Colmenar Viejo, Madrid, Spain

Category: Madrid

If you intend to travel to Madrid, Spain in the near future, you have probably been busy mapping out your itinerary, listing all of the places you’d like to visit during your holiday.  This is not always an easy task, as the city plays host to literally hundreds of fascinating sites and fun attractions to visit, including historical structures and monuments, museums and galleries, and scores of shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs.  This can make for very busy and enjoyable tour schedule.  However, before you finalize your tour itinerary you should also take into account some of the outlying villages and towns that surround the Spanish capital, including the beautiful town of Colmenar Viejo.

Colmenar Viejo is a town and municipality located in the autonomous Community of Madrid, with a population of roughly 44,000 permanent residents.  It is situated about 30 kilometers north of Madrid on the M-607 motorway, and it officially belongs to the comarca of Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, or the “region of the Upper Basin of Manzanares,” a river that runs through the town and also through Madrid.

Like most of the villages and towns that encircle Madrid, Colmenar Viejo has a long and rich history, characterized by many important sites and attractions and the unique festivals its people celebrate. Being a very religious community, one of the most significant and oft-visited sites in Colmenar Viejo is the Ermita de Remedios (Hermitage of Remedios), a shrine to Our Lady of Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies), or the Virgin Mary.  This shrine houses an image of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child seated on her left knee, an image that became very popular during the 12th century.

The chapel of the Ermita de Remedios is located in the center of this architectural wonder.  As you walk inside this building you will notice a large stone pillar, and written on it are two ancient entries that date back many centuries.  The first entry is a series of six letters of Latin origin; the letters AVC TER, which historians believe is an indication of the limits of separation between the administrative territories during the Roman period.  The second entry is a bit more baffling and difficult to read, but many scholars believe it represents the date on which the current image of the Virgin was found in Colmenar Viejo.

Other important sites in Colmenar Viejo are the Visigoth tombs, located in an annex on the grounds of the Ermita de Remedios, and the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, a gothic basilica that in 1997 was officially named one of Spain’s national historical sites.

The cultural customs and traditions of Colmenar Viejo are brought to life during the town’s many festivals, including the Fiesta de la Maya, held on May 2, and the festivities honoring the Virgin of Remedios, held on the last weekend in August.  Perhaps the town’s most unique celebration, though, is the Fiesta de la Vaquilla, which takes place every year on February 2nd.  This festival is held to commemorate the cattle (vaquillas) migration of old, a time when animals were herded down what are now the streets of Colmenar Viejo to their ultimate slaughter.  The uniqueness of this event is in the way the scene is recreated; the animals are not real, but artificial, created out of structures decorated with colored silk ribbons, silk shawls and horns, all of which are displayed with great enthusiasm by the participating groups as they perform a range of dances through the streets.  The final destination of this procession is the town square, where each group makes their “calf” dance and simulates a charging motion to flaunt the finery of the decorations.  The artificial calves are then returned to the starting point and their death is symbolized with three shots fired into the air.  To round off the festivities, all participants are given Limonada (an emblematic drink of red wine and soda water) representing the blood of the slaughtered animal.

These historical sites and one-of-a-kind festivals are just some of the reasons why Colmenar Viejo is a must-see town when visiting the beautiful and very lively Madrid region of Spain.