This colourful street market in one of the city’s oldest working class neighbourhoods has been going for well over 100 years. The word rastro means “trail” and refers to the animal innards that were dragged through the streets in the days when this was the site of the main abattoir. The artist Francisco de Goya immortalized the street types here in paintings such as Blind Man with Guitar, while earlier it had been the backdrop for comic satires by playwrights of the Golden Age. Among the most exotic inhabitants were the amazonas, a team of horsewomen who performed at royal receptions in the 16th century and are remembered in Calle Amazonas. The Rastro is best known for its flea market, the most famous in Spain, but there are also dozens of stalls selling new clothes, furniture and antiques.
The Rastro’s main street is named after the curtidores (tanners) who once plied their trade here. You can still pick up a leather jacket on one of the dozens of stalls, as well as T shirts, belts, handbags and hats.
At the siege of Cascorro in Cuba (1898) Eloy Gonzalo volunteered to start a blaze in the enemy camp and was fatally wounded. Look closely at the statue and you’ll see the petrol can.
Second-hand clothes, candelabras, books and old furniture are on offer on this bustling square.
Dropping away from the square, this street marks the beginning of the flea market proper. Among the bricà-brac are watches, cameras, rugs, hats, oil lamps and record players. The lock vendor and his dog are a regular fixture.
The place to head to if you’re after something electrical, including spare parts, mobile phones and car radios of doubtful provenance. The corner with Ribera de Curtidores is the favourite pitch of the organillera (lady organ grinder), one of the market’s more colourful characters.
Adult collectors and children are the main customers, browsing the stacks of old comics and magazines in the vicinity of this square. You’ll also find CDs, vinyl records, toys, and oddities such as binoculars and magnifying glasses.
Car owners may find what they’re looking for here: there’s usually a good selection of antitheft locks, windscreen wipers, brake lights and tools. There’s also a brisk trade in used computer parts and bicycle accessories.
Art equipment and picture frames are the speciality of Calle San Cayetano. Stalls near the Army & Navy store on Calle Carnero sell sports gear. Pet owners head for Calle Fray Ceferino González for the miscellany of dog collars, fishing nets and bird cages.
There are many bars and cafés in the area. Malacatín at Calle Ruda 5 rustles up the delicious local stew cocido madrileño .
This triumphal arch was unveiled in 1827 and dedicated to Fernando VII. Ironically it had first been proposed during the French occupation to extol the values of liberty and democracy.
The streets of the Rastro lead down to one of Madrid’s most neglected features. The Manzanares River is famous only for being short on water and has been the butt of jokes since time immemorial. Until late in the 19th century, its banks were the haunt of washer women (lavanderas ), colourful figures who appear in the paintings of Francisco de Goya. The Baroque bridge dates from 1719–32. In the middle are sculptures of Madrid’s patron saint, San Isidro. Carnations are hung here on his feast day.