Various legends of later
years, with Christians as the actors, could be explained if we knew that
It is possible, however,
that in the "almudena" or the
"medina" of Madrid there may have been
water for the baths, but no shred of evidence, not even a place name, has come
down to our days. In Arabic towns there were, and still are in certain Moroccan
and Mauritanian towns, baths located outside the medina proper and outside town.
Usually these baths used
water from springs, which were preferred for their purity and thermal qualities.
In Madrid of the Middle Ages, there is record of some baths located next to the
San Pedro stream.
But then, to speak with
certainty of places where commercial trading was carried out is to fantasize,
for in Madrid no place-name has survived relating to these practices, which is
to the contrary of many Castilian and Andalusian towns. Yet, a comparison with
these and with present-day Arabic cities in Northern Africa, may permit us to
hazard some conjectures.
Moslem Madrid there could have been a market-place in front of the castle,
before the mosque or in the immediacies of the gateways, especially that of
Santa María or that of Almudena, since the surface-areas were flat within
the walls as well as outside, in contrast to areas at the Puerta de la Vega.
Given the population and its importance in this early
Madrid, which did not amount to anything extraordinary, one must think that
trade in Madrid must have dealt mainly in local needs, and at the farthest with
some nearby village centers.
Through all the Middle Ages,
Madrid did not develop as a center of commerce in the Kingdom, in contrast to
Alcalá de Henares, with its celebrated fairs. Therefore, its commercial
activities were probably proper to a middle-sized community and appropriate to
what was an outstanding military garrison.
To supply the demands of the
troops in their quarters, there must have been shops and skills serving the
Moslem army, and they must have been situated not far from the quarters
themselves, or it may be, near the castle-fortress (Alcázar).
Picture: Imaginary pictorialization of the Arabic wall,
the Gateway de la Vega is clearly seen.
- Drawn in 1956, by P. Schild. -
It is believed that the
services of that neighborhood during the Austrian-Hapsburg epoch, wherein
military skills predominated, had their roots in Arabic Madrid, since the zone
near the Puerta de la Vega had a military character, with its blacksmiths,
forges, armourers, carpenters, stables, and harnesses for supplies to the
As much the military
population as the civilian did not supply their wants purely from military
products and tasks relating to war-making. For very small that Madrid was in
those Moslem centuries, one still must grant them the existence of other trades
and skills, normal to any town of the Middle Ages.
These skills and trades cold
serve the needs of the castle-fortress (Alcázar), but even more of the
civilian population of the "medina". In
Madrid there would be living and working shoe and sandal-makers, tailors,
weavers, barbers, bakers, and perhaps some jeweler and dealer in spices.
One activity in Madrid which reached fame and
prestige, though lost in later years, was pottery-making, for from ancient times
the kilns of Madrid were lauded, wherein an excellent clay was baked. The most
ancient tribute known is from the geographer Al-Himllari, who said:
is, in Mayrit, a clay from which earthen pots are made, which can be of good
use; one can put them over the flames during twenty years, and they will not
break. Food that is stored in them will not be affected by hot atmosphere."
Pottery-making at Madrid
must have been lost early for there are no long any traces left of it by the era
of the Austrian-Hapsburgs. But we catch a clear echo of it in the utilitarian
clays and ceramics found in the area of Alcorcón, a town with a name of
Arabic origin near to Madrid that, up to the middle of the 20th century, was
making excellent earthen crocks and pots.
Together with jobs generated
by the presence of the military, and other tasks proper to any town, the major
occupation among people of Madrid, was agriculture and horticulture.
The commitment of denizens
of Madrid to cultivation of fields must begin among the Moslems, for when the
Visigoths existed here, their dedication was to hunting and the grazing of
The Arabs transformed their
town into an "agricultural city," due to the extraordinary activity
which Moslem Spaniards displayed in the fields.
It is a matter of record that city dwellers of that
Spain loved nature, and couldn't live without escaping once in a while from
their close urban centers, to enjoy life in country houses which they built with
gardens and orchards in the outskirts of the towns.
It is known also that every
Hispanic-Moslem town was set within a great ring of vegetable gardens, as
consequence of every Spanish-Moslem's desire to possess a piece of earth where
he could plant flowers and trees.
An interesting document of
the 14th century is extant, which contains a description of the natural
surrounds of the town, and even acknowledging some changes and modifications
made later, leads us to believe that they could not be much different from what
they looked like centuries before.
This document speaks of
barleyfields, saffron-growing, grounds sown with chick-peas, grape-vines,
walnut-trees, melon-patches, and orchards. And there was cultivation of apples,
figs, cherries, pomegranates, plums, almonds, pears, apricots, cermeña-pears,
peaches, quinces, and blackberries.
A little later, in 1500,
another document widens the vegetable list with morello (a variety of sour
cherry), olive groves, and other fruits. All of which with those well-documented
meadows and pastures paints a lush landscape around Medieval Madrid.
Although the most mentioned
traditional zone for location of gardens and work-fields is La Vega along the
Manzanares, it can be said that almost all the environs of the city must have
been used in agricultural, horticultural and stock-raising activities.
La Sagra gave its name to the extensive fields north of the town, beyond the
modern Plaza de Oriente. The word "Atocha" alluded to the fields of
esparto-grass, or "atochares" (esparto fields), on the Vallecas road.
abundance of water made possible, likewise, the cultivation of great irrigated
fields in the vicinity of the Monastery of the Jerónimos, and to the
east, where later on would be located the Paseo del Prado and the Botanic
To which one should add the
numerous place-names that many streets of Madrid have had or still keep, such as
Olivar, Alameda, Vallehermoso, Guindalera, Valverde, Hortaleza, Almendro, Parra,
Granado, Huertas, etc.
While certainly this is a
description or panorama of the early and later Middle Ages, in the military
community, many place-names, words and places will retain their primitive origin
until many years later, and even when these disappear, will linger in the
traditions and culture of the people.
The imprint of Moslem Madrid
was perhaps much greater through the later development of the City and the
Court, than we today imagine it.
- Hispanic-Moslem type.
He covers his head
with a beret,
and wears a vest and hare-skin boots.
- Interior of a Hispanic-Moslem city, about the
The horsemen on the left, carry long spears, ride without
their horses are adorned with half-moon hangings.
foreground each man wears a long mantle as a coat, while at his side,
is a vendor offering his wares to a woman accompanied by a child.
poor houses; they have only one story, excepting the one
rising next to the
minaret of the mosque.
- Remains of the old Moslem wall of Madrid.
- Plaque in honor of Muhammad I, placed near
the first wall
that he ordered to be built after conquering the small town,
at that time was Madrid.
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JLL & FWF.
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