Curiosity Facts of Madrid: Cat Alley (Callejón del Gato)

18 febrero, 2020

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Most of us heard the first time about of the Cat Alley or Callejón del Gato in spanish (whose real name is Álvarez Gato Street) in the work of Valle-Inclan, «Luces de Bohemia«, in which the protagonist Max Estrella and his friend Don Latino de Hispalis, in a state of drunkenness, walk through the night streets of Madrid ending up in the Callejón del Gato, which was famous among the people of Madrid for the curved mirrors that were exposed there and which deformed the figure of the person reflected in it. This is the most famous scene in the play, in which Ramón María del Valle-Inclán described the figure of Esperpento, a reflection of the Spain of the time and for which he is remembered today.

But did you know that the people of Madrid relate the name of this street to the nickname given to the city’s own inhabitants, the so-called cats?

Why are the Madrid Citizens called Gato (Cat)?

It is often said that to be considered a cat, you must have two generations of purely Madrilenian ancestors. That is, not only must you have been born in Madrid, but your parents and grandparents must also be originally from the capital to be entitled to use the nickname Gato (Cat).

Where does this curious nickname come from?

Although there are many theories on this subject, the most widely held theory today regarding the origin of this nickname that the people of Madrid have received for centuries goes back to the reign of Alfonso VI.

Legend has it that in one of the battles for the reconquest of Madrid, a soldier began to climb the wall of Madrid alone with the help of a dagger. When he reached the top he took the Muslim standard and replaced it with the Christian standard. It is said that among the soldiers the rumour of this feat spread and they began to nickname him «the cat», reaching the ears of King Alfonso VI, who, in order to thank the soldier for his courage and to remember this gesture, changed the soldier’s surname to «Gato». In this way his descendants would preserve not only his lineage, but also the courageous feat that this curious surname achieved for him.

In fact, it is said that Álvarez Gato Street, better known as «Callejón del Gato», is named after one of his last descendants.

The Route of Max Estrella

This street, so famous among the people of Madrid, became known outside the capital thanks to the Valle-Inclán play mentioned above, Luces de Bohemia. In fact, it is one of the stops on the so-called Max Estrella Route, which takes place in Madrid in honour of the author and which follows the same route as the protagonists in the play, starting from La Casa Ciriaco and visiting places such as Plaza del Sol and the San Ginés Chocolate Factory, among others.

Restaurant Las Bravas

In addition to its historical and literary character, there are other reasons to visit the cat alley such as the restaurant «Las Bravas» which is located there, the place where the famous recipe of the Papas Bravas was created, characteristic for its slightly spicy taste. Furthermore, in this bar you will find the original mirrors referred to by Valle-Inclán, as well as a replica of these outside for passers-by.

 Mirror of "Las Bravas" Restaurant Madrid
Mirror of «Las Bravas» Restaurant

The Pompeian Tavern (Taberna La Pompeyana)

Another curious place we will find in the Alley of the Cat is the Pompeian Tavern (Taberna la pompeyana), a place not suitable for children.

According to its creator, he was inspired by a trip he made to the city of Pompeii to create this place in Madrid, using decoration in the style of the ancient lupanares (brothels of the city) that were there. The tavern is decorated with frescoes with an erotic atmosphere, making it not suitable for everyone, but a very interesting place to visit and try his dishes, which are famous for their quality, quantity and good price.

A little piece of Pompeii in the heart of Madrid for the more daring and those who want to visit different and curious places in the city.

Poster of the Pompeian Tavern
Poster of the Pompeian Tavern

Where is Cat Alley?

This street is located in one of the most central areas of Madrid, on the edge of the so-called Barrio de las Letras (near the Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol), joining Núñez del Arce Street with de la Cruz Street, where the Corral de las Comedias de la Cruz used to be, A place where the people gathered to watch small plays (usually humorous) in the open air, representing titles by authors such as José de Zorrilla, Tirso de Molina, Calderón de la Barca and Lope de Vega, among others.

Accommodations near Callejón del Gato

Do you want to stay near the Callejón del Gato in Madrid? Take a look at the luxury apartments we have in this area of Madrid or the rest of our centrally located apartments in the city by visiting our website Genteel Home.