The story

Alcazar of Toledo

Alcazar of Toledo



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The Alcazar of Toledo, or the Toledo Fortress, in Spain is a square fortified building with four imposing towers sitting high atop a hill overlooking the city.

Dating back to the third century Roman era, the Alcazar of Toledo was restored under the rule of Alfonso VI and Alfonso X. It was once again restored under Charles V in 1535, with each ruler adding different elements to its design. As a result, each of its four facades bears a different style, including Renaissance, Plateresque, medieval and Churrigueresque, making the Alcazar of Toledo architecturally as well as historically fascinating.

During the Spanish Civil War, the Alcazar of Toledo was the site of the dramatic Siege of Alcazar, when the Nationalist Colonel José Moscardó Ituarte managed to hold the fort despite fierce attempts by the Republicans and, according to legend, maintained this control despite the kidnap and subsequent shooting of his son. The Siege of Alcazar turned this site into a symbol of Spanish nationalism. The Alcazar of Toledo now houses an army museum.


When Brigadier General Federico Fuentes Gomez de Salazar died on January 15, 2018, just before he could celebrate his 100th birthday, he was the last surviving defender of the Alcazar of Toledo. His remains were deposited, according to his will, in the crypt of the Alcazar, where he had been the director of the museum for nearly twenty years.

Who does not know the epic story of the defense of the Alcazar of Toledo? As soon as the uprising began, Colonel José Moscardó Ituarte, military commander of Toledo Square, joined the movement. On July 22, unable to confront the opposing troops that General Riquelme sent from Madrid, Moscardó and his men took refuge in the Alcazar.

They were joined by a group of civilian volunteers (including Federico Fuentes who was then seventeen years old), and by the families of many defenders. A total of 1203 combatants, including 107 volunteer civilians (60 young Falangist activists, 5 Carlists, 8 monarchists, 15 right-wing independents and 1 radical who would take on the most dangerous missions under Captain Vela and who would suffer the heaviest losses), along with 564 non-combatants (mostly women and children).

Very quickly, surrounded by much larger numbers, they were bombarded without respite by artillery and enemy airplanes. But all to no avail! The Alcazar resisted and did not surrender. One by one, the multiple assaults were driven back. Two powerful mines shattered most of the walls, but when the assailants jumped through, certain of victory, the survivors sprang from the ruins and repelled the onslaught again and again.

In two months of terrible fighting, from July 21 to September 27, 1936, only 35 men deserted, who were largely worried about the fate of their families, whom they wanted to join at all costs.

Of all the dramatic episodes of the siege of the Alcazar, the best known is that of the telephone conversation of Moscardó with his son, Luis. Arrested in Toledo on 23 July by far-left militiamen, Luis was threatened with being shot if his father and the Alcazar did not surrender. The few brief phrases the two men exchanged quickly go around the world:

Luis: Dad!
Moscardó: What’s going on with you, my son?
Luis: Nothing, at all… they say they will shoot me if the Alcazar does not surrender. But don’t worry about me.
Moscardó: If it is true commend your soul to God, shout Long live Spain, and you will be a hero who died for her. Goodbye my son, a big kiss, with much love!
Luis: Goodbye Dad, a big kiss, with much love!
Moscardó: You can all spare yourself the waiting for end of the deadline and start shooting, my son. The Alcazar will never surrender!

The threat would be carried out, not on the same day, as the ABC newspaper in Seville said at the time (a mistake reproduced in France by Henri Massis and Robert Brasillach, in the first version of their book The Cadets of the Alcazar, published in 1936), but actually a month later. Luis was shot in Toledo on August 23, along with eighty other inmates.

Taken with the other prisoners to the Puerta del Cambron, he was executed at the foot of the wall of the imperial city. All along the way, clutching his rosary, the condemned man prayed in a low voice. About his son, Moscardó later wrote: “He twice shouted, ‘Long live Spain! Long live Spain! Arise, Spain!’ and fell before the Marxist rifles, for God and for the Fatherland.”

The colonel learned of the tragic death of his two sons José and Luis (one in Barcelona, the other in Toledo), on the day of the liberation of the Alcazar (September 28, 1936). Asked years later, he said: “That moment was so hard and so cruel that I felt my legs crumble under me… this was the price of my glory. I will never be able to feel the slightest pride for an act that my children have paid so much for!”

Though well established, the facts have always and largely been disputed by the historiography favorable to the Popular Front. The “symbol of Francoist hagiography” could not fail to provoke controversy.

The first critical version was conceived by the American historian, Herbert Matthews. In his book, The Yoke and the Arrows (1957), based on various testimonies, including that of the painter, Quintanilla, Matthews questioned the essence of this episode, believing that “the story was too good to be true.” He claimed that Luis Moscardó was a 19-year-old soldier who died in Madrid, while defending the Montaña barracks that telephone communication was impossible because the line was cut and that finally the refugee women and children were just hostages.

Authors that came after him, claimed that Moscardó had not dared to surrender because his own comrades-in-arms would have shot him. Others added that under no circumstances did the Republicans intend to carry out their threat.

