If you’re looking for something as impressive as the Prado or the Reina Sofia, but off-the-beaten-path, it’s El Matadero. The perfect place to spend a leisurely afternoon alone or with friends in Madrid, here you can calmly diddle daddle through a maze of art exhibits and designer market stands. Then, enjoy a café con leche or a cold Madrid brew outside. El Matadero has it all–from Spain’s national dance company performances to international innovation conferences.
What is it?
Just a 10-minute subway ride from Sol, El Matadero is a culture/innovation hub and architectural treasure. The former slaughterhouse (hence, the name) is now a public-private entity offering book-readings, theater and music performances, photography exhibits and independent cinema on a nightly basis, most of which are free.
Not to be compared with any other space in the city, El Matadero is an ambitious project and the fruit of a most innovative and modern Madrid. This cultural center also provides ongoing activities for families as well as a space for local innovators to develop their projects, all of which you can see while wandering through its enormous labyrinth of warehouses (naves) and open work spaces.
There are six naves, each used for a different purpose. For example, the Nave Español holds theater and dance performances. The Cineteca showcases international and independent film festivals. The Música Nave holds concerts and recording studios.
The old oven has now been usurped by the café, La Cantina, that sells locally produced food and wines, and has the kind of atmosphere that makes you want to stay forever. Plus, it has one of the best terrazas (outdoor seating areas) in all of Madrid, in my opinion at least.
When the weather’s nice, my husband and I like to go there by bike; it’s a breezy 30-minute ride from Principe Pio along Madrid’s river (Madrid Río), which the city has done an amazing job of revamping. The river is now lined with bike and pedestrian paths, unique bridges, playgrounds (for grown-ups too!), street workout equipment, sprawling green zones and sprinkler areas. Plus it’s a straight shot to El Matadero.
Last summer I took my sister, Amanda, from New York, to El Matadero for the whole afternoon. We first slipped into what used to be the slaughterhouse’s fridge area, where an odd fire exhibit was being showcased. When we stepped out onto the courtyard, a group of flamenco dancers were zapateando (stomping) and smoking in a circle, getting ready to go on stage in the Nave Español. Then we parked ourselves at La Cantina for a glass of wine and a plate of delicious vegetable dishes made from Madrid’s local gardens.
Amanda was amazed how all of this was so open to the public, and that it wasn’t even packed. She said that if this were to be opened in Brooklyn, lines would be stretching to Queens.
El Matadero was built in the 1920s as a pig slaughterhouse, and was turned into a cultural center in 2006. When they renovated the slaughterhouse, the goal was to keep the original columns, the beams, the ovens and exterior structure in tact. For example, the first room you see on the left of the entrance used to be the freezer. Now it’s an exhibition space. The dark, sinister feel makes you ponder what really went on in there. The interior was designed to be versatile and sustainable — most of the walls can be rolled away or folded up to make way for projects and events of all scale.
What to do?
Even if you’re in Madrid for a few days, don’t be intimidated by the amount of things going on. I highly recommend checking out their activities list (which is in English) or just stopping by to see the architecture and the vibe. As you stroll through the different spaces, you’ll stumble upon anything from an indoor garden to a conference on new technology. Activities are open to the public in the afternoon, and you’re free to walk around the plaza, find a nook to study in or have a drink at the café anytime.
Since October 2013, El Matadero has its own independent market—El Mercado Central de Diseño.
El Matadero’s monthly market–El Mercado Central de Diseño—is one of Madrid’s first design markets for entrepreneurs in the worlds of fashion, design and arts & crafts. During the two-day market, various free music concerts and events are put on as well, making it a hot spot to go with friends on the weekend!