Alcazar Is History

The history of Alcázar de San Juan goes from the Stone Age to our times, passing through the Arab invasion, the Middle Ages or the Golden Age, or the arrival of the Railroad.

From the Stone Age to the Roman era

The origin of Alcázar de San Juan is lost in the Stone Age, since remains of some civilizations settled in this area have been found in our municipality, such as polished axes, arrowheads and ceramics, among other objects.

Several prehistoric sites have been found outside the purely urban area, such as La Motilla de los Romeros and in the Fondos de Cabaña del Yacimiento de las Saladillas in the area around the lagoons, both from the Bronze Age, or the more recent Chalcolithic and Iberian remains found in the area of Piédrola.

Thus, it seems that we were the seat of some Celtiberian camps, formed before the Roman invasion. Some historians still maintain that we were the ancient Alces, a pre-Roman city conquered by the praetor Sempronius Gracchus when this region was subjected to Rome.

Mosaics dating back to the 2nd or early 3rd century are preserved from this Roman period. Alcazar was a Roman villae, a form of farming where the owner would live in a mansion or palace (domus), whose noble rooms were decorated with mosaics. Excavations in Calle Gracia have brought to light workshops and warehouses, evidence that the village developed into a town or small city at the end of Roman or Visigothic times.

Another proof that Alcázar was also a Visigothic town are the studies made on the architectural composition of the temple of Santa María la Mayor.

From the Arab invasion up to the 18th century

With the Arab invasion in the year 711, this area was provided with an important defensive complex, which they called “Al-kasar”, which means fortified Alcazar-palace, leaving the population within the Taifa of Toledo. After its fall in 1085, La Mancha became a frontier, and the town was conquered and fortified in Christian hands.

The repopulation, management and defense is entrusted to the military Order of St. John of Jerusalem, which had been established in La Mancha in 1189, forming the Grand Priory of Castile and Leon, with headquarters in Consuegra, although in “Alcazar de Consuegra” a priory palace is established.

In 1241 Alcázar de Consuegra received a population charter with 362 inhabitants. In 1284 the prior Fernán Pérez ordered the construction of a tower as the center of power of the priory, and in 1292 King Sancho IV granted the municipality the title of Villa.

The population of Alcazar lived for many centuries under the guidelines of the Order of St. John. At the end of the Reconquest, the main reason for the presence of the Military Orders, the dignity of Grand Prior became an honorary and lucrative title, for which the Grand Priors of Spain fought among themselves. Disputes over possession caused the Pope and the Grand Master of Rhodes to intervene. Charles I, in order to put an end to the claims of both sides, divided the Priory of Castile to Don Diego de Toledo, with headquarters in Consuegra and León to Don Antonio de Zúñiga, who had Alcázar as his head.

The sixteenth century was the golden age of Alcazar, because with the decline of the town of Consuegra, Alcazar became the capital of the Priory of San Juan. In this same century, the most important gunpowder factory in the kingdom was built in Alcázar (1518).

In 1530 Alcázar de San Juan had 18,480 inhabitants, living in it very rich and important people, most of whom belonged to the Court. Names such as Cervantes, Valdivielso and Díaz Morante; Barroso and Sánchez Cotán, important painters; Juan Cobo and Diego de Torres Rubio, masters in the East and West Indies. In addition, an Alcazara tradition has always referred to our town as “the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra”.

In 1532 the convent of San Francisco de Asís was blessed, in transitional Gothic style, ordered to be built by Don Diego de Toledo, Prior of the Order of St. John and Duke of Alba. In this convent the University of Alcázar was founded, with chairs of medicine, theology, sacred history and philosophy.

In 1546 the University and the Council of Alcázar made a vow to the Immaculate Conception to free the town from a plague of locusts. So that this vow would not be forgotten, the convent of Santa Clara was built next to the hermitage of the Immaculate Conception, of Poor Clare nuns from Toledo, who were in charge of taking care of the hermitage. The recipe for the famous tortas de Alcázar is attributed to them.

In 1601, Doña María de Pedroche donated an ancestral home to found the convent of San José, also for Poor Clare nuns, since the convent built years before became too small due to the influx of Poor Clare vocations.

