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The Curious Reason Why Madrileños Are Called Gatos 
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The Curious Reason Why Madrileños Are Called Gatos 

Picture of Jessica Jones
Updated: 18 January 2018
Ever heard people from Madrid referred to as ‘gatos’ – which translates as cats – and wondered where the nickname comes from? Could it be for their love of late nights, or is there more to the story? Here’s how and why Madrid natives earned their unusual nickname.

A gato is someone from Madrid whose parents and grandparents also came from the city. Because of the high rate of immigration to the capital from other regions of Spain, true gatos are very rare nowadays, but where did Madrileños get their feline nickname in the first place?

Puerta de Bisagra or Alfonso VI Gate in city of Toledo, Spain | © Fotoeventis/Shutterstock
Puerta de Bisagra or Alfonso VI Gate in city of Toledo, Spain | © Fotoeventis/Shutterstock

A Climbing Soldier

Madrid was founded in the 9th century by the Moorish leader Muhammad I of Córdoba, who named the city Mayrit and built a huge, protective wall around it to keep out invaders. Several armies had tried to get past the wall, but to no avail, until in 1085 Alfonso VI, King of Castile, led his troops to encircle the city.

At dawn, one soldier broke from the others and began to climb the city wall. He climbed in such a fast and agile way that King Alfonso, astounded, said he resembled a cat. When the solider reached the top of the wall, he replaced the Moorish flag with the Christian flag.

Sculpture of King Alfonso VI el Bravo in Toledo, Spain | © Luis Echeverri Urrea/Shutterstock
Sculpture of King Alfonso VI el Bravo in Toledo, Spain | © Luis Echeverri Urrea/Shutterstock

The Christian troops were finally able to conquer the city and the young solder became a hero. It is said he changed his surname to ‘gato’ and his descendants added a dagger and a wall to their coat of arms in memory of their illustrious ancestor.

The term cat (gato) was first used to refer to someone brave from Madrid, but over the years it became the nickname for anyone born in the city.

Statue of a cat in Toledo, Spain | © muo/Shutterstock
Statue of a cat in Toledo, Spain | © muo/Shutterstock

Tax Dodgers

Another, perhaps less exciting theory, is that during the time of Christian rule in the Middle Ages, people had to pay a tax to enter the city gates. To avoid paying the charge, many people would climb the wall, like cats.