Peculiar words: what is the meaning of “corrala”?

When we talk about a “corrala”, we are talking about Madrid. In this post we go through the meaning of corrala: it is the most typical and popular building of old Madrid and is considered to be one of the most authentic and genuine types of apartment buildings of the city. Bringing back our latest post from this blog, 13, Rue del Percebe, it was the building’s cut-out structure that made me inevitably recall the “corrala” that is still standing in Mesón de Paredes street in Madrid– as seen in the picture below, the third building which closed the “corrala” structure has disappeared.

Corrala Calle Mesón de Paredes, Lavapiés (Madrid) Source: Wiki Commons
Corrala Calle Mesón de Paredes, Lavapiés (Madrid)
Source: Wiki Commons

Built in 1839, this is certainly the best-known “corrala” of Madrid, and is located in Sombrerete street with Mesón de Paredes. Its peculiarity lies in something we have already mentioned: the third building was demolished, and this allows us a unique view of a “corrala” from the inside. In fact, it was declared National monument in 1977.

Mesón de Paredes street is the main artery of the quarter of Lavapiés, a must when visiting Madrid. Its streets harboured the old Jewish quarter and are the heart and soul of the city of Madrid Spanish authors Galdós and Baroja depicted. In his novel Fortunata y Jacinta, Benito Pérez Galdós perfectly portrays the life inside a “corrala” in Lavapiés. It is a book a little too difficult for students who are starting to learn Spanish and I personally do not recommend reading it unless you have a high command of the language– it is written in old Spanish and might be complicated to understand even for native speakers.


Map of Lavapiés, Madrid.
Map of Lavapiés, Madrid.
Where does the word “corrala” come from?

As for the etymology of “corrala” we find very different opinions. Some say it comes from the term “casa de corredor”, because the houses (“casas”) are located along an open-air corridor or gallery (“corredor”). However, the truth is that the direct predecessors of the “corralas” are the Roman and Arabic houses with courtyards. They were one-entrance courtyards with shared lavatories, with houses built around a central space. In some Mozarabic documents we can find the term currál (singular) and qurrálat (plural). This type of dwellings can also be found in Jewish quarters. They were constructions thought to maintain citizen safety at night, for the inside of the building was kept away from the street. Due to the population growth that took place in the 16th and 17th centuries in fortified cities such as Madrid, these buildings were built to accommodate the multitude that migrated from the countryside.


Corral del Mesón de Paredes en 1935
Mesón de Paredes 1935

mesonparedes-fotoantigua meaning of corrala

The “corrales de comedias”

These buildings started to be rent out for theatrical performances: in the 16th century the term “Corral de Comedias” appears. The “corrales de comedia” (literally, “theatrical courtyards”) were the setting of the Spanish Golden Age Theatre (Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina and Pedro Calderon de la Barca). A “corral de comedias” was a model of public theatre where the space formerly dedicated to poultry or common storage was used to represent plays to a popular audience. The town of Almagro in Ciudad Real, Spain, is the only “Corral de Comedias” that has been preserved just as it was when it was built in the 17th century.

Corral de Comedias meaning of corrala
Corral de Comedias

But it is in the 19th century when the construction of “corralas” became widespread, constructions that were up to nine stories high, described by Galdós in Fortunata and Jacinta. They were very peculiar buildings. The houses consisted of two rooms– the entrance hall and the bedroom– distributed in 20 squared meters per household, and whole families lived in them. There was a shared bathroom in each of the floors. There was little privacy– the households were adjacent and the walls were not very thick. Nevertheless, everybody respected the sleeping hours of the day and the sacred ‘siesta’. Solidarity among the neighbours of the “corralas” was one of the characteristic features of these buildings, together with the figures of the portera (caretaker woman) and the casero (landlord or owner). The caretaker looked after the tenants and cleaning and maintaining services of the property. She was a highly respected figure.

The “corralas” nowadays

Thanks to Enrique Tierno Galvan, the best mayor Madrid has had in its history, preservation and refurbishing of many “corralas” in Madrid was possible– this has allowed for the preservation of this type of constructions, where many natives of Madrid live now surrounded by charming authenticity. It is estimated that there are about 400 “corralas” in the city, located mainly in the quarters of La Latina, Lavapiés and Embajadores. Without a doubt, they are one of the great architectural examples of the city, an inspiration for plays, zarzuela and literature.

It is also nice to know that some social and popular movements are driving back the concepts of meeting, assembly, and communication between neighbours to defend social rights and common local interests. The concept of outdoor social gathering, of getting together to talk in the streets, squares or patios– instead of communicating with each other only through the Internet locked in our rooms— is not a very distant utopia. In many neighbourhoods of Madrid, for example, much value is given to this practice, more or less since the ‘turbulent’ spring that the country lived through in May 2011.

Finally, I would like to make reference to the words dedicated to the concept of patio that I found on the website Welcome Corrala.


A luxurious oddity

If you are looking for a special hotel in Madrid, I found one that reproduces the concept of “corrala”: “Posada Del León de Oro”. It is located in the heart of La Latina quarter, a unique and perfect quarter to spend your vacation. I found the “Posada” to be a peculiar and interesting place for someone who is looking for a luxury hotel in the city centre- here is a link to its Tripadvisor’s page. The picture below shows the old “Posada del León de Oro”, now a luxury hotel that has the same name.

Posada del León de Oro
Posada del León de Oro

Read the original version of this article in Spanish!

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