Finally, some authors went so far as to suggest that Luis was a coward and that his father would have liked to have him shot. These aspersions and slanders would have not deserved attention had the version imagined by Matthews not itself been taken up by historians and journalists, such as, Hugh Thomas (1961), Vilanova (1963), Southworth (1963), Cabanellas (1973), Nourry (1976), or more recently Preston (1994) and Herreros (1995).

But in 1997, in their book, El Alcázar de Toledo. Final de una polémica (Madrid, Actas, 1997), historians Alfonso Bullon de Mendoza and Luis Eugenio Togores, have gathered sufficient evidence to silence the controversy. Luis was actually 24-years old and not 19. He was not in the military, since he had done his military service four years earlier. He was not in Madrid, but in Toledo.

His mother had begged him not to join his father and not to leave her alone. He was arrested on July 23rd, imprisoned with his younger brother, Carmelo, and shot on August 23rd. The phone line was not cut. It was controlled by the militiamen who occupied the Toledo telephone exchange. They could connect or disconnect, as they pleased. Five officers, present in Moscardó’s office, had witnessed the scene. One of Colonel Moscardó’s officers, Commander Cirujano, immediately left the office to gather and inform all the defenders.

In a 2010 interview with ABC, General Fuentes said, “I can testify to the veracity of this conversation in which the colonel sent his son to his death. There is also the telephone operator, a young soldier, who listened in and later recounted the conversation. I was next to the office with several people – a cadet, my brother and my cousins. But we could of course hear that Moscardó…”

In the Toledo Provincial Deputation Building, where Luis Moscardó was being held, there was another prisoner who also testified. This was Luis Moreno Nieto, who was later a ABC correspondent for nearly fifty years. Moreno Nieto reported that he saw Luis come out really upset. His statement would be corroborated by two other people present in the presidential office of the deputation – the caretaker and the telephone operator.

In fact, Cándido Cabellos, lawyer, head of the Toledo militias, and the “republican” intermediary of the commander of the Alcazar, had several militiamen around him, four of whom testified after the Civil War. As to the possibility that non-combatant civilians were hostages, it is simply a non-starter. Of the 564, 16 were in fact prisoners who were never used as bargaining chips. We have the exact list of the names of the besieged, who were all decorated with the Laureate Cross of San Fernando.

In a recent biography of Franco, the historian and polemicist Paul Preston, close to the Spanish Socialist Party, also persists in denouncing the alleged hostage-taking and criticizing the “apocryphal legend” of the telephone conversation. No doubt he did not bother to read the few honest and edifying testimonies that appear in the archives of Moscardó, and which is given below:

Here is first an excerpt from Matthews’s letter to the widow of General Moscardó, dated September 20, 1960:

“Dear Madam, I am writing to you at the suggestion of some friends who informed me that the passage in my book, The Yoke and the Arrows, which refers to the Alcazar has pained you and your family. I regret this and I beg you and your family to accept my most sincere apologies… I am convinced, having read the arguments of Manuel Aznar and discussed this case with trustworthy people, that I was completely wrong. I am preparing a revised edition of my book … and I can assure you that the chapter on the Alcazar will no longer be included.”

On June 25, 1960, the historian, Hugh Thomas, who had also given credit to Matthews’s version, also retracted. He wrote a letter, published in The New Statements (then reproduced in the ABC of June 29, 1960), which read: “After a full search… I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong… I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to the members of the Moscardó family, in particular to the general’s widow, Doña Maria Moscardó.”

In another letter, dated June 15, 1983, the French journalist from Le Figaro, Philippe Nourry, also author of a book on Franco, wrote the following words: “I am sorry indeed to have made this mistake concerning the reality of the telephone conversation between Colonel Moscardó and his son Luis. I understand that it must be very painful for the Colonel’s family to find that doubt continues to hang over this glorious and dramatic episode of the Civil War. Certainly, the extract from the notebooks, which you have just sent me, obviously provides irrefutable proof of the truth of the facts.”

The author of the anti-Alcazar legend, Herbert Matthews, kept his word. In the revised edition of his book, he writes: “There is no doubt that the conversation took place, that the father had to suffer this agony and that his son bravely faced death.” Then he concluded bluntly: “Everything was really according to the best and worst of the Spanish tradition.”

In the new Alcazar Army Museum in Toledo, Colonel Moscardó’s office remains one of the main attractions, although one can no longer listen to the moving but fictive reproduction of the historical conversation between father and son. Interviewed by the ABC in 2010, at the inauguration of the museum, General Federico Fuentes concluded with a lump in his throat and wet eyes: “A civil war is the worst thing that can ever happen.”

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows a scene from the siege and defense of the Alcazar.


Toledo

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Toledo, city, capital of Toledo provincia (province), in the comunidad autónoma (autonomous community) of Castile–La Mancha, south-central Spain. It is situated on a rugged promontory washed on three sides by the Tagus River, 42 miles (67 km) south-southwest of Madrid.

