Sheep & The City – 1900 animals herded through the heart of Madrid
There is always something going on in Madrid. The list is endless and with a ton of weekly, monthly and annual events in the capital, it’s impossible to keep up with it all. But some events stand out more than others and simply can’t be missed…
A couple of weeks ago (October 20th), I experienced one of the most unique happenings in Madrid when around 1800 merino sheep and 100 goats were herded through the heart of the city, along the broad boulevards and across iconic squares. An annual event named Fiesta de la Trashumancia that not surprisingly stops the buzzing city in its tracks for a few hours (literally, as traffic is cut off many places).
Meanwhile, locals and stunned tourists get a close-up look of the woollen flock that willingly strolls among the city’s grand architecture – an incredible sight! This is a “farming festival” that follows an ancient ‘trashumancia’ route from north to south in search for warmer pastures for the winter – and returning north for cooler weather before the summer. Trashumancia derives from Latin and means something like ‘across ground’. There are several routes like these in Spain and in many other countries for that matter. And they’re all important for the eco-system.
At first sight, it looks like the animals are simply going sightseeing in the big city for the day, unaware that they are actually the sight to be seen. And so are their follow of farming groups that are beautifully dressed in traditional clothing while parading and folk dancing to flutes and drums.
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The collective flock arrives in the city centre from the natural area of Casa de Campo and walk along the Manzanares River before climbing the snakey streets up from behind the Almudena Cathedral. I was lucky enough to “catch” them from here and follow them along Calle Mayor from where they continue across the iconic square Puerta del Sol (the very centre of Spain) and down Calle Alcalá to arrive at the city’s majestic city hall of Palacio de Cibeles. Here, the mayor of Madrid symbolically “pays” the shepherds a fee of 50 coins per thousand animals – a nod to the history of this event.
The animals and shepherds continue through Paseo del Prado to the Neptuno fountain and return back the same way they came. Back in the days, it was tens of thousands of animals parading through Madrid. Although the numbers are much lower today, the street-cleaning machines still have a busier day than normal, as in the end, the woollen visitors leave more behind than just footprints satisfied selfies-shooters.
This is a memorable day out in Madrid that will leave you counting sheep by bedtime.