Muslim Walls of Madrid

Overview of the remains preserved on Cuesta de la Vega, near the crypt of the La Almudena Cathedral.

The Muslim Walls of Madrid, also known as Arab Walls of Madrid, and some vestiges remain, are located in the Spanish city of Madrid. It is probably the oldest building on foot in the city. It was built in the 9th century, during the Muslim domination of the Iberian Peninsula, on a promontory next to Manzanares river. It was part of a fortress around which developed the urban nucleus of Madrid. It was declared an Artistic-Historic Monument in 1954.

The remains of utmost importance, with a more archaeological than artistic interest, are in the Cuesta de la Vega, next to the crypt of the Almudena Cathedral. They were built in the park of Mohamed I, named in reference to Muhammad I of Córdoba, considered the founder of the city.

Along the Calle Mayor street, at the number 83, next to Viaduct that saves the Calle de Segovia, are still standing the ruins of the Tower of Narigües, which probably would have been an albarrana tower, with a separate location of the wall itself, but connected thereto through a wall. Its function was to serve as a knoll.

In the 20th century, some remains were destroyed. The rest existing to the number 12 of the Calle de Bailén were lost with the construction of an apartment block, although some walls were integrated into the building structure, as its bottom. The remodeling of the Plaza de Oriente, completed in 1996 during the term of José María Álvarez del Manzano, meant the discovery and subsequent disappearance of numerous remains. This was not the case of the watchtower known as Tower de los Huesos, whose base is on display in the underground car park of the same plaza.

Between 1999 and 2000, another section was uncovered, about 70 metres (230 ft) long, under the Plaza de la Armería, formed by the main façades of the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral. It was excavated during the construction works of the Museum of Royal Collections (unfinished) and may correspond to the Puerta de la Sagra, one of the gates to the walled enclosure.[1]

Historical Context

Walled enclosures in Al-Andalus

Detail drawing by Anton van den Wyngaerde in 1562, where seen the Muslim Walls of Madrid, from the disappeared Alcázar to the left, until the gate Puerta de la Vega, to the right.

When studying the Muslim urbanism it is necessary in the first instance to avoid a number of very usual platitudes on the subject. First, far from what is usually said to compare the Muslim with the Christian cities, the firsts is not a cluster of buildings without any order. On the contrary, because, as Torres Balbás says, "The islamization was a uniform urban mold, result of a way of life."[2] For example, the finding of winding streets responds to a context in which the defense is a fundamental necessity.[3]

With respect to the Walls, it fulfills several functions. The Muslim cities have as core a medina, which were, among other buildings, the main mosque, the hammam, and it is surrounded by a wall, is deducted the defensive, symbolic and administrative function that follows the walled enclosure. In Madrid occur the same, and the Walls was called to protect the fundamental area of the city -not only abroad, but also of potential internal revolts from the suburbs (also possibly walled)-, to through the Walls a differentiation of spaces, to thanks to the gates -three in this case- it could do a tax control.

Thus, the city was divided between medina or center of religious and commercial life, and rabad, the "populous neighborhoods outside the walls". From a planning point of view, the Walls condition the urbanism through its gates and its path: its gates because through of it would run the streets of greater affluence and its layout because the neighborhoods would range around it.

In this section could also talk about the different proposals when lifting a Walls, from the materials used to model to suit the terrain. However, there many models as cases.[4]

Medieval Madrid

Drawing of the Royal Alcázar of Madrid of J. Cornelius Vermeyenen, made around 1534-1535. On the left side is observed part of the Muslim Walls, in the 16th century, had a visible state of deterioration.

The construction of this Walls is directly linked to the origin of Madrid. It was ordered built by the Córdoban emir Muhammad I (852 - 886) on an unspecified date between the years 860 and 880, according to a text of al-Himyari.[5] It was in an area not chosen by chance. It was a wide cultivated valley, with easy access to water reserves.[6] It defended the almudaina or Muslim citadel of Mayrit (first name of the city), located on the site currently occupied by the Royal Palace.

According to Muslim chroniclers of the time, the Walls had a great quality in their construction and their materials. The historian Jerónimo de Quintana echoed these accounts in the following text of the 17th century, "very strong of masonry and mortar, raised and thick, twelve feet [almost three and half meters] in width, with large cubes, towers gatehouses and moats".[7]

The fortified complex had as mission to monitor the river path of the Manzanares, which connected the steps of the Sierra de Guadarrama with Toledo, threatened by the incursions of the Christian kingdoms of north peninsular. It was governed as a ribat or community both religious and military at the same time.[8]

The Walls of Mayrit was integrated within a complex defensive system, which extended through different parts of Community of Madrid.[8] These include that of Talamanca de Jarama, that of Qal'-at'-Abd-Al-Salam (Alcalá de Henares) and that of Qal'-at-Jalifa (Villaviciosa de Odón). However, do not think Mayrit as a core of large entity, but as one of many that had -so is it that sometimes is difficult to find references to the city in the chronicles-.[9]

In the 10th century the caliph of Córdoba Abd-ar-Rahman III ordered to reinforce the Walls, after suffering several situations of danger, as Christian advance of the King Ramiro II of León in 932. In the year 977, Almanzor chose the fortress of Mayrit as the origin point of his military campaign.

