Madrid’s Matadero, a great place to soak up culture

Sometimes, entering Madrid’s Matadero can be quite a confusing experience. In fact, some might even need a map to find their bearings around its little streets, for this peculiar space comprises a few streets and a square. It has 17 warehouses too, which host a different cultural activity every year, month, or even every week. As a matter of fact, Matadero is constantly changing, always full of life. It is almost as if this place were alive. 

From slaughterhouse to ammunition storage

Madrid's Matadero at night next to the river

Madrid’s Matadero next to the river Manzanares. | Shutterstock

If we had to describe Matadero, we would probably provide the following definition: a cluster of warehouses dedicated to culture. But before that, way before it became today’s Matadero, it was literally what its name suggests in Spanish: a slaughterhouse. 

During the 19th century, the city of Madrid was in a constant state of growth. Its size increased so much, and so many people moved in, that they found the need to build their own slaughterhouse. It was in the early 20th century that the architect Luis Bellido designed a complex made of 48 Neo-Mudejar buildings they eventually constructed between 1911 and 1924. 

Until 1996, this space was used as an industrial slaughterhouse, as well as a cattle market. However, they carried out some changes over the years. For instance, between 1927 and 1930, Fernando de Escondrillas built the contiguous slaughterhouse of Colonia del Pico del Pañuelo; and in 1935, they established a fruit and vegetable market there. 

Likewise, during the Spanish Civil War, Madrid’s Matadero became an ammunition storage. Later on, in the 70s, these facilities were already obsolete, so the first steps were made to put a new use to these buildings. 

New century, new life

A cobbled street in Matadero with picnic tables

One of the streets of Matadero. | Shutterstock

After permanently closing the slaughterhouse in 1996, Madrid’s government tried to figure out how to put a new use to this space. Hence, on 26 September 2005, an architectural plan was approved to increase the cultural use of the facilities at a 75% rate. This way, the first of these spaces opened in 2007, and a new Matadero was born.   

Since then, this building complex leaving room for a partnership between public and private institutions has devoted itself to cultural experimentation. Photography, paintings, theater plays, cinema, dance… All you can think of and more, always art-related, can be found in Madrid’s Matadero, which has become a reference point for people seeking cultural spaces in Madrid. 

A map to avoid getting lost in Madrid’s Matadero

A water tank marking the entrance to Matadero

The water tank of Matadero, an emblematic sight in Madrid. | Shutterstock

What is the purpose of each of its buildings, you might ask? How should one move through its facilities? These are not easy questions to answer, since, as we said before, the activities taking place in the different warehouses never stop changing. Nonetheless, there are some buildings that have specific functions. Let us go through them. 

The entry to Matadero, which is, by the way, right next to the park of Madrid Río, encompasses five different access points. If we choose the one next to the huge, emblematic water tank, the first building to the left is Taller, a multipurpose warehouse hosting workshops, presentations, rehearsals, etc. 

To our right, we will find a large building divided into three main rooms. The first one is the only room in the complex that is not focused on culture. The contiguous rooms, number 10 and 11, are also multipurpose, hosting all kinds of stage performances, including renowned plays like Fariña or Prostitución. The last room in the building holds a coffee shop. 

Culture in Matadero: exhibitions, cinema and more

A room with black walls and columns

One of the rooms in Matadero. | Shutterstock

Back to the starting point, there is an enormous building to the right that hosts eight different spaces, as well as an information point. The first room corresponds to the canteen, which lies next to the film archive: the first space in Spain almost exclusively dedicated to non-fiction cinema. To its right, we will find the following rooms in this same order: Extensión AVAM, managed by the visual artists’ group AVAM; Nave 0, which hosts exhibitions; Matadero’s box office; Nave Intermediae, a space of contemporary art managed by Área de las Artes, an art organization of Madrid’s government; and lastly, Auditorio Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez.

In front of this building, we will find Casa del Lector, or “The Reader’s House”, which is precisely dedicated to book lovers. To its left, between Casa del Lector and the coffee shop, there is the square of Matadero, a lovely place to walk through or to enjoy one of the many leisure and cultural activities taking place there. At this point, we have only one building left: Nave 16. This space provides both economic resources and tools for artistic creation. It can either be used as a large exhibition room or be divided into three separate rooms where multiple activities take place. 

Madrid’s Matadero is already 100 years old. Its life was briefly interrupted at the end of the 20th century, but it rose from the ashes to become a mecca for Madrid’s culture, always displaying a lively atmosphere and wonderful art exhibitions.

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