The Tabacalera's old bathing quarters

Forget about the art: we’re here to see the ghosts of Madrid’s Tabacalera

The best thing about exhibitions in La Tabacalera Promoción del Arte? They let you see inside this beautiful building. And the best kinds of exhibitions are the smaller, more subtle ones, opening up all corners and details of this 225-year-old industrial masterpiece. 


La Tabacalera began churning out cigars and cigarettes in 1792. After 100 years of unrivalled success, it provided work for just over 2% of Madrid’s population. Almost all of the workers were women (known locally as ‘las cigarreras’), and the bathrooms were built to accommodate their specific needs, including a breastfeeding room called ‘la sala de leche’ (‘the milk room’). 

The facilities, which comprise around 20 basins, 10 showers and, interestingly, a breastfeeding room, have been updated again and again throughout the years. The latest refurb before the building was abandoned, however, left behind a beautiful collection of art deco features, and the public now has access to every nook and cranny of this stunning space.

Behind the distorted glass of the saloon-style doors below is the possible location of this former ‘milk room’…

Art Deco saloon doors

This could be the 'milk room'

La Tabacalera was intertwined with most people’s lives in Madrid – everyone either worked here or knew someone who did. It brought wealth and prosperity (even if it didn’t exactly bring good health), and was one of Europe’s greatest examples of the industrial architecture of the time.

Rows of old sinks

The factory was also the stage for many riotous mother-daughter-grandmother protests for workers’ rights, and another dark part of its history came in 1808 when Napoleon’s army kicked all the women out and briefly used it as a base.

An shower cubicle for a wet work of art

Rows of small shower cubicles

If even just the factory’s bathroom walls could speak, they would have us enraptured for a lifetime. La Tabacalera has a rich soul, has never lost its powerful presence in Lavapiés, and has stood the test of time structurally, even after recently falling into disrepair.

Painting of the tobacco factory (© La Tabacalera)

Let’s continue seeing what other ghostly details remain of this once thriving factory…

Original tiles, which are rarely exposed…

Where piping came together…

Beautiful, art noveau details on the radiators in one of the old offices…

I wonder what machine used to sit in this gap…

The roof of the main area in the Tabacalera, which can be easily opened up…

You know what’s behind this door? A secret garden, which I had to pull a lot of strings to get access to…

La Tabacalera is a labyrinth of rooms: some are used year-round for exhibitions, while others are rarely open to the public. Forget the art – it’s building and its remaining ghostly details that we’re here to see.


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