Gatos: Why are people from Madrid referred to as cats in Spain?

If you know someone who hails from the Spanish capital, you may have heard them proudly refer to themselves as ‘gato’. But not everyone from Madrid can call themselves a cat. What are the origins of this peculiar nickname?

gatos madrid nickname
To be a gato, your parents and four grandparents must have all been born in Madrid. Photo: Christopher Alvarenga/Unsplash

One of every two people living in Madrid was not born there, according to 2020 stats. 

This makes sense for a 21st century metropolis, but when we look back at the 1930s, the rate of inhabitants in the Spanish capital who were born there was even lower: only 37 percent.

Madrid has long been a city where people from the countryside moved to in search of work, consolidating its reputation as an open and welcoming city, one that lives on to this day. 

But being a true madrileño (the demonym for a person from Madrid) is also a source of pride, and those who want to flaunt it may say ‘yo soy de Madrid, soy gato’ (I’m from Madrid, I’m a cat).

Technically speaking, for a madrileño to proudly state that they are un gato, their parents and four grandparents must have all been born in Madrid, as well as themselves of course. 

It’s certainly a peculiar nickname to adopt, and you may be wondering what being a cat has to do with being born in Madriz, as locals are renowned for pronouncing Madrid.

Well, there are several myths and theories, including that the name comes from madrileños’ reputation for staying out into the late hours of the night.

But the most popular theory goes as follows. In the year 852, during the Muslim rule of Spain, Muhammad I, son of the fourth emir of Córdoba Abderramán II, arrived in central Spain and built a fortification made up of a great wall that surrounded the Manzanares valley and the Sierra de Guadarrama. 

He called the settlement Mayrit, present-day Madrid.

Years later in 1083, Christian King Alfonso VI was determined to conquer this Arab city.

Legend has it that one brave soldier managed to climb the 12-metre city walls to inform the troops they could begin the siege. 

Ruins of Madrid’s Muslim wall, built in the 9th century. Photo: Esetena/Wikimedia

Impressed by his dexterity, the king remarked ‘he’s like a cat’. The nickname stuck and soon after the soldier decided to change his surname to Gato for his feat to be immortalised.

His descendants inherited the feline surname and over the years it came to be associated with some of the most illustrious and powerful families in the city.

Fact or legend? 

No one can truly know, but what’s for certain is that to this day referring to oneself as gato in the Spanish capital is a way to flaunt that you and your family are pureblooded madrileño.

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Spanish Word of the Day: ‘Sobremesa’

This isn't just a word you need to learn in Spain, it's an entire concept.

Spanish Word of the Day: 'Sobremesa'
Photo: nito103/Depositphotos

Today we delve into a rather interesting cultural phenomenon in Spain: the sobremesa.

What does sobremesa mean?

Sobremesa literally means over the table, but in Spanish it's used to refer to the period after a meal when you chat with friends or family and enjoy each other's company. It can even refer to business associates, where you engage in post-lunch conversations or meetings. Let's look at an example:

  • Cada sábado tenemos una sobremesa con la familia.

        Every Saturday after lunch we sit around and chat as a family.

You'll often notice that in restaurants in Spain, the waiters will leave you to it after a meal and would never bring the bill after your meal without being asked.

It's common to have a lengthy sobremesa at the weekend but due to the Spanish working schedule usually including a long lunch break (sometimes up to two hours), it is also something we see at restaurants and in Spanish homes throughout the week too.

Photo: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

Sobremesa also means tablecloth (which is also called 'mantel')

  • La sobremesa esta sucia.

       The tablecloth is dirty.

Check out our other word of the day posts

This word of the day has been contributed by LAE Madrid, the leading Spanish academy in Madrid. Accredited by the Insitituto Cervantes, it offers Spanish courses for all levels and also has Spanish classes for kids and familiesRead their blog for more Spanish!

READ ALSO: Ten things NEVER to do when dining in Spain