Of ancient origin, Toledo is mentioned by the Roman historian Livy as urbs parva, sed loco munita (“a small city, but fortified by location”). Conquered by the Roman general Marcus Fulvius Nobilior in 193 bce , it became an important Roman colony and the capital of Carpentia. The city was the residence of the Visigothic court in the 6th century and site of the famous councils, the third of which (589) was particularly important because of King Recared’s conversion to Christianity. During the Moorish period (712–1085), it was the home of an important Mozarab community (Arabic-speaking Christians). Taken by King Alfonso VI in 1085, it became the most important political and social centre of Castile. It was the scene of a fusion of Christian, Arab, and Jewish culture, an example of which was the School of Translators (Escuela de Traductores) established by Alfonso X (the Wise) in the 13th century. The city’s importance declined after Philip II made Madrid his capital (1560).

Toledo is considered most representative of Spanish culture, and its historic centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. Its rocky site is traversed by narrow, winding streets, with steep gradients and rough surfaces, centring on the Plaza del Zocodover. Two bridges cross the Tagus: in the northeast is the bridge of Alcántara, at the foot of the medieval castle of San Servando, parts of which date from Roman and Moorish times in the northwest is the bridge of San Martín, dating from the late 13th century. Parts of the walls of Toledo are of Visigothic origin, although most are Moorish or Christian. There are well-preserved gateways from various periods, including the Puerta Vieja de Bisagra (10th century), traditionally used by Alfonso VI in 1085.

Important buildings showing Islamic influence include the former mosques of Bib-al-Mardom (Cristo de la Luz 10th century), with interesting cross vaulting, and of Las Toernerías the Mudéjar synagogues of Santa María la Blanca (12th century) and El Tránsito (14th century housing the Sephardic museum) and the Mudéjar churches of San Román, of Cristo de la Vega, of Santiago del Arrabal, and of Santo Tomé. The last has a fine tower and a chapel containing the painting Burial of the Conde de Orgaz by El Greco.

The cathedral, generally considered the most Hispanic of Spanish Gothic cathedrals, was begun by King Ferdinand III and Archbishop Rodrigo Jimenez de Rada in 1226. Outstanding among innumerable works of art are the choir stalls, the large retablo mayor (raised altarpiece), the ornate chapel of Don Alvaro de Luna, the Mozarab Chapel, and the Chapter House. There is also a rich museum that has a processional custodia (for carrying the monstrance and host) by Enrique de Arfe (1524) and a series of paintings by El Greco, Francisco de Goya, Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Luis de Morales, and others. The elaborate Church of San Juan de los Reyes, constructed by Juan Guas, is in Isabelline style.

Of the same period is the Casa de la Santa Hermandad, now partly a museum. Dating from the early 16th century is the Hospital de Santa Cruz, designed by Enrique de Egas, restored and now used for the Provincial Museum of Archaeology and Fine Arts. Construction of the Alcázar (fortress), which dominates the city, began about 1531 to a design by Alonso de Covarrubias and with a fine patio by Francisco Villalpando it houses the Army Museum. Its defense by the Nationalists in 1936 was one of the most heroic episodes of the Spanish Civil War. Other renowned buildings include the Ayuntamiento (early 18th century), the numerous Baroque churches, the Neoclassical Hospital del Nuncio and the Institute of Secondary Education, the museums of El Greco’s house and of the Taller del Moro, and the modern Military Academy of Infantry. The city also has numerous parks and promenades.

Toledan steel and particularly swords have long been famous, being mentioned as early as the 1st century bce in the Cynegetica of Grattius “Faliscus.” There is an important National Factory of Arms and workshops for damask and engraving, which produce metalwork decorated in the Mudéjar tradition. A characteristic product is marzipan, a Christmas sweet made from almonds and sugar.

Since the 1990s the city’s economic focus has changed from agriculture to industry, in particular to the manufacture of chemicals, machinery, furniture, and electronics. Commerce, services, and tourism also have increased in importance owing to Toledo’s proximity to Madrid. Pop. (2006 est.) 77,601.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Heather Campbell, Senior Editor.


The Siege of the Toledo Alcazar.

[Writer's note, 5/18/2021: Finally getting this review essay up, and hope to have a few more (self) distracting pieces up soon. Thank you for the prayers.]

Given the general Anglo-American ignorance of things Hispanidad, it is not a surprise that the siege of the Alcazar in the Spanish Civil War is virtually unheard of in our circles today.

This is unfortunate, because as a matter of human drama alone it is worthy of study.

On July 18-19, 1936, much of the Spanish army officer corps rose against the increasingly-anarchic Spanish Republic. One of the bastions that eventually threw itself in with the uprising was the Toledo Alcazar, an ancient fortress which at the time operated as an infantry academy.

It was a military history museum when I visited it in 1989.

Toledo is a little over 40 miles (73 km) from Madrid, and is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain.

Let me amend that: it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Like Venice, it leaves an indelible impression on the visitor.

The former capital of the Spains (until Philip II packed up and moved north to a then-insignificant market town called Madrid), it was the adopted home of El Greco and still contains some of the most marvelous architecture in the world. I will return there one day. if not soon.

The salient feature of the July 1936 officer alzamiento was that it succeeded in about 40 percent of the planned locations and generally failed in large cities. In Toledo itself, there was no attempt to take over the city. Those in charge of and manning the Alcazar were not part of the plotting and learned of it after the fact. However, they were in sympathy with the uprising and drifted into open rebellion.