With the Christian conquest of Mayrit in the 9th century, the primitive walled area was expanded, rising one of wider perimeter, known as Christian Walls of Madrid. Thus, the Madrilenian core did not lose its defensive function at any time.[10]

The image of Saint Mary the Royal of la Almudena, formerly called Saint Mary la Mayor, was found in 1085 (three centuries after the Christians hid it from Muslims) in the conquest of the city by King Alfonso VI of León and Castile, in one of the hubs of the Walls, near the gate Puerta de la Vega, and placed in the old mosque, for its worship and devotion for the Court and the people of Madrid.


General Information

Another view of the remains in the park of Mohamed I.

The Muslim Walls of Madrid protected a fortified complex, which highlighted three main buildings: the alcázar, the mosque and the house of the emir or governor.[11]

It started directly from the alcázar, from its southern part, with the other three sides of the building uncovered, because the rough terrain did not require a greater fortification there. To the west, the cliffs located on the plain of Manzanares river constituted a natural defense of the alcázar; similar function fulfilled the ravines and gorges of the brook del Arenal, to the north and to the east.

Its total length was about 980 meters (3,220 ft) and enclosed an area of about 4 hectares (9.9 acres).[12] It had an outside moat only in its eastern section, the one where the ground had an elevation even higher than that of the Walls.

Around the Walls, there were several independent watchtowers, but only have a historical record of the Tower de los Huesos, named for its proximity to a cemetery. This was built in the 11th century, before the conquest of Madrid by the king Alfonso VI of León and Castile and integrated into the Christian Walls as Albarrana tower.

Outside the Walls, there were different public lands dedicated to leisure and equestrian games (almusara), plus a Muslim neighborhood or medina, and a Christian suburb or mozarabs.


Detail of the gate Puerta de la Vega, in the plan of Pedro Teixeira, of 1656.

The Walls has three gates, of direct access and without bend:

From an archaeological perspective, the Puerta de la Vega is that more data offers, thus existing references as data extrapolated from the excavations. Has documented the foundations of one of the buckets that flank, in origin, this gate. The dimensions of the access, according to data from the excavations, would be 4.5 and 3.5 meters (15 and 11 ft).[13] Typologically is a narrow gate, between two towers and a poorly developed. After the archaeological activities have been preserved only the foundation, but these are outside of its original position.


The wall was organized in different towers, quadrangular, of between 3.3 and 2.4 meters wide (10.8 and 7.9 ft), according to the tower-[13] and with paw at the base, with an arrangement slightly protruding with respect to the main wall. It happened approximately every 20 meters (66 ft). His stretches combined stonework of flint and limestone.[14]

Despite the measures, currently just highlight respect to the wall in which its are framed. In the section that must necessarily serve as a guide for being the best preserved, that of Park Mohamed I, has about twenty m (66 ft) between tower and tower, housing a total of six, although one tower was lost, but is proven by its base. The towers serve to confirm, once again, that this constitutes an enclosure of an Islamic court. This follows by the shape of the towers, as usually the Christians use a semicircular shape, clearly far from those seen in the park Muhamed I.

Visible fragments

Park of Mohamed I

Remains of the Muslim Walls of Madrid, in the Cuesta de la Vega, integrated within the Park of Mohamed I.

This is the most important fragment, both in retained as in available when visiting. The excavations carried out there in 1972-1975 and 1985 onwards have been supplemented by the demolition of a 19th-century building that sat on the stretch itself, and revealed a lot of data. This came two years after 1985, which also represented a restoration and enhancement of the section of the wall.

It has in view approximately 120 meters length (390 ft). This part of the Walls has been preserved for being used as a load-bearing wall in buildings of modern times, which after its demolition have been allowed to surface. However, the fact that it has been used as a foundation should not be overlooked, because all the Walls could have had such a fate. Apparently, many sections of the Walls were rebuilt and remodeled, and others may have suffered more in the course of history.

It is a stretch of a width around 2.6 meters (8 ft 6 in), which is quite consistent if put in relation to the size of the towers that are around it. There are two exterior walls that have inside masonry to mode of core.[15] The masonry is linked with lime mortar. It is of note that all materials that make the stretch could be found relatively close to the city areas, which reaffirms once again the geostrategic role of the rise in which emerged the Islamic city.

Deepening in the two facing walls, its bottoms are formed by large blocks of flint, cut only on its outer face and slightly trimmed, but not modeling, inside. From there rise ashlars of limestone, providing a new finding that the track is of al-Andalusian origin, because the materials follow the style of Cordoban rigging, which is a constant in the centuries in which life unfolds in Madrid. The Córdoban rigging is an ashlar to rope -the longest part of it abroad - and two or three blight, the short side visible. This is difficult to appreciate along the stretch, because the passage of time. In fact, it is possible that the Walls was remodeled in the 10th century after a siege of Ramiro II of León, but never possible that was rebuilt.

