You know that people from Madrid are called Madrileños. Did you also know that they are sometimes referred to as Gatos? While you may believe the name gatos, which is Spanish for cats, came about due to the custom in Madrid of taking an afternoon siesta, or catnap, that’s not true.
The Arabs at one time controlled Madrid in the 11th century. In retaliation, the army of King Alfonso VI swarmed the gates of the city in a surprise attack on the Moors at dawn. One of the king’s soldiers scaled the wall above the gate with cat-like agility, using his knife as a piton (metal rock-climbing stake) to help him in his climb. Once at the top of the wall, he quickly changed to Moorish flag with the Christian flag.
With this remarkable move, they, the true Madrileños, had taken the city back. His fellow soldiers cheered him, calling him “Gato” in honor of the climb.
Ever since this legendary feat, Madrileños have also been known as Gatos. Today you can visit the alley named after Gato Juan Álvarez, who was one of the descendents of these nimble soldiers and a poet of the court.