Espejos del Callejón del Gato (Cat Alley Mirrors) – Madrid, Spain - Atlas Obscura

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Espejos del Callejón del Gato (Cat Alley Mirrors)

These distorting, funhouse mirrors achieved fame in a renowned piece of Spanish theater. 

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The Callejón del Gato is a pedestrian passageway of about 150 meters nestled in the heart of old Madrid, a few steps from Puerta del Sol. In this alleyway, now full of restaurants and taverns, a shopkeeper installed two distorting mirrors at the beginning of the 20th century as a claim to attract customers.

While the original funhouse mirrors were removed in the 1970s, new ones quickly replaced them. The original number of mirrors is uncertain—some say there were only two; others say there were three. But today four mirrors adorn the alley.

The original distorting mirrors achieved fame as a key element in a famous play by Ramón María del Valle-Inclán: Luces de Bohemia. The play was originally published in weekly installments that ran between July 31 and October 23, 1920. In 1924, the final version of the play was published, revised, and reissued with three more scenes.

Valle-Inclán was committed to distorting reality in his work, accentuating its most grotesque and sordid elements and caricaturing certain situations and characters. His work sometimes bordered on the absurd. The play is a tragedy without a happy ending, but it is not a classic tragedy with admirable heroes and noble themes, rather it is a ridiculous and absurd tragedy that according to Valle-Inclán better reflects the situation in Spain at the time. The play fits into the Spanish literary style of Esperpento, a style Valle-Inclán is credited with first establishing

Max Estrella, the main character in Luces de Bohemia, compares reality with the concave–and therefore deforming–mirrors of the Callejón del Gato. Valle-Inclán explained, “When the classic heroes are reflected in concave mirrors, that is the Esperpento. The tragic sense of Spanish life can only be pictured by means of a systematically deformed aesthetic). Valle-Inclán refers to the concave mirrors in the Cat’s Alley in Madrid.” 

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