbena is an open-air festival during the summer months that goes on until the wee hours of the morning. Though religious processions play a part in all of these festivals, once the sun goes down the verbena is the place to be. The traditional elements mentioned earlier play a key role, however, as the night darkens the music played becomes less traditional as pop and electronic music performances take over. Even so, both young and old are more than welcome. To get an idea of the vibe, check out the video below.

Fiestas de San Cayetano: August 7

Kicking off Madrid’s August festivities, this one is celebrated on the Plaza de Cascorro and nearby Calle del Oso. Here you’ll find the streets strung with paper garlands and beautiful manila shawls. The 17th-century church of San Cayetano sits on the corner of Calle del Oso, which really feels like the heart of festivities. During the festival (which is celebrated over a few days) at around 8 pm, free lemonade is distributed to thirsty visitors by locals while music plays in the background.

A manila shawl hangs from a balcony on Calle del Oso during August festivities

Fiestas de San Lorenzo: August 10 

On this day, a statue of Saint Laurence is taken from the church of San Lorenzo in Lavapiés and paraded through the streets all the way up a very steep slope to Tirso de Molina. No mean feat in the heat! In the parade, you’ll see majos, manolos and chisperos These members of Madrid’s various tribes later take part in a costume contest. Adding to the fun are children’s shows, zarzuela, late-night concerts and dancing.

This costume competition during the festival is a great way to find out more about the tribes of Madrid

Virgen de la Paloma: 15 August

Madrid’s August festivals reach a climatic moment with this one. The mood is set when a strapping fireman climbs up to fetch a painting of the Virgin Mary down from on high in the church of the Virgen de la Paloma. Specially chosen for the task, the firefighter in question has to be extremely strong as the painting weighs around 80 kilograms!

The painting of the Virgin weighs around 80 kilograms!

Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, known by locals as the Virgen de la Paloma because she was originally displayed in the street of the same name, is reputed to have worked quite a few miracles in her time. Top among these was putting out a fire in the Plaza Mayor. When every other method had failed, people started bringing out religious icons. Nothing worked until this particular painting quenched the flames with its superior powers.

Understandably, this Virgin is a favorite among local firemen who bring her out of the church at 8 pm and place her atop a float. She then sallies forth through the streets of La Latina. Later, of course, the party gets going with chulapos and chulapas dancing the chotis, open-air bars and stalls selling all manner of tripe – quite literally as this is a typical delicacy in Madrid!

If you’re visiting Madrid and want to discover more about the city’s history and culture, why not hire me for a tour? With a wealth of information at my fingertips, I’ve written about the city for The Guardian, the Financial Times and Lonely Planet. Get in touch for more information.

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