Finding on foot of wall the Córdoban rigging may be difficult, because when it put in value in the late 1980s was applied a render in white, if it was on track to hide some patches implanted in the wall during its time as load-bearing wall also hid some details. On the other hand, the small arch that can be seen capping could be a sort of drain without interest, which follows the documentation of modern times, which marks the passage of a small stream by that area. To try to provide a more historical perspective was recreated a small slope to try to rebuild the period atmosphere, as transformed by the growth of Madrid.

Calle Bailén 12

The calle Bailén n.º 12 is a building founded on remnants of the Walls. This was built in 1970s,[16] and though by then it already was an Artistic Historical Monument, two sections of the Walls and a tower were destroyed -one to make site to the building, and other to give way to its tenants-.

The building, however, retains some vestiges of the stretch in a very bad state, because at present are part of their private garage. These are remains very similar to those of Park of Muhamed I, because it is an extension of the same.

The incomprehensible destruction was accompanied by some documentation work, and today is known to have a width of 2.5 meters -a little narrower than the portion that has already been seen- and offered a possibility that can not usually be: the dissection of the wall. The data regarding the core of lime mortar masonry are given by this construction.[17]

Construction of Museum of Royal Collections (2008), where it have found remains of the Muslim Walls.

Future Museum of Royal Collections

There is another large section of the Arab walls found in the late-1990s, directly opposite the Almudena Cathedral. These remains have surfaced as part of the works of the future Museum of Royal Collections. As an area in which it is impossible to make any kind of archaeological tasting, the specialist Alain Kermovan traced the route through radioelectric detectors, without lifting the pavement.[18]

Are two stretches from the Islamic period, which between them account for about 70 meters. The materials used are the same, and construction techniques, but not the thickness: this exceeds, on average, the 3.2 meters, being slightly wider than previously seen. Here it has been able to verify the height, ranging around 7 meters, although this is found only in a section, because the other is destroyed completely.

Archaeological excavations

Until 1985, the archaeological excavations in the city of Madrid only had by protagonists visible elements such as fortified enclosures or churches. That, for the study of the Muslim Walls, is that since the first excavations of the late 18th century and the beginning of 19th century have been carrying out archaeological works.

In the 20th century, there are some advances over the wall. The Instituto Arqueológico de Madrid, in the sixties and seventies, performs some tasks aimed at protecting the first and second enclosure, since both had been declared "monuments" in the fifties. Thus, were carried out archaeological campaigns in some areas as the Cuesta de la Vega -between 1972 and 1975- or the Calle Mayor.[19]

The lack of visible remains playing against the excavations in finding activities related to the Muslim walled. Since 1985 it has been excavated on the Cuesta de la Vega, placing on value the most important section of this enclosure setting the park called Muhamed I, in honor of the founder of the city.

See also


  1. Rafael Fraguas (1999). "It seen the Muslim Wall at the Armory". Spain: (from a text published in El País newspaper). Retrieved 2008. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. BIDAGOS, P. and others, Resumen histórico del urbanismo..., p. 79.
  3. BIDAGOS, P. ad others, Resumen histórico del urbanismo..., p. 92.
  4. For more information on this topic, see B. Pavón, Spanish-Muslim cities.
  5. MONTERO VALLEJO, M., Madrid musulmán, p. 88.
  6. FERNÁNDEZ UGALDE and others, Las murallas de Madrid..., p. 26.
  7. First Enclosure: Muslim Walls ", in the Medieval Madrid
  8. 1 2 Montero Vallejo, M. Madrid musulmán, p. 89.
  9. FERNÁNDEZ UGALDE and others, Las murallas de Madrid..., p. 30
  10. FERNÁNDEZ UGALDE and others, Las murallas de Madrid..., p. 31.
  11. Gea Ortigas, María Isabel (1999). Las murallas de Madrid. Madrid, Spain: La Librería. ISBN 84-89411-29-8.
  12. CÁMARA MUÑOZ, A. y GUTIERREZ MARCOS, J., Castillos, fortificaciones..., p. 173.
  13. 1 2 FERNÁNDEZ y otros, Las murallas de Madrid..., p. 55.
  14. Castellanos Oñate, José Manuel (2005). "Primer recinto: muralla musulmana". Spain: El Madrid medieval. Archived from the original on November 22, 2015. Retrieved 2008. |archive-url= is malformed: timestamp (help); Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  15. FERNÁNDEZ UGALDE and others, Las murallas de Madrid..., p. 52.
  16. FERNÁNDEZ UGALDE and others, Las murallas de Madrid..., p. 56.
  17. FERNÁNDEZ UGALDE y otros, Las murallas de Madrid..., p. 57.
  18. El País (newspaper), September 16, 2001.
  19. MENA MUÑOZ, P. y NOGUERAS MONTEAGUDO, M. E., Las excavaciones arqueológicas en el casco..., p. 256.


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