The Alcazar's semi-retired commander, Colonel Jose Moscardo Ituarte, was a soccer fanatic who had been looking forward to going to the Berlin Olympics to watch Spain's national team in action. But once the uprising occurred, he became cagey in his dealings with Madrid. He refused (truly, if sometimes only technically) illegal orders to turn over weaponry and ammunition to the Republic's partisan militias. He also stalled for time by asking for actual legal authorities in the defense ministry to follow the proper chain of command. In the meantime, he assembled as many reliable troops as possible--ranging from teenage cadets, police, Falangists and volunteers to a handful of regular soldiers--to man the defenses of the Alcazar. He also brought in at least 700,000 rounds (not a typo) of rifle ammunition from the city's arms factory and as much spare food as could be found. In addition, the family and friends of the army and Guardia Civil who supported the rebellion were gathered in.

Despite it being a conservative ciudad which had voted strongly for the right-wing coalition in the controversial February elections, there was no prospect of holding the entire city. There was some preliminary planning, but it was implausible, given the lack of troops. And it was recognized that since the Alcazar was the closest "success" to Madrid, that immediately made it a prime objective for the now-revolutionary regime there. Instead, a couple of blocking forces were placed at obvious choke points to hold off the enemy for a bit.

And it was not long after Moscardo had exhausted his passive-aggressive delays that the Republic rushed troops to take the fortress.

Moscardo expressed his belief that the siege would last 14 days, tops.

What followed next was a nearly eleven-week siege which reduced most of the fortress and outbuildings to rubble through accurate artillery bombardment and somewhat less accurate aerial bombing.

In the face of this overwhelming firepower, the 1,100 defenders had plenty of rifle ammunition, an artillery piece with a few rounds and a functional mortar--also with limited ammo. These latter two weapons were saved for breakthrough threats only.

It was a nearly passive defense, with the defenders only firing when the militias launched infantry attacks on the grounds of the increasingly-destroyed fortress.

The civilians lived in the well-protected underground parts of the Alcazar, safe even from the massive and well-crewed 155 mm artillery pieces of the Republicans. No civilians died directly from the attacks themselves.

As to rations, there was horse and mule meat (from the animals in the stables) sacks of wheat run through a jury-rigged grinder, occasional foraging raids which turned up other food and, later in the siege, two Nationalist airdrops. Water consisted of a liter of brackish cistern water per person per day.

With electricity cut, the defenders were unable to get a clear picture of the status of the uprising for two weeks. For all they knew, they might be alone. Finally, a working radio was cobbled together and the defenders learned that civil war was raging across Spain. While they were not alone, the nearest Nationalist troops were 300 miles away, and there was no guarantee the Alcazar would be considered worthy of relief, with the big prize of Madrid lying just to the north.

Fortunately for them, Francisco Franco, the bantam-sized commander of the Nationalists' elite Army of Africa, thought the Alcazar was not only worthy of rescue, it was essential. While Franco's tactical instincts were cautious, his political sense was usually correct, as it was here. The propaganda impact of the siege was already foremost in the minds of the warring sides--and the liberation of the Alcazar would be a huge boon to the Nationalist cause. So the African veterans were loaded into every conceivable motor vehicle which could be scrounged up (including a purple bus) and launched northward.

The siege ground on for almost eleven weeks, and despite the fortress being reduced to rubble, it was liberated by the Army of Africa on September 27, 1936--with Moroccan troops in the vanguard, barely beating a Spanish Legion spearhead racing for the prize. The Moroccans were greeting with overwhelming joy, and responded with gentleness to the emaciated and often traumatized defenders, reassuring them that after a couple of solid meals they'd be able to go off and kill Reds together.

The two best accounts of the siege in English are either out of print or available as reprints of possibly dubious quality.

The earliest is English historian Geoffrey McNeill-Moss' The Siege of the Alcazar (the British version is entitled The Epic of the Alcazar). Moss was an English army officer and now-forgotten popular novelist and historian. He arrived in Spain shortly after the siege was lifted, had access to Moscardo's daily log and interviewed numerous members of the garrison. He also acquired photographs of the fortress right after the siege, and had diagrams drawn up based on his interviews of the participants. Thus, his access to primary source material was unparalleled in English and remains essential. He tries to (and mostly succeeds) at being objective, not uncritically handing on all of the atrocity stories reported by the Nationalists, and he warns the reader when he cannot make judgments about disputed claims. But he clearly admires the defenders and ascribes their endurance to their Catholic faith. He notes that there was a stockpile of wheat that lay in the no-man's land between the lines, but the garrison never emptied it out, instead taking what they needed to get by for a week or two at a time. He could only ascribe it to the decision to place themselves into the hands of Providence. He also notes (and backs it up with photographic evidence) that the garrison took care not to shoot at holy images when possible. The main failure of the book is also, weirdly, a strength, as it is a nearly-claustrophobic focus on the day-by-day events from the perspective of the Alcazar alone. But his skill as a writer keeps it from being monotonous.

