One may well risk an assumption that the
Arabs, in that second half of the 9th century, when they decided to build a
fortress, had no hidden intent of creating or developing a city, nor did they
think themselves in any special role of being "founders"
since the specific circumstances of their castle-fortress lead one to think that
this structure had only defensive, strategic and military ends.
But there are appreciable differences
between accepting the hypothesis of a fortress far removed from any pre-existing
urban center, or of a castle situated in the environs of a town, however small
it may be.
Both possibilities are thought-provoking,
and furthermore, perfectly possible: that the Arabs should construct a
magnificent fortress midst the thick woods of a low-lying mountain area, or that
they came upon a Visigothic village, peaceful under the shelter of political
anonymity and with fertile, prosperous agriculture.
The medieval Arabic writers who talk of
Madrid and of the Moslem construction of the castle, leave no room for doubt on
the absolute Islamic paternity of the edifice, but never include the slightest
reference, even the most passing, to an existence of any urban center near the
If such had existed, it is difficult to
believe that the chroniclers would not have mentioned it, especially by reason
of minimal distance between castle and Visigothic town, even granting that the
concept of distance could be different in the 9th century.
However much we may weigh the problem of
distance between Moslem castle and Visigothic village, the latter was
practically a stone's- throw from the former, for the place where tradition says
Visigothic Madrid was located, is none other than the nearby, if not immediate
Valley of San Pedro, through which the street of Segovia runs today.
But what was this Valley of San Pedro,
supposedly the scene of that Visigothic Madrid, before the Moslem invasion?
Of course, an ideal place to live, a
geographic place that unites unbeatable qualities to make life peaceful and well
organized. The buildings that went up along the course of the ravine, as well as
the side-streets and houses must have been perching on the slopes of the two
hills that pressed from the north and the south on the Valley.
There is an abundance of water, as much from
the ravine, which rises in the very center of the village, as from other springs
that come from slopes of the hills, and supply more than a sufficient amount of
water for the townspeople.
And at this point, we come to the historic
moment of the Moslem invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, in the year 711.
During the first century or so of their
rule, which was almost total in the peninsula, the Valley of San Pedro would be
no more than a tiny, insignificant point in a vast geographic area, especially
if the small Visigothic town were not there.
The Moslem soldiery would encounter an
extensive, natural area of low hills, rich in meadowlands, stream-beds, and
hillocks. They would find a varied, and changing landscape, abundance of rivers,
streams and creeks, which would lend support to a lush variety of vegetation,
which in turn would spawn a prolific animal life.
That was, most likely, the land vista
offered to the Saracen invaders, and of which we can even today catch a certain
idea, with all their changes and imaginable mutations, in the Monte del Pardo
and in the Casa de Campo.
To the north of this extensive growth, as a
natural wall closing in the panorama, lie the line of peaks of the Central
System, such as many centuries later, from the windows of the Royal Fortress
(Alcázar), by then converted into the Palace of the Austrian-Hapsburgs,
the fine, contemplative, objective eyes of the King's painter, Velázquez,
To the left of the Manzanares, yielding with
the river's natural course, rose a strong promontory, possibly with a flattened
peak and surrounded by rough, wooded gullies, from whose tops one caught sight
of the superb panorama of the entire region, and in the background the mountains
of the Sierra.
To the south and lower down, after waters of
the Manzanares and other mountain streams, have joined the river Tajo (Tagus),
there stood the historic City of Toledo, capital of the Gothic monarchy which
the Arabs destroyed.
Although the Emirate first, and the
Caliphate of Córdoba later, never showed much affection for Toledo, this
city continued to hold a certain charisma, emphasized by its central location in
And therefore, it was that on this hillside,
the Moslems decided to raise a fortress, to guard the road running between the
Sierra and the region of Toledo.
It is in that moment that officially begins
the history of Madrid, a city at one time only an enclosed enclave, but now
called to ambitious destinies.
Copyright © 2002 por
JLL & FWF.
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