Zona Tapas La Latina


The Spanish tradition of tapas, or small plates of appetizers with a drink, is said to have started in the Middle Ages, and there is no better place to enjoy them in Madrid than in La Latina district. Dishes can include one of the many types of olives, with small portions of fish, cooked meats, sausage, cheese, ham or nuts, served in a variety of ingenious forms with an array of sauces. Wine, needless to say, is the traditional drink taken with tapas.

The general idea of tapas is a snack to bridge the long gap between main mealtimes in the Spanish day. It is said to have been started by King Alfonso X who was forced to take small bites of food with his wine during an illness. When he recovered, he decreed that no wine should be served in Castilian inns without food, and a tradition grew up of wine being served with a plate of tapas on top. It had the two-fold advantage of mitigating the effects of alcohol on drinkers, and keeping insects out of the wine on a hot summer's day.

The Cava Baja and Cava Alta are the places to find concentrations of tapas bars, and on Sundays the Rastro flea market is also worth a visit in the east of the district. La Latina itself contains some of Madrid's early foundations, including the walls of the Moorish city. It is also an important area for theatre-goers, and the Teatro La Latina is associated particularly with comedy productions, though it stages a variety of other plays as well. It is in an attractive location, well-placed for tapas bars and restaurants.

The district is named after one of Spain's most illustrious mediaeval women. Beatriz Galindo, nicknamed La Latina for her skill in Latin. She became a professor at the University of Salamanca in the 15th century, having studied in Italy, and was tutor to the children of Queen Isabella I - probably an advisor too.

Amongst the children she taught was Katherine of Aragon, later wife to King Henry VIII of England. Beatriz Galindo taught rhetoric, philosophy and medicine, and wrote commentaries on classical works, as well as poetry of her own. She founded the Hospital of the Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) in Madrid in 1506 and was one of the first Renaissance women to be successful in public life.

To get to La Latina, take the metro to the La Latina stop, or simply take a short walk from the Plaza Mayor or the Puerta del Sol.

This district of the city is quite central, and several cheap apartments, hotels and hostals may be found in the area.