Nearly thirty years later, Cecil D. Eby, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, also recounted the siege in a book from Random House. Of the two, I would more quickly recommend Eby's to the casual reader. Some reviews (wrongly) criticize Eby in comparison to McNeill-Moss, claiming his view of the siege pays less attention to the primary sources. A quick read of the bibliographical chapter essays at the end of the book disposes of that critique quickly. He was meticulous in his review of the sources, and handled all of them with a critical eye. Apart from that, what Eby does better is giving a fuller overview of the siege in the context of the wider war, and names more of the participants--when given permission. He recounts an odd moment where a surviving officer, who happily assisted with information, balked at being given an acknowledgment. The officer wasn't worried about negative consequences, but could not see the point. So Eby respected that, albeit with bafflement. To use the modern parlance, it seems to be a Spanish thing which we Anglos can't understand. Which is probably the best explanation of any.

So, my recommendation is the opposite of the way I did it--read Eby's first, then get granular with McNeill-Moss if you want the Das Boot view of the conflict.


The Siege of the Alcazar

Luis: Dad!
Moscardó: What’s going on with you, my son?
Luis: Nothing, at all… they say they will shoot me if the Alcazar does not surrender. But don’t worry about me.
Moscardó: If it is true commend your soul to God, shout Long live Spain, and you will be a hero who died for her. Goodbye my son, a big kiss, with much love!
Luis: Goodbye Dad, a big kiss, with much love!
Moscardó: You can all spare yourself the waiting for end of the deadline and start shooting my son. The Alcazar will never surrender!

Colonel Jose Moscardo, July 3, 1936. His response to the militia commander of the besieging Republican forces who told him by phone that his son Luis would be shot if he did not immediately surrender the Alcazar of Toledo. His son, shouting defiance at his murderers, was executed a month later. By coincidence, another of Moscardo’s sons was executed by Republican forces in Barcelona on the same date as the phone call.

Dale Price at Dyspeptic Mutterings looks at two books on the siege, both of which grace my library:

Given the general Anglo-American ignorance of things Hispanidad, it is not a surprise that the siege of the Alcazar in the Spanish Civil War is virtually unheard of in our circles today.

This is unfortunate, because as a matter of human drama alone it is worthy of study.

On July 18-19, 1936, much of the Spanish army officer corps rose against the increasingly-anarchic Spanish Republic. One of the bastions that eventually threw itself in with the uprising was the Toledo Alcazar, an ancient fortress which at the time operated as an infantry academy.

It was a military history museum when I visited it in 1989.

Toledo is a little over 40 miles (73 km) from Madrid, and is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain.

Let me amend that: it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Like Venice, it leaves an indelible impression on the visitor.

The former capital of the Spains (until Philip II packed up and moved north to a then-insignificant market town called Madrid), it was the adopted home of El Greco and still contains some of the most marvelous architecture in the world. I will return there one day…if not soon.

The salient feature of the July 1936 officer alzamiento was that it succeeded in about 40 percent of the planned locations and generally failed in large cities. In Toledo itself, there was no attempt to take over the city. Those in charge of and manning the Alcazar were not part of the plotting and learned of it after the fact. However, they were in sympathy with the uprising and drifted into open rebellion.

The Alcazar’s semi-retired commander, Colonel Jose Moscardo Ituarte, was a soccer fanatic who had been looking forward to going to the Berlin Olympics to watch Spain’s national team in action. But once the uprising occurred, he became cagey in his dealings with Madrid. He refused (truly, if sometimes only technically) illegal orders to turn over weaponry and ammunition to the Republic’s partisan militias. He also stalled for time by asking for actual legal authorities in the defense ministry to follow the proper chain of command. In the meantime, he assembled as many reliable troops as possible–ranging from teenage cadets, police, Falangists and volunteers to a handful of regular soldiers–to man the defenses of the Alcazar. He also brought in at least 700,000 rounds (not a typo) of rifle ammunition from the city’s arms factory and as much spare food as could be found. In addition, the family and friends of the army and Guardia Civil who supported the rebellion were gathered in.

Despite it being a conservative ciudad which had voted strongly for the right-wing coalition in the controversial February elections, there was no prospect of holding the entire city. There was some preliminary planning, but it was implausible, given the lack of troops. And it was recognized that since the Alcazar was the closest “success” to Madrid, that immediately made it a prime objective for the now-revolutionary regime there. Instead, a couple of blocking forces were placed at obvious choke points to hold off the enemy for a bit.

And it was not long after Moscardo had exhausted his passive-aggressive delays that the Republic rushed troops to take the fortress.

Moscardo expressed his belief that the siege would last 14 days, tops.

What followed next was a nearly eleven-week siege which reduced most of the fortress and outbuildings to rubble through accurate artillery bombardment and somewhat less accurate aerial bombing.

In the face of this overwhelming firepower, the 1,100 defenders had plenty of rifle ammunition, an artillery piece with a few rounds and a functional mortar–also with limited ammo. These latter two weapons were saved for breakthrough threats only.

It was a nearly passive defense, with the defenders only firing when the militias launched infantry attacks on the grounds of the increasingly-destroyed fortress.

The civilians lived in the well-protected underground parts of the Alcazar, safe even from the massive and well-crewed 155 mm artillery pieces of the Republicans. No civilians died directly from the attacks themselves.

As to rations, there was horse and mule meat (from the animals in the stables) sacks of wheat run through a jury-rigged grinder, occasional foraging raids which turned up other food and, later in the siege, two Nationalist airdrops. Water consisted of a liter of brackish cistern water per person per day.

