St Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid. When I saw some cheap Easyjet flights from Bristol I had no idea who St Isidro was or why I had hit the best weekend of the year to go.
The festival of San Isidro starts on the Friday nearest to the 15th of May. The tradition goes back hundreds of years starting with religious processions. The festival has expanded to a city-wide festival of music, dance, art, theatre and even organic gardening.
We could not take in a fraction of what was on offer, but joined the crowds in the Puerta del Sol for a parade of dancing giants.
Giants from Pamplona joined the local giants and raucous Basque music set them dancing.
The giants were operated by dancers with great stamina who got into the wooden frames supporting the figures.
Shorter figures with big heads, Los Cabezudos, entertained the crowds. I guess there are a lot of stories behind the characters. Two of them were a local Robin Hood style bandit from the 1800s, Luis Candelas, and his girlfriend Lola la Naranjera.
The whole gang grouped up to make their way from Puerto del Sol to Plaza Mayor:
Crowds followed along the Calle Mayor:
In the Plaza Mayor, technicians were working to set up a stage for a free concert later that evening. The stage was in front of the Panaderia Real, the royal bakery famous for its wall paintings.
Traditional dress was the order of the day for locals:
The Plaza Mayor filled up with people ready for the free concert:
Later in the evening as dark fell people headed for the gardens near the Prado art gallery, the Jardines de El Buen Retiro, for the Night of Fire and Music. Fireworks coordinated with music and illuminations, reflected in the park’s lake.
This was just the first day of a week-long event. In 2016 the festival will run for a week from Sun, 15 May 2016.
Currently the website shows the 2015 programme but this gives an idea of the range of arts events available. There was also an app for Android/iPhone giving details of all the events.