Madrid enters History by the
hand of the Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba (850-866), when he orders the
construction of a defensive bastion on the heights of a hill on the left bank of
the river Manzanares.
This castle-fortress will
form part of a defensive belt, stretching between the Massif Central and the
city of Toledo, which had been capital of the ancient Visigothic kingdom.
The purpose of this network
of watch-towers, look-outs and castles was to establish an impenetrable wall
that would let the Moors know enough beforehand of possible advances of
Christian troops, and which would serve also to block these attacks. The various
garrisons would communicate with each other by smoke signals during day and by
bonfires at night.
It is known that the
fortress at Madrid was an important piece in the functions of this system.
Castles and watch-towers were placed near the natural lines of penetration, from
north to south, descending from Gredos and the Guadarrama mountains.
of these place-names have come down to our days, either for their ruins or by
their topographic names, as La Alameda, Torrelodones, Valdetorres, Buitrago, El
Berrueco, Mirabel, Torrelaguna, Venturada or El Vellón, and the list
could be longer.
That bastion at Madrid was constructed as a leading
fortress, with solid walls and other fortifications. The very word in Castilian,
"almudena" which originated in Arabic
and continued to be used, indicates clearly what type of fortress was made.
Furthermore, the fact that
the castle-fort at Madrid should be located midway on the road between the
Guadarrama mountains and the city of Toledo, told its character as a key-point,
or linking-point, in a security system for the Arabs.
In this first
"almudena" of the 9th century, there
were regular inhabitants as well as soldiers living there. What seems to show
this is the very great amount of space that, coming from the castle, was
included within the walls, thus permitting a considerable interior area.
If the garrison was large, a
populace that could support and supply food and necessary services, would be
And so we find, not only the physical presence of a castle
fortress, embryo of a future Madrid, but also we have the first townspeople of
Madrid. These inhabitants, although they might be occupied in tasks that were
not directly warlike, would be dependent upon the military chiefs of the
also "citadel" - a fortified
urban center, - and the area of nine hectares (22.24 acres)
within the walls, would offer sufficient ground for numerous little streets and
It is risky to state that
the Moslem military authorities would plan from the outset of their
constructions, any special ground for the civilian population, but the spatial
separation between the castle proper and the walls was enormous.
Within these boundaries
three zones are distinguishable: on the north, the castle; in the center, a
vacant space like a field for military exercises, called the Campo del Rey, and
today called Plaza de la Armería, a name which may be found in important
fortifications. And on the south, the "almudayna"
or small city.
It is not by chance that the
population should gravitate toward the south, for in that zone an exit was
easier, facing the ravines of north and west.
Communication in this
southern zone with the outer areas was easier, for from that flank two gateways
The circumference-line of that first wall of the 9th
century measured about two kilometers. Various gates were opened in it, whose
approximate locations are known although none are preserved.
walling started from the southern corner of the castle, continuing with the
slope of the ravine, which drops to the Campo del Moro, coming up to the Cuesta
de la Vega, where one of the gates opened.
It continued along a wall
which today is the largest and best still in preservation; then skirted on the
north along modern Viaducto but without crossing the ravine. At some point in
this stretch there jutted out a "coracha"
or small arm from the wall, which died away in the famous Torre Narigués,
and had to be a guard against the drop of the terrain.
It continued on behind the
present-day building of the Capitanía, stopped in the Calle Mayor facing
the street named Factor, to open at another gate which the Christians called the
Gate of Santa María, named for its proximity to the parish church of the
same name, but which the Arabs knew as the Arco de la Almudena.
Arriving at this point, at
the start of the road of Alcalá de Henares, the line of the wall now
takes another turn, going to the north, through Calle Factor, to come out at the
Plaza de Oriente and joins the castle. It is possible here that once there was a
third gate, called de la Sagra, which had perhaps only military use.
The gate at the southwest,
- de la Vega - and that in the southeast,
- de la Almudena - were for the most part the
gates of greatest use.
Both, in their central
structuring, had a great horseshoe arch, flanked at either side by two massive
towers. In one of these, the Gate de la Vega, some remains may still be seen,
although it is very possible that underneath the modern paving of the street,
may yet lie the lower portion of the whole construction.
This, at least, is a
description of two gates of Madrid as left to us by López de Hoyos and
Jerónimo de la Quintana, writers of the last years of the 16th century
and beginnings of the 17th.
These two gentlemen could
still have seen personally the Gate de la Vega, but the Gate de la Almudena, or
Arco de Santa María, had, by their times, disappeared, although tradition
preserved the place names. Those two erudite writers must have dealt with older
written or oral records.
The Gate de la Vega, or de
Al-vega, was located at the end of the present-day Calle Mayor, beyond the façade
of the crypt of the new Cathedral de la Almudena, initiating, in the street-lore
of Madrid, what is still called the Cuesta de la Vega.
the remains of the old Moslem walls.
- A Hispanic Moslem warrior.
He wears a
metal helmet, has a long lance and a wooden mace.
The wrist-band is a
- A Hispanic-Moslem military chief.
wearing a short lance with "amentum," or handle,
in order to throw
with more force.
- Berber warrior.
His helmet is of leather
with a pointed top.
He is armed with a light-weight javelin, long sword and
leathern club weighted with stones.
- Remains of the old Moslem wall at the Cuesta
de la Vega.
In the background, the apse of the Cathedral.
Copyright © 2002 by
JLL & FWF.
All rights reserved.