With electricity cut, the defenders were unable to get a clear picture of the status of the uprising for two weeks. For all they knew, they might be alone. Finally, a working radio was cobbled together and the defenders learned that civil war was raging across Spain. While they were not alone, the nearest Nationalist troops were 300 miles away, and there was no guarantee the Alcazar would be considered worthy of relief, with the big prize of Madrid lying just to the north.

Fortunately for them, Francisco Franco, the bantam-sized commander of the Nationalists’ elite Army of Africa, thought the Alcazar was not only worthy of rescue, it was essential. While Franco’s tactical instincts were cautious, his political sense was usually correct, as it was here. The propaganda impact of the siege was already foremost in the minds of the warring sides–and the liberation of the Alcazar would be a huge boon to the Nationalist cause. So the African veterans were loaded into every conceivable motor vehicle which could be scrounged up (including a purple bus) and launched northward.

The siege ground on for almost eleven weeks, and despite the fortress being reduced to rubble, it was liberated by the Army of Africa on September 27, 1936–with Moroccan troops in the vanguard, barely beating a Spanish Legion spearhead racing for the prize. The Moroccans were greeting with overwhelming joy, and responded with gentleness to the emaciated and often traumatized defenders, reassuring them that after a couple of solid meals they’d be able to go off and kill Reds together.

The two best accounts of the siege in English are either out of print or available as reprints of possibly dubious quality.

The earliest is English historian Geoffrey McNeill-Moss’ The Siege of the Alcazar (the British version is entitled The Epic of the Alcazar). Moss was an English army officer and now-forgotten popular novelist and historian. He arrived in Spain shortly after the siege was lifted, had access to Moscardo’s daily log and interviewed numerous members of the garrison. He also acquired photographs of the fortress right after the siege, and had diagrams drawn up based on his interviews of the participants. Thus, his access to primary source material was unparalleled in English and remains essential. He tries to (and mostly succeeds) at being objective, not uncritically handing on all of the atrocity stories reported by the Nationalists, and he warns the reader when he cannot make judgments about disputed claims. But he clearly admires the defenders and ascribes their endurance to their Catholic faith. He notes that there was a stockpile of wheat that lay in the no-man’s land between the lines, but the garrison never emptied it out, instead taking what they needed to get by for a week or two at a time. He could only ascribe it to the decision to place themselves into the hands of Providence. He also notes (and backs it up with photographic evidence) that the garrison took care not to shoot at holy images when possible. The main failure of the book is also, weirdly, a strength, as it is a nearly-claustrophobic focus on the day-by-day events from the perspective of the Alcazar alone. But his skill as a writer keeps it from being monotonous.

Nearly thirty years later, Cecil D. Eby, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, also recounted the siege in a book from Random House. Of the two, I would more quickly recommend Eby’s to the casual reader. Some reviews (wrongly) criticize Eby in comparison to McNeill-Moss, claiming his view of the siege pays less attention to the primary sources. A quick read of the bibliographical chapter essays at the end of the book disposes of that critique quickly. He was meticulous in his review of the sources, and handled all of them with a critical eye. Apart from that, what Eby does better is giving a fuller overview of the siege in the context of the wider war, and names more of the participants–when given permission. He recounts an odd moment where a surviving officer, who happily assisted with information, balked at being given an acknowledgment. The officer wasn’t worried about negative consequences, but could not see the point. So Eby respected that, albeit with bafflement. To use the modern parlance, it seems to be a Spanish thing which we Anglos can’t understand. Which is probably the best explanation of any.

So, my recommendation is the opposite of the way I did it–read Eby’s first, then get granular with McNeill-Moss if you want the Das Boot view of the conflict.


Alcázar of Toledo

Walking under massive archways, getting lost on cramped side streets, and following the sparkling, firefly-like lights of Toledo leaves you feeling like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale.

Religion lies at the heart of Toledo’s history, and because of the history of religious tolerance between Jews, Muslims, and Christians, the city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Places of worship from each religion are represented: Santa Maria la Blanca—a former synagogue turned church, and Cristo de la Luz mosque—to name a few of my favorites.

Across from the mosque is a tea and shisha shop of the same name. Enjoy the baklava and conversation of the owner while recharging your batteries for the next adventure.

Test your stamina and try to tackle the Roman Circus, El Greco Museum, the Cathedral, and a walk along the river to cap it all off.

Tip : Purchase your return ticket to Madrid from the train station, as the office in Toledo closes during siesta and can you leave you stranded in the tiny town longer than intended!


The House of Trade

Parallel to the construction, between the years 1364 and 1366, of the Palace of King Peter I, a vast area within the walls of the Alcazar was renovated which had been previously taken up by part of the former residence of the Taifa rulers of Seville, built three centuries earlier.

This space soon became the meeting point for the nobility that participated in hunts organised by the Spanish kings, and for this reason is known as the Hunting Courtyard (Patio de la Montería). In the early sixteenth century, with the founding of the House of Trade for the Americas (La Casa de Contratación de Indias) by the Catholic Kings, the courtyard soon became the Alcazar of Seville’s real centre of gravity. The House of Trade, which in the year 1504 took up the southern side of the Hunting Courtyard, was created in order to control trade with the Americas, whose colonisation had started just eleven years prior.

