Well in case you were worried, it’s not because they’re unfriendly and they certainly won’t scratch you! Although the madrileños may have some characteristics in common with cats: they’re very clever and love to enjoy life both during the day (with a good siesta) and at night (with a nice stroll through the city), there is a more interesting backstory behind the nickname. It’s all about agility of an intrepid soldier who attacked an enemy fort by scaling its wall.
At the time Madrid was under Arab…
According to the legend, the origin of the nickname comes all the way from the early years of the Middle Ages when Madrid went by the name Mayrit. At the time, the city was under Arab rule and was surrounded by a great wall. After various failed attempts by Spanish kings to conquer the city their luck finally changed in 1083, all thanks to the cat-like abilities of one soldier. One day in May while the Christian troops of the Castillian King Alsonso VI de León waited in silence outside the walls of the Muslim-ruled city to avoid being noticed by their enemies, one valiant soldier started to climb the city wall with only a dagger in his hand that he used to make small holes in order to better grip the surface. He was able scale the wall with surprising agility and once atop the wall took down the Arabic flag, replacing it with the flag of the Christians. It is said that when King Alfonso VI saw the soldier climbing he exclaimed that the soldier seemed like a cat. The legend says that thanks to the intrepid
and agile “gato”, the Christian troops were finally able to win the battle and conquer the city. The “Gato” became a national hero and over time both he and his family started to be known by the nickname. Many years later, “gato” turned from a nickname to a last name used by many of the most distinguished citizens of Madrid. Nowadays it is used to describe anyone born in the city whose two parents and four grandparents were also all born here. However, while this may be the most common theory behind the curious nickname, it’s certainly not the only one.
During the period of Christian rule
Another theory, which is quite a bit less interesting, also comes from the Middle Agesbut during the period of Christian rule. This legend states that in order to enter the city gates you had to pay a tax. As a result, many people would scale the wall like cats to avoid paying the tax. Some others claim that the nickname comes from a different source as well. They say that the name comes from a neighborhood in the city where so many cats used to live on the roofs of buildings that there were never any rats.
So while we might never know that exact origin of the curious nickname, the next time someone asks you why the madrileños are called “gatos” you can tell them for certain that it isn’t because they’re antisocial, in fact it’s quite the opposite. The next time you come to Madrid, make sure to stay with us and meet some real Gatos!