Madrid is gearing up for the Mardi Gras Carnival (carnavales in Spanish) celebrations which start this coming Thursday and run until Wednesday 9th March. There will be many events happening in Madrid, however the highlight is the giant street parade taking place on Saturday 5th March. From 7.30pm, floats bearing papier maché models of famous people will be making their way along the streets of Madrid to the Cibeles Fountain accompanied by music, dance and fireworks. The festivities then move to the Circulo de Bellas Artes, where its annual fancy dress party and competition will be held. One of the strangest carnival traditions is the burial of the sardine, which happens on Ash Wednesday and marks the end of the celebrations. This dates back centuries, in fact Goya even produced a painting depicting it. The burning and burial of the sardine represent the destroying of excesses, so that a new start can be made. It's not quite clear why a sardine is chosen to be sacrificed; it could be that they were seen as a symbol of fertility and new life, or perhaps because the word sardine resembles cerdín (pig), which were traditionally slaughtered on this day.
The carnival programme is as follows:
Thursday 3rd March- Saturday 5th March
REC. A number of concerts combining electronic music with audiovisuals taking place at several music venues across the city.
Friday 4th March
The first night of Carnival is known as Noche de los Locos (Night of the Crazy People).
From 6pm- a series of parades taking place in Plaza Mayor and its neighbouring streets. This will feature the comedy parade Crispados, and the Fundación Cultural Chiminigagua, a circus group from Colombia who will be performing funny sketches on roller-stilts and acrobatics.
Odysseus o El Viaje Imaginario 8.30pm in Plaza Mayor. French theatre group, Karnavires will perform an adpated version of Homer's Odyssey, which magically combines theatre with the use of pyrotechnics.
Saturday 5th March
Carnival Parade, from 7.30pm. Route: Paseo de Coches del Retiro - O´Donnell - Alcalá - Cibeles - Recoletos - Colón. Performers from all over the world will be taking part in this extravagant event.
Masquerade Ball and Fancy Dress Competition, from 11pm, Circulo de Bellas Artes. Open to the first 40 inscriptions only.
Sunday 6th March
OPERAación, Plaza de Oriente, 11.30am and 2.30pm. A fun session for kids to learn about opera and have a go at composing their own.
Chirigotas de Madrid, street performances in Plaza de Callao from 12pm. The displays include street musicians, pranksters and carnival acts.
Tuesday 8th March
Concierto Extraordinario de Carnival, Teatro Mounmental (Atocha 65), 7pm. The Madrid Symphony Band will give a concert of carnival music. Tickets 3€-10€.
Wednesday 9th March
Funeral of the Sardine, parade from San Antonio de la Florida to Plaza de las Moreras, Casa del Campo, starts 6pm. Carnival comes to end with the quirky ritual of the burying of the sardine.
You can find out more about the Carnavales events by visiting http://carnaval.esmadrid.com (only in Spanish).