Thus, these installations within the Royal Alcazar were transformed, over a period of two centuries, into the logistics centre of the first global empire in the history of mankind, an immense task that included the control and the monopoly of American goods coming into the Sevillian port, the drafting of new laws that regulated such trade, the training of navigators who would be able to guide the sailing vessels through the oceans as well as the formation of cartographers.


Castilla la Mancha is completely landlocked as it is located in the middle of Spain. Castilla la Mancha has terrain on both ends of the spectrum. There are dry plains and valleys in the north and mountains with river basins lying to the south.

Five watersheds provide hydroelectricity to the residents throughout the region: the Tagus, Guadiana, Guadalquivir, Júcar, and Segura. Without these rivers, the region would have to devise an alternative plan to provide electricity for the region.

The geography provides a flourishing agricultural economy. The dry plains are ideal for harvesting barley, olives, grapes, grains, peppers, flowers, and lentils. The region of Castilla la Mancha has become Spain’s leader in wine production. Livestock farms can be found in all typographies of the region. Livestock farms include sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs.


Toledo History

Known to the Romans as Toletum, Toledo&rsquos history is thought to have begun in around the 5th century BC when it was settled by a group of Jewish travellers.

While its precise origins remain the subject of much conjecture, what is certain is that by 193BC, the city had fallen to Roman general Marcus Fulvius Nobilior, becoming capital of the province of Carpentia and earning itself a mention in Livy&rsquos Histories in 17 BC.

But Rome wasn&rsquot the only invading power to set great store by Toledo. After the Romans withdrew, it became an important civic centre under Visigoth leader Leovigild, before being conquered by the Moors in 711. The Toledans, however, did not take the Moorish conquest lying down and the city was the scene of several rebellions against Moorish rule.

It wasn&rsquot long, however, until Toledo was recaptured by the Christian leaders of Spain, becoming the first city in the Moorish province of Al-Andalus to fall. New ruler Alfonso VI of Castile took control of the city in 1085 and swiftly set about transforming the city into a centre for Christian learning, although its magnificent Arab library was left intact.

The same, however, could not be said for the city&rsquos Jewish residents, with the Archdiocese of Toledo carrying out mass burnings in 1368, 1391, 1449 and 1486. Nevertheless, the city flourished under Castilian rule, becoming Castile&rsquos capital until 1560, when the Spanish court moved to Madrid.

The removal of the royal court kick-started a period of decline and the city became a political and economic backwater. By the time the 20th century dawned, Toledo was little changed from its mediaeval incarnation and when the Spanish Civil War arrived in 1936, citizens opted for a very mediaeval form of defence &ndash behind the thick stone walls of the Alcazar castle.

Post-war Toledo became a backwater again, though in recent years, the city has enjoyed something of a revival. After UNESCO declared its historic centre a World Heritage Site, tourists began flooding in, and the city was declared capital of Castile-La Mancha shortly afterwards.

Did you know?
&bull Toledo was the capital of Spain until 1560, when the honour went to Valladolid and then Madrid.
&bull The Alcázar was captured by Nationalist forces during the Civil War, though the city remained Republican.
&bull Doménikos Theotokópoulos, the painter better known as El Greco, died in Toledo in 1614.


CAROLINE ANGUS

The Alcázar of Toledo was beautifully constructed fortress in the town which was strategically placed on a small hill by a river. First used by the Romans in 59BC, the location ruled over the plains during Roman, Visigoth and Moorish rule. The town was home to Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities living together through the centuries in relative peace. But in 1085 the city fell under Christian rule and the slow decline of the harmony commenced. By 1520, the Alcázar, a palace fortress, was built on the top of the hilltop town by the royal family, and stood until the destruction during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The war started on July 17, 1936 when Franco took over the army in Spanish Morocco and staged an uprising. By the morning of the 18th, strict, religious army leader José Moscardó e Ituarte, the military governor of the area, took control of the Guardia Civil police, and decided to lead and control the hilltop town. Toledo had an arms factory, and the Republican government and its followers battled for days to get their hands on the weapons and gain control of their home. Colonel Moscardo was able to fend off the Republicans with his men, and moves were made for Republican reinforcements from Madrid to arrive. By July 20, killings were already occurring on the streets, with both sides attacking and wounding one another, as in all towns and cities in Spain.

Colonel Moscardo had just 800 Guardia Civil officers, around 100 army officers, and the support of 200 right-wing public members. The Guardia Civil had plenty of ammunition to bring to the uprising, but between all these men they only had rifles, a couple of machine guns and a few grenades. Meanwhile, the Republicans in Madrid sent in 8,000 militia men, left-wing supporters banded into groups to save their country, mostly anarchists and workers’ union members. The air force had also sided with the Republicans and were able to fly over Toledo for surveillance and bombing.

Between the call to rise up and claim the city by the rebels on July 17 and the following four days, the Republicans managed to hold off the right-wingers, with only one man arrested as a Republican activist. However, between 100-200 people were taken hostage by the Nationalists, and they including the town’s governor and his family. The hostages and Nationalist families, those belonging to the Guardia Civil men, were put inside the city Alcázar to be safe from the Republicans. This started a siege, with Nationalists trapped in the Alcázar and the Republicans keen to take back their town.

