Inside the central building

Unlocked: five secret spaces inside La Tabacalera

I’ve been working on revealing these restricted rooms for a little while now – negotiating access to locked spaces and requesting permission to take photos you won’t find anywhere else on the internet. And it’s all been worth it, because we finally get to see inside the most restricted corners of one of Madrid’s most emblematic buildings. But first, there are rules…

Leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos.

These were the words of my university lecturer as he pulled back the damp wooden cover from the entrance to a cave in Scotland 14 years ago. He demanded we show the utmost respect for the micro ecosystem around us and that we touch nothing, because even the sweat on our fingertips could alter the path of a 12,000-year-old stalactite.

Fast-forward 14 years and, as I heave open the large, creaking door to a secret garden that I’d caught a glimpse of five years earlier, I’m reminded of that exciting day in the cave. This time, however, I’m inside La Tabacalera.


The Tabacalera's secret garden

Hidden deep within the grounds of Madrid’s old tobacco factory lives an isolated ecosystem – a real-life urban jungle that’s been cut off from the city for the best part of a decade.

The trees have grown tall and wide, interlocking together to create an almost impenetrable canopy, which captures the sunlight to feed the bulging roots that have begun to lift this decaying building.

Art Deco doors to the secret garden

A tree inside the secret garden

Overgrowth in the secret garden

An old, broken clock in the secret garden

Details on the ground

We walk back through the perfectly preserved Art Deco gangway, manned by one lonely caretaker, to the bottom of a warped wooden staircase…

The gangway in the restricted zone


The restricted central zone of La Tabacalera is also home to an old hand-painted ceiling on the second floor. Damp has started to seep through and darken small patches of it, but this magnificent three-dimensional work of art remains as awesome as the day it was painted.

Inside the central building

The painted mural on the ceiling


Once a year, the first-floor art studios are opened to the public, and so we went in to explore…

First floor art studios

First floor art studios

First floor art studios

First floor art studios


Once a week, bums fill the second-hand seats of the sala de proyecciones, a mini cinema in the basement of La Tabacalera, to watch a screening of anything from cult classics to modern, independent shorts.

The entrance to Sala de Proyecciones

We were invited to watch the premiere of Is Desire, a 15-minute snapshot of a non-binary man’s world, recorded in his labyrinthine shared apartment in central Madrid. Crammed with chintzy glamour, melodrama and a drag performance (pictured below), it was an insight into the undeniably ongoing movida madrileña that lives on behind Madrid’s closed doors.

Watching a film inside the Sala de Proyecciones


Despite the tobacco factory’s workforce of cigarette rollers being entirely female, the boss was male – as indicated by the word jefe (masculine boss) painted in gold above the doorway below…

The old boss's office

Today, however, the old boss’s office has been turned into a classroom, complete with shelves of books and teaching equipment. It’s where people come to learn new languages and skills, and where the Tabacalera community comes together to discuss new projects.

Inside a classroom that was one the boss's office

A little further along the chequered tile flooring, past the old auditor’s department and inspector’s office, we reach a locked doorway…

The door on the right: access to the restricted central zone of La Tabacalera

It’s this door on the right that leads us through to the secret garden, closing the loop on our tour through the most restricted corners of La Tabacalera. It’s also where I hope to take you one day too, and I’ll keep you posted here.


  • Location: Calle de Embajadores, 53
  • Nearest metro: Embajadores, L3
  • Opening hours: 6 pm – 11 pm every day

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