Time for an urban walk, embellished with urban art.
One of the elements I love to explore on my city travels is street art. There are many incredible artists around the world who now deliver their creativity to us, without the need for us to venture inside museums and art galleries. Their delights await us on vast open walls, in nooks and crannies that are easy to walk past, on doors and shutters to surprise us when places close. The only requirement for enjoyment is keeping our eyes peeled.
Last week I had to go to Madrid for a brief visit, and it suddenly occurred to me that I had seen very few murals on my previous wanderings around Spain’s capital. Cities such as Lisbon, Berlin, London and Sao Paulo are famous for their ever-growing and ever-changing street galleries but Madrid didn’t jump out to me as a street art haunt. However, good old Google told me that there was plenty to be found if I looked in the right places, so as I grabbed my bags to dash to the airport I used my other hand to sign up for a guided street art walk in the Lavapies area.
It was a great decision: an excellent guide with wide knowledge and a sense of humour, plus a charming group of co-art-hunters. And the devoted explorers in the group ended up enjoying beer and tapas in a local gem at the end of the walk, aided in our food selection by our guide, Santi.
I’m not going to take you on the whole walk here – you can do that with CoolTourSpain – but I’ll take you on a slow amble around the old tobacco factory, Tabacalera. It was home to the Spanish tobacco monopoly: the oldest tobacco company in the world, dating back to 1636. Following discovery of tobacco by Europeans in the late 15th century, Spanish tobacco processors established themselves in Seville, the city that held a monopoly on commerce with the Americas. As the popularity of tobacco, especially cigars, grew, new tobacco factories were established, including the Tabacalera building on Embajadores in Madrid. It opened in the late eighteenth century and employed a vast number of local people, mainly women. It was the feisty cigarreros, the female cigarette rollers, that inspired the character of Bizet’s operatic Carmen.
It closed down in 1999 and fell into disrepair, but has since become a local arts centre. The massive renovation work that was initially planned, with a budget of 30 million euros, never took place and the centre is now managed by the local people. Exhibitions and performances take place inside, and the walls outside are superbly decorated by talented street artists.
When you’ve enjoyed your stroll around the walls, turn right up Embajadores, and when you see a ramp on the left running down to a car park, turn around a look at the wall that looks down on the ramp. It hosts the giant headless mural that I featured a few days ago.
Close to this piece, you’ll find a few small cafes and bars where you can get some refreshment before continuing your exploration of the area. When you are finished, it is a short walk back to the Lavapies metro station.
A personal thank you goes to Santi and CoolTourSpain for the guided tour to a wide range of art in this area – it is a great value and fun way to learn about both the area and the murals.
Copyright Debbie Smyth, 26 February 2018