By July 22, the Republican surge meant the town was in their hands, with the exception of the great Alcázar, which was under bombardment from the air. On July 23, Colonel Moscardo, inside the Alcazar, got a phone call from the Republican leader, Commissar Cabello. They had taken Moscardo’s son hostage, age just 16, and threatened execution. Moscardo told his son to die as a patriot, which young Luis agreed to do. However the Republicans did not yet have the heart to shoot the boy.

For the next three weeks, the Nationalists stayed safe in the Alcázar as the Republicans continued to attack. The insiders only fought when militia fired at the building, or planes dropped bombs from above. Constant bombardment to the strong Alcázar began to weaken the northern side of the fortress. But the constant back and forth of fire, bombs and grenades, meant no one could get close enough to the Alcázar to get inside, not even to the buildings surrounding the building, all of which were still under Nationalist control and huddled together for safety. Sometime in mid-August, Moscardo’s 16-year-old son was shot and killed as the Republican frustrations mounted. Likewise, the hostages inside the Alcázar met an ugly end.

However, by early September, the northern side of the Alcázar was in collapse, and the Republicans decided to change tactics. In a momentary downing of weapons on September 9, Major Vicente Rojo Lluch, an army man who decided to fight for the Republicans rather than with the army, went to the Alcázar to speak to Colonel Moscardo. Rojo offered Moscardo the chance to surrender and leave the Alcázar but it was refused. Moscardo requested a priest be sent to the Alcázar, as two babies had been born inside the besieged fortress and needed to be baptised. Despite being anti-religion, the Republicans allowed this request.

As the priests of Toledo had been killed or fled the town at the outbreak of war, a preacher from Madrid arrive on September 11 and entered the Alcázar to baptise newborns and offer spiritual guidance to the 1000 strong right-wingers, including final absolution in case of death. Again Rojo offered a surrender, but no one would leave the Alcázar they would rather die than give up. In retaliation, Republicans fired and threw grenades at the Alcázar, destroying all communications with the insiders.

The Chilean ambassador to Spain wanted to help with the negotiations for surrender, but the grenade launch had wiped out all the phones, and at this stage, surrender was no longer an option for the Nationalists.

All the while air and ground fire had been sent back and forth, Republicans had been digging tunnels to come up right underneath the Alcázar. By September 18, after a month of digging, the two tunnels were complete and under the southwest tower of the Alcázar. Soon-to-be appointed Spanish prime minister, Francisco Largo Caballero, went into the mines and detonated a huge supply of explosives, which flattened much of the tower. As the dust settled and panic reigned, the Republicans stormed the Alcázar with tanks and armoured cars. Still, they could not get inside the mighty fortress, and constant firing went on for days.

By September 22, all those inside were in the interior courtyard of the Alcázar, and most of the garrison has also left their posts on the exterior of the building for their own safety. Another two days of fighting made no progress for either side.

Just as the siege looked as if it would end with the slaughter of the Nationalists, reinforcements finally arrived in the city. On September 27, the Republicans, desperate to get inside, had no choice but to abandon their cause and flee to Aranjuez, 44 kilometres north of Toledo. This large withdrawal left few attacking the Alcázar, as they knew of the danger about to arrive.

Nationalist soldiers, consisting of Spanish Legionnaires and Moroccan troops (the Moros), had been marching north from Seville, massacring everyone in their path, their reputations already bloody and horrific. On September 27, all it took was the first 100 soldiers to enter the city and kill everyone still holding out. They also murdered the doctors, nurses and patients in the hospital, all Republicans and their supporters. All those inside the Alcázar were released, only five dead, of natural causes.

For all the killing and the destruction of the nearly 500-year-old Alcázar, Toledo as a location had no strategic value. But the determination of the Nationalists was used a propaganda for those fighting in other areas, and the media took a huge interest in the battle. The arms factory, which was raided early in the war, was the only important location in the area, and was now worthless. The weapons and supplies dropped to help the trapped Nationalists could have been better used in other areas, and even Franco’s advisors were upset Franco even bothered to ‘save’ Toledo at all, when Madrid 55 kilometres north was more important.

Those who escaped after being inside the Alcázar were treated as heroes and used as morale boosters. Much had been made of the Republicans’ mine explosion, with media flocking to see the event. But when the Republicans were forced to flee a week alter, and Franco claimed the town, the Republicans plan to show the world their strength instead showed their terrible loss.

As soon as Moscardo and the others left the Alcázar, the soldiers immediately left Toledo destroyed physically and emotionally, and continued their march north to try to take Madrid. The initial stand-off and attacks on Toledo were all for nothing.

The restoration of the Alcázar didn’t begin until well after the war ending in 1939, and today houses the Biblioteca Autonómica (Castilla-La Mancha Regional Library) the and Museo del Ejército (Museum of the Army).

This is not a detailed analysis, just highlights (lowlights?) of the siege. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit.


Watch the video: El Alcazar de Toledo - Spain 4K Travel Channel (August 2022).