Lavapiés: a melting pot of cultures

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An expansive universe of cultures, races, religions and languages that are translated into a colourful array of small traditional businesses in this multicultural neighbourhood in the Spanish capital.

Lavapiés could’ve been the Jewish quarter under the Catholic Monarchs’ rule. The Jews would wash their feet in the fountain at the square before going to the synagogue; hence the name of the district, since ‘lavapiés’ means ‘feet washing’. Later on, the old Jewish house of worship became the Church of San Lorenzo. Today, multiculturalism is what characterises this popular neighbourhood, and local businesses mirror this trend.

The wealth of products you’ll come across here include African arts and crafts, accessories for belly dancers, narghiles or hookahs, bags, lamps from the Maghreb, high-tech devices, mobile phone repair, and so forth. Lavapiés looks like a huge souk, drawing a world map in a couple of steps.

The highest part of this neighbourhood, on the streets that head down to the Plaza Tirso de Molina and its picturesque flower market, is packed with stores selling textiles at wholesale, although you may find a few retailers too. All this makes the place look like a large-scale trading post.

Independent bookshops

Lavapiés boasts a vibrant cultural life. It has community-run spaces that offer courses, hold exhibitions and put on music, dance and theatrical performances. There are independent booksellers like Enclave de Libros, LaMalatesta, Bajo El Volcán, and literary coffee houses such as La Libre and La Marabunta – great places to while away the hours with a good book in your hand.

World food

The streets surrounding Plaza de Lavapiés have small markets and grocers’ that sell a wide variety of imported food ingredients: spices from India or Pakistan, sesame sauce, pita bread, Arab sweets (on Sombrerete and Tribulete streets), noodles, sake and preserved bamboo shoots. Not far from this corner there’s a butcher’s that sells halal meat, a type of food that adheres to Islamic law as defined in the sacred book of Muslims.

The market on Calle de Embajadores offers products that you never thought you’d find in Lavapiés. Next to the stalls selling traditional products there stand others offering organic fruit, flavoursome cheese and preserved food, along with books, gifts, accessories, flowers, crafts… And restaurants too! The San Fernando Market is one of those spaces adapted to the present day that know how to blend the traditional and the modern to perfection.

The restaurants in Lavapiés also embody the multicultural spirit of the area. From traditional Spanish food like the zapatilla huge ham and cheese sandwiches from Melo’s, on Calle Ave María, to Indian, Moroccan, Senegalese, Chinese, Peruvian, Egyptian, Lebanese or Italian specialties, there’s something for every palate. Not only will you travel in space but in time as well: Café Barbieri – corner of Travesía de la Primavera and Calle Ave María is more than a hundred years old now.


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  • A useful map of the neighbourhood showing its food and clothes shops as well as other services.

    Map of Lavapiés (PDF)


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