The largest medieval arsenal in the Peninsula | Culture

With the first lights of June 30, 1212, the armies of Alfonso VIII of Castile, Pedro II of Aragon and Sancho VII of Navarre (known as the Three Kings), as well as the hosts of Alfonso II of Portugal and hundreds of knights francs, they went towards the first act of the decisive battle of the Navas de Tolosa (Santa Eulalia, Jaén), that would take place 17 days later, and that it would end the Muslim power in the peninsular center. The capture of the fortified city of Calatrava (44 towers, solid walls and a moat fed with an ingenious hydraulic system) stood in his way before facing the very superior troops of the Almohad, Muhammad an-Nasir. The weapons used to take Calatrava (Carrión, Ciudad Real) have emerged over 34 years (the last archaeological campaign ended in September), which is already considered "the largest and most varied set of pieces of weapons found in a medieval site of the Iberian Peninsula ".

The largest medieval arsenal in the Peninsula

Since 1984, the archaeological team of Manuel Twists, from the Complutense University of Madrid, and Miguel Angel Hervás, has found much of the war material used: swords, crossbows, arrows, darts, arrows, assaults, bolts, spearheads and even burrs, the metal pieces that were thrown at the hooves of the horses. They have been unearthed, as indicated by the end of masters (June 2018) of the historian Alejandro Floristán, defended at the University of Alicante, "of more than 20,000 metallic objects", of which 1,605, for example, are "throwing elements" "

At the beginning of the 13th century, the borders between the Christian and Muslim kingdoms remained stable around al Guadiana. Between Toledo (Christian) and Córdoba (Muslim), only Calatrava became an important city. His possession was decisive for both sides, a sort of "bridgehead", as Retorce explains. The city, which would reach some 4,000 people, was built by the Umayyad emirate around 785 under the name of Qal'at Rabah (The Fortification or Encomienda of Rabah). It was made up of a fortress, a four-hectare medina, suburbs (with pottery industry), pentagonal towers, albarranas, elbow doors, a pit and a hydraulic system that fed it: an authentic fort protected by the Guadiana and Valdecañas rivers, and built on a hill , which had previously been occupied by the Iberians.

Castilian buckle of a Christian warrior.
Castilian buckle of a Christian warrior.

In 1147 it fell into the hands of the Christians, but the Muslims recovered it in 1195, as a result of their victory in the battle of Alarcos, until they lost it in 1212. From that moment, the borders of war begin to descend towards the south, reason why Calatrava lost its strategic importance. In addition, the insalubrity of the river (malaria) led to its definitive abandonment at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1774, the hermitage closed and his memory was lost in the mists of history.
In the seventies began the consolidation and reconstruction works (Santiago Camacho and Miguel Fisac) of the existing structures.

The largest medieval arsenal in the Peninsula

In 1984 archaeological excavation began. "The fact that the area was not very densely populated avoided, to a large extent, the looting of their remains", explains Retuerce, and today, in fact, It is a visitable archaeological park, next to the municipality of Carrión de Calatrava. The findings during these years have been abundant in ceramics (Islamic and Christian ajuares), glass, metals (belt clasps, ornaments of the belts, etc.), coins (two sets of fleece money of the thirteenth century) and even bone of a Muslim defender of the fortification.

Spearhead found in Calatrava.
Spearhead found in Calatrava.

For its part, the study of Floristan highlights the importance of the weapons findings because this branch of archeology is not as developed in Spain as in the United Kingdom, Germany or the United States. The capture of the city (according to the location of the weapons found both inside and outside the city) was carried out through a triple attack with the use of three bodies of Christian archers simultaneously to prevent the defenders from concentrating their forces on a single place. The archers "acted on the surface, launching" volleys of arrows "to eliminate or weaken the enemy, and later, the crossbowmen, who needed more time to load their weapons, fired more accurately at the besieged. "Incendiary", covered with tow to cause the flames to devour the target.

After the capture of Calatrava, the Frankish knights claimed to kill the Muslim defenders. Alfonso VIII refused. Most of the Franks became enraged and returned to their kingdom. And they would no longer participate, on July 16, in the decisive battle of Navas de Tolosa, and that was possible thanks to the capture, in the rear, of Calatrava, the one that definitely tipped the balance to the Christian side, a an all-out war that would last eight centuries.

Olive groves, vines and walls

The site of Calatrava la Vieja impresses. On an extensive plain covered with crops, vines and olive groves, next to the banks of the Guadiana and in the municipality of Carrión de Calatrava, a stony mass rises that surprises the visitor. A Muslim city in excavation that can be traveled with or without a guide and that resembles an island between the waters of the river.

The settlement is divided into two zones separated by a great wall: the fortress and the medina, while the potters' suburbs are left outside.

Access fees are 4 euros for adults and 2 for minors and groups. In the vicinity of the site, numerous temples and lagoons for a holiday. Then, food from La Mancha.

The Old and the New

The Order of Calatrava was a military and religious entity founded to protect the city of Calatrava from attack by Muslim troops. Alfonso VII of Castile, given the importance of the fortification, gave it to the Knights of the Temple, who could not keep it in Christian power

The defense was entrusted then to the new Order of Calatrava, which was created by the abbot of the Monastery of Fitero (Navarra) in 1158. But in the year 1217, the master Martín Fernández de Quintana decided to transfer the maestrazgo to Calatrava la Nueva, in the current municipality of Aldea del Rey (Ciudad Real).

The Old Woman then entered into complete decadence. At the beginning of the 19th century, it was already a depopulated state in an advanced state of ruin. The last outstanding event he experienced was the execution of Gregorio Monedero and Francisco Romo, some Elizabethan militiamen who were captured during the first Carlist War.


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