A time there was when people thought the city of Madrid had mythological origins, but these theories turned out to be mere wishful thinking to emulate history of other European cities rather than to respect scientific fact.

Those who believed the city's first name was "Metragirta," or "Mantua Carpetana," said that it had been founded by Ocno Bianor, son of Tiberis, King of Tuscany, and of the lovely Mantua. But they could neither know nor imagine the real facts of old, lost civilizations, which investigators have rediscovered from time to time.

Others there are who have said that the city could originally have been named "Ursa" ("bear" in Latin), due to the great number of those husky animals that used to be found in surrounding close-by mountains, and which, along with a tree called the "madroño" have been symbols of the city since medieval times. But then . . .

In the 2nd century B.C. the Romans began their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula; they found only simple, rustic towns, there were no cities. They left only traces of their passage over Iberian soil. Among those traces, we have found on the banks of the Manzanares, mosaics, graven stones, bronzes and ceramics.

Yes, Rome passed over this land. There was a Madrid of the Romans, a sputtering Madrid, but it was only another step of the Romans on their road to become a powerful Empire.

In the 5th century the Swabians, Vandals and their allies invaded the Iberian Peninsula. As there were not enough soldiers for defense, Rome sought the aid of the Visigoths who did put the invaders to flight.

After the Romans, came the Visigoths. And always, in the swift flow of human life and the duplicate imaging of lives through the ages, there yet remain those humble units of dwellers who cling to the banks of a river, the Manzanares.

In the year 711, the Islamic conquests begin from the south of Spain. Far away, in those southern lands, the Visigothic kingdom sinks into oblivion, into waters of another river dyed in blood.

The invaders gallop onward and into the north, and only in the Asturian and in the Cantabrian mountains are they checked. In their wake, as the new Moslem rulers take over, towns and villages spring up in the conquered lands, and small groups of people play out their lives on banks of a river, the Manzanares, whose waters descend from the mountains.

But now, the Reconquest has started, and from northern mountains peaks rush Christian military forces against the Arabic overlords. Anticipating the intentions of the Christians, the Moslems build watch-towers and fortify strategic points.

One of those watch-towers is constructed by Muhammad I, fifth independent Emir of Córdoba, son of Abderraman II. The watch-tower was built on a hill on the left shore of the Manzanares River.

On this hill will be located, in the passage of time, the first fortress (Alcázar), and yet much later, the Royal Palace. At foot of the hill, there is a gully, which centuries later will be the street called Segovia. And on the other side of this glen, another hill; an area that in the future will be named Las Vistillas.

The Emir Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Rahman was the founder of Madrid. An eminent and scholarly Hispanist, Levi-Provençal, confirms this, basing his decision on Moslem documents. Later historians also, well versed in history of their city's origins, likewise have endorsed this information. But still, how did the name of the city arise?

One of those historians, Jaime Oliver Asin, has very well established what that name was. He writes, "Matrice was the first name of the city. It was, simply, the name of pre-Moslem Madrid."

That term referred to the watercourse that ran between those two hills which face each other: "Matrice" (mother of waters.)

The name changes when the Arabs come into the region. The town now is named by new settlers as "Mayrit;" a name that is made up of the Arabic term "Mayra" (mother, matrix), and the Ibero-romanic suffix 'it," equivalent to "place."

The scholarly Oliver Asin, continues: "This is for the first time an explanation of the name, which until now has been enigmatic. 'Mayrit,' as a translation into Arabic of the primitive 'Matrice,' is in accord with the Ibero-romanic pattern, which peoples of Romanic Spain used frequently in their naming of places..."

So it is, then, that Madrid has had two toponyms, parallel in their identical construction and equivalent etymological value.

But after the Reconquest, only one of these toponyms will prevail. And that one, will be in the Christian form, that is, the Latin-Visigothic and Arabic combination "Matrit", today is kept intact nationally as "Madrid."

Copyright © 2002 by JLL & FWF.
All rights reserved.

frebut5.gif