Fighting for the future of El Rastro

Have you seen? The Rastro is slowly returning. Antique shops are spilling out onto the streets once again, with customers doing their best not to trip over an oil painting or a box of old doorknobs, and the owners of all these unpriced trinkets take shade from the encroaching midday summer sun.

But as the old shops with permanent units return, they haven’t overlooked that they’re missing half of their Rastro comrades: the stall holders.

Last Sunday, hundreds of market stall holders occupied the streets of the Rastro to defend their right to reopen their stalls and to preserve an ancient Madrid tradition. The same leafy street, lined with numbered buttons marking the location of each stall, was suddenly bustling again but with cries, chants and a live klezmer version of Bella Ciao.

Until the pandemic, the Rastro has been here every week for more than 400 years come rain, snow and heatwaves – not even the Spanish Civil War interrupted it like lockdown has. But finally next week, after almost four months of restrictions, the Rastro will return!

However, Europe’s biggest street market is set to look a little more like the photographs below, taken in the 1970s on a quiet bank holiday Rastro – not the usual bustling streets of stall holders, musicians, antiques dealers and tourists we were used to seeing on Sundays.

Photo © Alfoz Madrid and Santos Yubero / ARCM

Photo © Alfoz Madrid and Santos Yubero / ARCM


Madrid’s current PP Mayor has permitted just 135 rotating stalls to return per week, out of around 1,000 stalls that would normally set up every Sunday. While shops have been open for weeks and can have up to 60% of their regular licensed capacity inside, the restrictions surrounding the Rastro – an open-air market – appear a little unfair.

And that’s why the Rastro stall holders took to the streets this morning, to request 50% of stalls to return on a bi-monthly rotating basis, for adequate policing to maintain safe capacity and social distancing, and for stall holders to keep the same spot that their family have had for generations.

Will the Madrid City Council listen to the stall holders? Will this 400-year-old market ever resume business as usual? We’ll find out more on Sunday next week, when the Rastro, however small it will be, returns!

Sign the petition to save the Rastro here.

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