In 1603, by agreement of the Council of Alcázar de San Juan and considering it necessary for its population, which had grown considerably, a new church was built on the land where the parish of Santa Quiteria used to stand, so that it would be larger and more spacious. The plans for this new temple were commissioned to the architect Juan de Herrera, builder of the Escorial, which is why the church is in the Herrerian style.

In 1625 the convent of the Holy Trinity was blessed and consecrated, dedicated to Our Lady of Grace, in baroque style and run by the Trinitarian fathers.

From 1665 to 1670, Prince John Joseph of Austria, the bastard son of Philip IV with the actress Maria “La Calderona”, was banished to the palace of the Order of St. John for political reasons.

In the 18th century, the Hospitaller Order lost its religious character and became an Order of nobles. The Priory became an estate of princes and princesses. In this century, the Gran Prior canal was built, which was of great use for agriculture. In 1742, the construction of the Camarín de la Virgen del Rosario was completed in the collegiate church of Santa María, with a square floor plan and Baroque style, with the baseboard and floor made of Talavera ceramics, following the tradition of the Andalusian dressing rooms.

The Infante Don Gabriel Antonio de Borbón, who had been named Grand Prior of the Order of St. John by his father, Charles III, in 1765, considering that the hospitals that existed in Alcázar were insufficient, ordered the construction of the Hospital de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, in 1770, on the land now occupied by the Conservatory of Music. Our town also had the Provincial Battalion in 1786. At this time, Alcázar, as the capital of the Priory of the Order of St. John, enjoyed both ecclesiastical and legal independence from the capital of Toledo. Alcazar was in charge of 16 villas, 5 villages, 4 castles and 11 encomiendas.

Nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The nineteenth century was for Alcázar de San Juan the century of decadence, since throughout it was losing what for centuries gave splendor to this town. The French King Joseph Napoleon I issued on April 10, 1810 a Decree to order a new territorial division of Spain and it was established that Alcazar was a simple municipality under the Prefecture of Ciudad Real, losing all privileges. The Priory of the Order of St. John, which for seven centuries marked the life of these lands, also disappears. From this moment on, Alcázar de San Juan began to belong legally to the province of Ciudad Real, when historically it belonged to the province of Toledo.

In 1835, with the disentailment of Mendizábal, the assets of the Church were auctioned and the church of Santa María la Mayor ceased to be a Collegiate Church, and the Chapter of San Pedro and San Pablo disappeared. The University and the monastery of San Francisco also disappeared, as did the monastery run by the Trinitarian Fathers. Only the convent of Santa Clara remains open, as they are the custodians of the town’s vow to the Immaculate Conception.

In 1854, after the arrival of the railroad in Spain, the English engineer Mister Creen pointed out an important railway junction in Alcázar and on May 24, 1858 Queen Isabel II inaugurated the Madrid-Alicante line, with the royal train passing through the station in Alcázar. From this moment on, new horizons open up for our town, which once again becomes the head of the region. In 1868 Queen Isabella II was dethroned and abdicates in her son Alfonso XII. With the triumph of liberalism, the convent of Santa Clara was closed forever, and the building was used by the Ministry of War, which converted it into barracks.

In 1877 the king of Spain, Alfonso XII, granted Alcázar the title of city. At the end of the 19th century the convents of Alcazar were reopened. The first to return to our city were the Trinitarian Fathers, who founded a school in 1882, and in 1899 the Franciscan Fathers returned to Alcázar and reopened the monumental church of San Francisco de Asís.

The twentieth century is marked mainly by the railroad and commercial activity as a county seat. In 1929 the old Town Hall, built in 1622, was demolished and the old Casino building became the Town Hall. The Civil War put an end to the incipient economic and social progress. Alcazar remains in Republican territory and the Nationalist side causes serious damage to the city, due to its special importance as a railway junction in the south of the peninsula. Alcazar, like the rest of La Mancha, is plunged into misery. The Development Plans of the 1960s facilitated the creation of the Alces Industrial Park, as a decongestion polygon for Madrid. In 1994 the Mancha-Centro Hospital was built, which reinforced the positioning as the capital of the region and the economic reactivation after the dismantling of the railway sector in the early nineties. At the end of the century Alcázar de San Juan has 28,000 inhabitants, being one of the most populated cities in the province of Ciudad Real.