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
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
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
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."
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