The Puerta de la Sagra was one of the main entrances to Arab Madrid and, therefore, an obligatory passage for anyone who wanted to cross the walls of the Muslim citadel that had been erected since the 9th century on a lonely promontory on the banks of the Manzanares River. Experts believe they found it when they were excavating the foundations of the Royal Collections Gallery, adjacent to the Almudena Cathedral and very close to the Palacio de Oriente, a museum that will open next June. It is, therefore, the oldest patrimonial rest of the capital and “the origin of Madrid, its founding section”, as Ana de la Cueva, president of National Heritage, defined it this Monday during her presentation to the media.
The remains found, which will be exhibited behind a glass screen in this museum when it opens, include two Muslim towers about two meters high, as well as the walls of the houses that were attached, already in Christian times, between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Not much remains, since the foundations of the Almudena Cathedral and the adjacent buildings, the urban drainage or the opening of roads and streets have destroyed a large part of what survived in recent centuries.
In fact, the archaeological finding is unprecedented – when the tunnel was built in the nearby street of Bailén in 1995, only the base of a defensive watchtower appeared – and of the utmost scientific importance, because the research has allowed us to reconstruct the original appearance of the gate: a horseshoe arch with voussoirs, probably painted in white and red, in the style of what the Umayyad dynasty (756-1031) did, in the mosque of Córdoba or in Medina Azahara, for example.
The president of National Heritage, Ana de la Cueva, and the person in charge of the Royal Armory, Álvaro Soler, during the presentation of the archaeological zone of the Gallery of Royal Collections, this Monday. Eduardo Parra (Europa Press)
The short distance between the two unearthed towers (about 15 meters) ―over the centuries, Muslim master builders managed to separate them to more than 25 meters― and the technique used in their construction (large ashlars) temporarily locate this piece of the original wall Madrid in the 9th century, just when the Emir of Córdoba Mohamed I ordered the construction of a series of defensive fortifications to the north of Al Ándalus to protect his precious Toledo. “One of those castles was precisely the one in Madrid. In fact, the enclosure was in military use, at least, until the 13th century, when the growth of the city absorbed the fortification and the houses gradually joined it”, indicates Álvaro Soler, head of the Royal Armory.
The door presented today was about two meters wide and was called a bend; that is to say, it did not give direct access to the city when it opened wide, but instead forced those who entered to make a 90-degree turn between high guarded walls and then to pass the guard or those responsible for the local treasury. The researchers recall that the city also had various smaller gates for daily life, as well as two other gates, one of which was large, but was only used for solemn occasions and has not survived. “Let’s say that the one we have found now was the one that was used every day, through which pedestrians and merchandise entered,” Soler asserts. “To get an idea of its shape, we would have to go to Toledo, to its Puerta de Alcántara, which would be very similar,” he adds.
In addition to these architectural remains, numerous objects from the 9th century were found during the excavation, as well as other later ones, “which have filled more than 200 boxes that are kept in the palace warehouses,” admits the expert. It is basically Muslim ceramics, but also Chinese from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as modern bronze sconces and a Christian wall fragment from the 13th century. A part of these objects will be exhibited in the same room where the wall is located. On the other hand, the archaeologists assure that “not a single Roman or Visigothic vestige” has been located, which would confirm the origin of the city as fully Muslim.
The King and Queen are scheduled to inaugurate the Royal Collections Gallery on June 28. The building, located in the heart of Madrid, occupies 40,000 square meters and Emilio Tuñón’s project has so far received ten architecture awards. The inaugural exhibition will consist of more than 650 pieces of enormous variety and richness: paintings, sculptures, armor, books, decorative arts, photographs or tapestries signed by artists of the stature of Velázquez, Goya, Caravaggio, Titian or El Greco.
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