The bleating and bells of some 1,200 sheep and 200 goats took over Madrid on Sunday morning as part of a festival that recreates the pastoral practice of moving livestock to new grazing grounds.
Shepherds herded the animals through the paved streets of the Spanish capital while reenacting what their ancestors did for centuries: move flocks from cool highlands in the summer to lowland winter pastures.
Madrid, Spain’s lively capital city, has always been part of the 78,000-mile grid of farming paths that cover the Iberian Peninsula.
As part of the Transhumance Festival, organisers make a symbolic payment for the right to use the drovers’ route that crosses the capital.
The payment presented at Madrid’s city hall in medieval Spain’s currency consists of 50 maravedis, as stated in an agreement between the city and shepherds that dates back to 1418.
The closeness of the animals delighted the urban dwellers who gathered to watch the unfamiliar ritual. Children tried to touch the soft merino wool of the locally bred sheep.
Madrid has held the festival since 1994, and towns and smaller cities in Italy, France and California hold similar events.
In Spain, modern farming methods have reduced practising transhumance – the seasonal movement of livestock – to a small group of farmers that keep the tradition alive through associations such as Concejo de la Mesta, who are responsible for the Transhumance Festival in Madrid.
They promote transhumance for advantages such as sustainability, cultural value and environmental protection since areas walked by sheep are less prone to wildfires.
According to the Transhumance and Nature Association, 52 families carry out the practice in Spain.