Discover more from Diverge
Madrid began..... how?
Newish theories about the founding of our city.
Recent days have answered two of my questions about the area near Madrid’s Royal Palace. And created more questions.
One question answered (sort of): When will museum of Royal Collections open. That’s the uncharming building next to the Almudenda Cathedral – I call it the Designer Shoebox because that’s what it most resembles. Truly ugly from all sides, marginally better from the river side, where it spoils the view of the Cathedral (not my fave building either, but hey). AND it totally spoils the view of the mountains from Las Vistillas park on the hill on the other side of calle Segovia. Anyway. The new museum will hold the carriage museum, a much-enlarged tapestry museum (Madrid has one of the largest tapestry collections in Europe), and a lot of other bits and pieces currently in storage in the Palace, for lack of places to show everything collected by the Monarchs over the centuries. The opening has been long delayed, and cynical me thought it was probably waiting for a politician to find time in their ever-busy schedule(s) to do a fancy inauguration, or perhaps waiting for budget for mops, floor cleaner and toilet paper. But no, they actually have a really cool project going (answer in question two). Now they say the museum will open next year.
Second question answered (sort of): What did they find when they excavated in the Plaza de la Armeria, between the Almudena Cathedral and the south façade of the Palace, and will we ever hear about it or see it. That’s supposedly the site of oldest-of-old Madrid, near / around the Muslim fortress that was the beginning of our city. The excavation was before they started building the museum and my understanding was that the excavation was part of the museum project, then the story dropped out of the news for yeeeaaaars. Only to re-surface recently. And answer is: They found quite a lot, though not as much as they expected. And not even what they expected. Plans are to incorporate at least some of those discoveries into the museum. So yes, hopefully we will get to see some of what they found, though I am not clear on exactly how that will be done. Figuring that out might be one of the reasons for delay in museum opening.
Which brings us to the new questions. How did Madrid really begin?
Lore claims Roman origin for Madrid, though that has been disproved – no remains and by logic, with truly Roman cities Toledo, Titulcia and Alcalá (Complutum) short distances on three sides, unlikely for this to be yet another Roman city. Lore also tells us that when the Muslims arrived in Iberia early in the 8th century, Madrid was already a town big enough to have around twelve parishes; the church handling a lot of what is now civil records, thus mentioned as evidence of town size. This has also been more or less disproved. Both bits of lore are probably an attempt to give Madrid a bit more cachet, given its relatively late and religiously challenged founding. I mean, how could the capital of the Spanish Empire (so connected to the Catholic church and converting Muslims, Jews and pagans to Christianity)be of Muslim military origin? No. Just no, at least for empire-builders.
Anyway. Until recently, the accepted theory for Madrid’s founding was a village around the Muslim fortress, established in the middle of the 9th century. The idea was that a relatively important fortress would need at least a medium size civilian population for outsourced work like farming or cooking or building or servants in the fortress. That would mean some buildings in the oldest-of-old near the actual fortress. But that isn’t what they found.
Instead, from the truly Islamic period (up to 1085 when Madrid became Christian (thanks to deal between Alfonso VI and Al-Qadir, last Muslim ruler of Toledo taifa), all they found were rubbish silos, wells and a ceramic kiln. (By the way, that’s another another bit of Madrid lore disproved, no local man climbed the Muslim city walls like a cat to help in the re-conquest, Madrid becoming Christian was a deal on highest level.) Other remains from that period (or almost) have been found elsewhere in old Madrid – Cava Baja, Plaza Carros, for example, which seems to indicate a small civilian population that did not live inside the walls of the original Muslim fortress. The archaeologists think that the soldiers must have lived in very basic dwellings that left no trace, or possibly on the unexcavated east side of the walled area, which reached calle Factor on the top edge of the mini park along Bailen. In any case, the number of soldiers and the size of the civilian population were apparently both smaller than expected, thinking of Madrid village starting in that time frame. Thus upending (sort of) the established theory.
The excavations also discovered that the first walled city was smaller than expected – more or less from calle Factor in the east to the edge of Plaza Armeria in the west, Cuesta de la Vega in the south to the fence on the north side of Plaza Armeria. Other surprise – though logical looking at lay of the land – is that Plaza de la Armeria was a steep slope towards the river, which makes for the fortess as a strategic high point. The area was filled and leveled under Felipe II (16th c) for the first royal stables; the 18th c stables created by architect Sabatini were on the north side of the palace.
The other discoveries included two stretches of the original Muslim city wall (9th or 10th century) and a number of much later civilian houses, late 12th century at the earliest (well after Madrid becoming Christian), with a construction style typical of Christian but not Muslim population. There were intriguing signs of a Jewish quarter, mixed with the “stay-behind” Muslims (known as “mudejares”).
These discoveries have opened a large and heated discussion over early Madrid history. The archaeologist explains her discoveries quite well in this article (Spanish only, sorry). Madrid has such a short history that every little bit is precious; it will be interesting to see how this plays out and whether they make any additional discoveries. See this article (and thanks to Facebook-mates who belong to Madrid history pages, you all ROCK!) http://www.fotomadrid.com/verArticulo/171