MadridMan: The funfair of Madrid's San Isidro Festival
Don't miss the annual fun of May 15, when Madrid bursts into colourful costumes, dances, and fiestas city-wide to celebrate its patron saint, San Isidro.
The 10th of May was the official start of the 10-day 2013 Madrid San Isidro Festival, which lasts until 19 May. Things really heat up on 15 May, the big day, which is Madrid's Patron Saint's Day, San Isidro Labrador, and a city-wide holiday.
It's Madrid's most castizo day of the year with festival events throughout the city including concerts in Las Vistillas, a month long bullfight festival in the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, Noches de Fuego fireworks display along Madrid’s Río Manzanares, and period costumes, dances, and food in the Pradera de San Isidro. I know many people hear 'San Isidro' and first think of the world's largest bullfight festival, Fería de San Isidro, with daily bullfights from 9 May to 1 June. But Madrid's San Isidro festival is much more diverse than that.
There's lots to see, do, and eat in the Pradera de San Isidro, which is the large, hilly city park located immediately across the Río Manzanares river from the Vicente Calderón Stadium (home of the Atlético de Madrid football team). It's also the park from which we have Madrid skyline views as seen by painter Francisco Goya in his 1788 painting, La Pradera de San Isidro (below).
When you go, remember to take your patience, first and foremost. The Pradera is full of people walking in all directions while looking at a 90º angle to which they're walking. Imagine a big State Fair in the USA and that's what it's like. Imagine some of those same people pushing baby strollers as if it were a snow-plow without brakes. You get the idea.
Protect yourself from the scorching Madrid sun. Take a hat or an umbrella or a handkerchief or make a paper hat out of the day's newspaper because it's hot and there's little shade on the main strip. Beware of umbrella-carrying people pushing strollers and looking at a 90º angle to which they're walking.
Costumed chulapas (women) and chulapos (men) dance the traditional el Chotis in the street throughout the day. I love seeing people, very young and very old, wearing period costumes from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Besides the chulapos and chulapas, there are the Goyesca costumes, although I prefer the more common-man chulapo costume to the somewhat upper-class Goyesca ones, though. The cutest of the cute are the little boys and girls in costumes.
In Pradera de San Isidro on 15 May, Catholic Mass takes place at noon and lasts about an hour. This takes place in the open air, under the sun, and at the mid-point of the Pradera de San Isidro, essentially dividing the bars, restaurants and gaming stands in the upper portion from the sweets and castizo dances in the lower portion. I have to wonder if it was logistically planned this way, dividing the 'sinful' area from the puritan area. But no, surely not, this was just the flattest portion of the hill on which to install several hundred chairs and a stage.
During the San Isidro Festival, there will also be people standing in line for hours to drink the spring water beside the Ermita de San Isidro hermitage – which is said to contain healing powers. I don't know about that, but it does smell a bit odd, but not better or worse than the hard well-water I grew up on in rural Ohio. I did notice, however, that the glasses from which we were drinking were simply re-filled for the next person and not washed first. I always go the day before the 15th to drink the same water and there's never a line – but it's not the same as doing it on San Isidro Day, I realise.
There is absolutely no shortage of food at this festival. A lot of meats are consumed here, be it rabbit, ribs, suckling pig, chicken, and sausages. Plus the yummy fried foods like chopitos, croquetas, patas bravas, calamares, and salmonetes. And don't forget the enormous paellas concocted here! Mmmm.. It makes me hungry just thinking about them. Most stands have the bar up-front at the street side and the restaurant tables under shade tarps in the back. Apart from the meal-type-foods, you also have the bread, cheese, and olive stands which serve you in to-go containers.
Thousands of people will also buy rosquillas, which look like doughnuts, but they're not, although they are fried batter in a circle with a hole in the middle and topped with flavoured, hardened sugars and syrups. As opposed to doughnuts, the fried dough is usually drier, not as moist, often times harder, too. Rosquillas can be eaten on-the-go, of course, but are more commonly eaten for merienda or breakfast. Last year I bought two dozen and finished them within three days. I had help, of course. There's also las tontas, las listas and las de Santa Clara, and I always get a 'mixed bag' of the three kinds to eat for merienda and breakfast over the following days after San Isidro.
There's no lack of dancing going on in the streets of the Pradera de San Isidro. Sometimes they dance a pasodoble, but the El Chotis is the most typical for this festival. For the most part, the man stands still while the woman spins him around slowly.
There are also other cultural events, dances, and concerts taking place in Madrid's "Las Vistillas", the small park south and west the Viaducto.
Enjoy the 2013 Madrid San Isidro Festival!
MadridMan is the online persona of an American living in Madrid since 2005. He started his Spain Travel & Tourism company, Martin Media, in 2006 and enjoys living - and sharing - life as a tourist on a daily basis.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.