Welcome to the Slaughterhouse

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Europe’s most interesting cultural hub is in a former slaughterhouse in Madrid’s Arganzuela district. We meet the people who make it happen.


Bloodstains and peeling paint cover the crumbling walls, dark smoke marks the high ceilings, and you have to push through the plastic butchers’ curtains that hang over entranceways. It might sound like the set of a horror film, but Matadero Madrid, located in a former slaughterhouse, is one of the most exciting cultural destinations in Europe.

The complex of pavilions served as the city’s main slaughterhouse for most of the 20th century. It was here, in the 1930s, that Hemingway would watch old women line up to drink the nutrient-rich blood of freshly killed cattle. As the space fell into disuse as a slaughterhouse in the early 1990s, Spain’s National Ballet and National Dance Company took over the former cattle stalls. In 1996, however, the slaughterhouse closed entirely and the space was effectively abandoned.

It wasn’t until 2003 that Madrid’s city council began to imagine its potential as a new cultural centre. Work began to restore the architecture, and in 2007, Intermediæ – a social platform for the arts – opened its doors, alongside a new theatre belonging to Teatro Español, Madrid’s oldest theatre company.

Today, Matadero Madrid is home to nine cultural organisations that manage 20 different spaces. The heart is the central plaza, where outdoor events, concerts, and film screenings are staged in the warmer months. Around this space are various galleries, theatres, workshops, and a cinema – there is, it seems, something for everyone. Wander the vast 55,000m2 grounds and you’re just as likely to stumble across a psychedelic art installation made from Play-Doh as you are to encounter an exhibition of gritty architectural photography taken from security cameras.

From Cineteca, a cinema that only screens documentary and independent Spanish films, to the Red Bull Music Academy, which houses a stage, recording studio and practice rooms in which musicians are on show, each part of Matadero Madrid changes the way people engage with culture and the arts. 

Roberto Cueto
programming coordinator, la cineteca

“At Cineteca we try to show films that don’t have regular theatrical distribution, so most are documentary films. We particularly try to show Spanish documentaries and independent films, as it is very difficult for these types of film to reach the regular commercial theatres in Spain. In summer, we hold outdoor screenings in the central Matadero plaza. And, in May, we have a documentary film festival, where we present the most important documentaries from around the world for the first time in Spain. Although Cineteca is only 18 months old, it has become one of the most important places to see this kind of film. We develop our own projects, but sometimes we try coordinate with the rest of Matadero. For example, during the theatre festival, we screen films about theatre and the performing arts. Matadero is a very important place in Madrid, because of the unique cultural activities that happen here. It is like an alternative world.”

Carlota Álvarez Basso
director, matadero madrid

“For 20 years, my specialty has been culture and the arts, so I was very happy when I was appointed to be Director of Matadero. It’s a big challenge as Matadero is 55,000m2 – it is like a city of culture. What’s important to me is for Matadero to have more connectivity with Spain and abroad, and also the capacity of Matadero to adapt and change. We do so many different kinds of cultural activities here – we are very fresh in that way. It’s like one body with different parts all working together for contemporary culture. The sum of what we can do together is enormous, and this year we have had over 700,000 visitors. We do festivals together every year – a music festival, for example, a bicycle day, or a cultural festival for teenagers – and the different institutions all offer content. Whenever we work on a project like that it becomes a city project, not just a Matadero project. We have a lot of impact!”

José Vicente Quirante Rives
director of programmes, casa del lector

Casa del Lector means “house of the reader”. It is a project of the Germán Sánchez Ruipérez private foundation. He was one of the most important publishers of the 20th century in Spain and, before he died, he imagined an institution where the work is imagining the sense of being a reader in the 21st century. We function as a cultural centre, with exhibitions, conferences and presentations around reading. We not only work with the literal meaning of “reading” – books – but we like to work with the metaphor of reading: reading, for example, time or society. That is very important when we programme activities here.”

Concha Moreno
manager, central de diseño

“Central de Diseño is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of design culture, and all of our activities are directed to showing the public why design is necessary. We have many exhibitions, workshops, and conferences here, not only about Spanish design but also international design. We also do a lot of work with students, and are currently exhibiting work from more than 70 design schools.”


We were the first ones who started to do cultural things in the old slaughterhouse back in 2007. Our mission is a social one – we want to involve all citizens in the cultural production of the city. Under the Hat, for example, organises cultural activities for people with disabilities. We are a bit like a laboratory. We are
devoted to the process, not so much the product, and we don’t hold exhibitions if they are not part of one of our long-term projects. It is fantastic to be a part of Matadero, and it allows us to do what we do. Matadero has a big network and its impact reaches not only Madrid but all of Spain and Europe. It is like a big think tank of cultural production.”

Adrián Valiente
technical coordinator, teatro español

“About eight years ago, when Matadero was just ruins, the former director of Teatro Español – Madrid’s oldest theatre company – had the visionary idea to stage a play here. It was a big success and we realised that the space had a lot of potential. So, step by step they built the theatre here at Naves del Español. It is a big space, full of natural light, which is unusual for a theatre. Directors have to try to put the space inside the production, and work with it rather than hide it. We explain that to directors and set designers who find it difficult to work in such an unusual space. Just two years ago, almost no one in Madrid knew about Matadero – not even the citizens. Now, everyone knows about it and every year more people discover it. It is full of life. Even the Arganzuela neighbourhood was not so well known a few years ago, as it is outside the city centre. Matadero is bringing a lot of people to the area, though. These days you need a lot of inspiration, and Matadero is an inspirational place.”

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