The Gateway de la Vega
looked toward the river lying to the west, and was the exit for agricultural
workers to the gardens and fields on the meadowlands of the Manzanares.
Although this gate-exit was
of prime importance in the production of foods destined for maintaining troops
and the neighboring populace, it was not, however, the most important exit-way.
Two outlets to the military centers exceeded it in use, -
Alcalá de Henares and Guadalajara, - for any routing through
Cuesta de la Vega, rough and difficult, was not really feasible for movements of
troops and cavalry.
The gateway of most
important service, then, was the Arco de la Almudena, located on the present-day
Calle Mayor, fronting on Calle Factor.
There are many reasonable
grounds that support this statement, since that gateway was situated, during
many centuries, in what was called Real de la Almudena, and through which came
and went military chieftains of the Moslem period and royal retinues of a later
It was the easiest approach
to all the areas of the fortress, and because the grounds were perfectly flat,
could permit an easy movement for large numbers of troops, apparatus and wagons.
As Madrid begins to grow, its growth will not be through other exit-ways but
pushing out through this one.
the north must have existed a third gateway, that de la Sagra, or de Al-Xagra,
which should not be confused with the Gate de Valnadú, which formed part
of the wall of Madrid in the 12th century. The Gateway de la Sagra probably
opened out near the castle-fortress (Alcázar), at some point in the
confluence of the modern street named Bailén and Plaza de Oriente.
This gateway must have had
use that was preferentially military because of its immediacy to the fortress
and because the housing of Arabic Madrid extended into areas opposite this, both
of them separated by what later was called Campo del Rey.
It is almost impossible to
imagine what this place was like, for important reforms and new works in the
castle-fortress and its environs, effected by the Austrian-Hapsburgs at end of
the 16th century and beginnings of the 17th, erased all vestiges of any
The first wall of Madrid was
constructed with flint-rock bound by cement made of lime, sand and water, a
mixture that gained great popularity in the medieval world, by reason of its
strength and solidity.
The height of the wall would
have been slightly more than can be appreciated by the one and only section
still remaining, that at Cuesta de la Vega.
The absence in the wall of a
loophole, or barbican, is made known to us by tradition, and by the existence of
a "coracha," a small section of wall
that ended in the legendary Torre de Narigués, placed toward the margin
of the present Calle de Segovia, near Viaducto.
Within the "almudena"
area, of some nine hectares (22.24 acres) in size, the maze of streets, tortuous
and twisting, judging by any typical Moslem city, and its civic buildings, must
have been located at the south.
By what we can learn from
the Texeira map, with changes inevitably effected in the 17th century, a picture
is presented us that must show the essentials of the city layout of that Moslem
Madrid of the 10th and 11th centuries.
No single way, or street,
stands out, or if there was one, it would have had to be notable enough to unite
in some twisting but clear, continuous way, the two principal gateways, the de
la Vega and the de la Almudena, in what today is the last section of Calle
Mayor, from the Hall of Captaincy up to the bit of the Arabic wall that does
From that street, on its
north side, two other streets came out, to the rear of the mosque, and then,
united as one, led to the area that would be called Campo del Rey, and which on
the Texeira map appears as Plaza de Palacio.
One of these two routes was
named Santa Ana in the 17th century; the other on the Texeira map is without
It is difficult to be sure
that the streets which we see in the map of later times correspond exactly to
the Arabic streets, but their irregular lines, their swerves and turns, and
hidden ways back of walls that they do show, indicate, even with changes, that
those changes must not have been drastic.
But, what was the
"medina" of Madrid like?. On arriving at
this point in our discussion, it is well that some considerations should be
entered at this point.
It should be made quite
clear that, save for the section of wall of the 9th century at the Cuesta de la
Vega, there is absolutely nothing remaining from that period excepting a few
Moslem ceramics, that sometime or other have been found and which, indeed, do
not originate in the area we understand as within the "almudena".
With this clarification and
to imagine the city plan of the streets, houses and blocks, we must turn to the
example of various Hispanic-Moslem towns, or to what may be seen in northern
Africa, for characteristics similar to the original Arabic Madrid. Although
Madrid has never ceased to renew itself, there are still numerous corners that
still bespeak their Islamic past.
The small neighborhood of
the Puerta de la Vega, with which we can get acquainted through land-plats, and
photographs made at end of the 19th century, all present inviolate a
surprisingly medieval aspect. But this was totally destroyed when in 1885,
decision was made to locate in that area the Neo-Gothic Cathedral of the
Almudena, recently inaugurated.
Even so, in the eastern
zones, which soon would become suburbs, we can find an abundant number of
twisting streets and silent hidden ways.
In spite of the passing of
centuries and the renewing of housing, there scarcely exists in Madrid a house
from the years before the 16th century. But Islamic "medina",
with its otherworld aspect, its latticed windows, its curious carvings, its
silence and its high walls, can give one some sense of the old times, if you
were to take a stroll through the barrios of San Nicolás, San Justo or La
Another element related to
the Islamic "medina", is that given by
the baths, of which good examples have lived on in Spanish cities.
No known toponymy is extant
for the baths in that small Moslem Madrid. And on this theme, a query could be
launched: were those baths located within the "almudena"
or were they in some exterior area?
- Moslem look-out, toward the 8th and 9th
Almost all cylindrical, with door of entry separated from the
ground as a precautionary measure,
and surrounded by miserable houses of
villagers. The houses are joined by a railing,
which served as much for
defense as for a point of observation,
given that they were raised over
hills and elevated areas.
- Hispanic-Moslem houses.
The one on the
left has three rooms: one a living room, and the others are bedchambers;
on the right, serves also as a storeroom. The central house is little seen in
It has two floors, independent kitchen, an irregularly shaped
to guard the intimacy of the courtyard, hall and set
The custom of coloring the lower part of exterior walls, is continued
to our days
in many towns of the area.
- Remains of the old Moslem wall of Madrid.
- Hispanic-Moslem types.
The woman is
wearing a small cloak and she covers her face with a kerchief.
The man wears
a camisole and trousers.
Both of them use leathern clogs with wooden soles.
Copyright © 2002 by
JLL & FWF.
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