Madrid’s Shanty-Towns: Cañada Real

Big Issue  London, Edinburgh & Dublin, 1997, 1,350 words; extracts
Version de langue française  


They are also wary of the solutions so far provided, which often involve the break-up of their families in scattered rehousing in the city rim's high-rise estates or resettlement in industrial urban areas. The king was reportedly shocked by conditions after his 1994 visit to one such official shanty-town, La Celsa, where the town-hall has built bunker-like cement houses. A consortium survey this summer showed that 22% of its residents needed medical attention for physical or mental illness.

Last winter and spring heavy rains turned the earth around their shacks into a sea of mud and damaged many of the chabolas.

. . . .

The Cañada Real Gypsies have made it clear that they don't mind being separated or put in an industrial zone; they simply want new homes. Last winter and spring, the heavy winter rains turned the earth around their shacks into a sea of mud and damaged many of the chabolas. This year, for the third time, they will sleep on damp mattresses and plough through the mud to church, as they wait and pray for new homes.


  • During 1999 the Valdemingómez Gypsies were resettled in new homes scattered around Madrid. Presencia Gitana attempted to track their health, particularly that of the 55 babies born there, but found it impossible.
  • In 2006 the Spanish government created the Consejo Estatal del Pueblo Gitano (State Council for the Gypsy People) and the Ministry of Culture founded the Instituto de Cultura Gitana (Institute of Gypsy Culture).
  • In October 2007 a pitched battle took place between policemen and residents when a local council truck demolished a home standing on protected land running alongside the Cañada Real, or royal shepherds’ droving track, about 8km/5m from Valdemingómez. Fifty policement and residents were injured. Legal contradictions emerged as the press began to look into the story. Only two small patches of housing in Sector V of the track, about 8 km/5 m from Valdemingómez, had received court orders for demolition on grounds of invading protected land although an estimated 40,000 people (more than the entire population of Segovia) were now living in 2,000 illegal buildings spread over a 15km stretch of the Cañada Real where it cut through Madrid’s eastern suburbs. These buildings included detached three and four bedroom detached houses with barbecues in the garden and a hotel. The town-hall had also illegally asphalted part of the track. The residents whose homes were to be demolished were paying local taxes and electricity bills. There was no previous consultation with neighbours’ associations and no alternative housing had been arranged or offered. On Sunday 28th October El País ran a four-page special, in which the main article, by Álvaro Corcuera and Mónica C. Belaza, highlighted the social contrasts and contradictions, ending with the following quote from an anonymous female demonstrator: "In the end, as always, they go throwing the weakest people out of their homes.... They pull down the house of a Moroccan builder and it's definitely not to save a shepherds' track. It isn't used by a single sheep. It'll be to build on the land. They don’t dare to deal with the big drug sellers on the cañada and they don’t touch the areas where there are just Spaniards living. They always hit the same groups."
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