The most important vestiges of Alcázar’s medieval past are located in the surroundings of the Santa María neighborhood. In 935 Alcazar (Qasr Banu Atiyya, in Arabic) is part of the Taifa of Toledo. After the conquest of the fields of La Mancha, the Christian kings granted lands and privileges to the Military Orders to take charge of the repopulation and Christianization of the frontier area. The old Arab citadel will be the embryo of the village of San Juan. This city had a walled enclosure of which only the tower of the Grand Prior, the “cubillo”, the Palace Chapel and the house of the Governor’s Office remain.Show more content
The old Chapel of San Juan Bautista was built in the 16th century. Throughout history it has served as a prison, cemetery, museum and chapel. It currently has an exhibition area on the old palace complex. From here you can also access the Roman archaeological sites.
Around this building there are different theories since it is the chapel of the old palace of the great prior, in which some authors have established its origin in medieval times, and other authors establish in the XVI century, with the development of the religious buildings of the old town of Alcázar. It is difficult to establish nowadays its origin since the continuous reconstructions and evolutions in the building have made that during some seasons it was the hermitage of San Juan, as it is recorded in 1804, in which it is intended to re-roof the building and to recompose its cornice rebuilding the armor and wall of the Sacristy, which at this time was being ruined. This initiative to renovate the building arises because it is on this land where it was intended to locate the cemetery of San Juan whose chapel would be part of the cemetery, as happened with the chapel of San Sebastian, which would serve as a chapel for the cemetery of the other parish of the town.
In the early nineteenth century the use of this space as a cemetery, called San Juan for being attached to the chapel of San Juan (the Chapel Palace), makes it holy ground. This cemetery seeks to free the surroundings of the parish of Santa Maria as a burial place, in addition to removing them from the urban core for reasons of public hygiene. Even so, the documentary sources attest that this cemetery was not in use for a long time, possibly because the doctors advised against it because it was too close to the urban center. It was in 1808, with the French occupation, when its use was decreed and the burials began, until in 1870 the current civil cemetery was built, and in 1883 all the remains that remained in this cemetery were transferred to the new one.
The functions of the building have been multiple throughout history, it has been prison, chapel, hermitage and museum, some years ago was located in it, a municipal museum called Fray Juan Cobo. Currently, it is the visitor reception center of the municipal tourist services offering a synthetic vision of the history of the city in which there are elements related to the military Order of San Juan with reproductions and original pieces related to the ancient town of Alcázar, some of them recovered in the archaeological excavation located next to the chapel.
In the Gracia Street site, remains of civilizations that throughout history inhabited the area that is currently Alcázar de San Juan were discovered.
The great complexity of an urban site lies in the fact that the same space has been occupied more or less uninterruptedly over the centuries by the different populations and cultures that have inhabited it. This generates a superposition in strata of the remains of each epoch. It should also be added that human populations tended to reuse building materials from the ruins they found. Thus, what the archaeologist ends up finding at the site is mostly garbage and debris, what nobody wanted to preserve at the time and was abandoned, and a complex stratification that makes it difficult to interpret each period independently and completely.
The site is located adjacent to the historic center of the town, in the surroundings of the parish of Santa María and the Torreón del Gran Prior.
Several previous archaeological studies were carried out in this area, the earliest of which was in the 1950s, at the intersection of Gracia Street and Mosaicos Street, under the direction of the archaeologist Julián San Valero Aparisi. In this campaign it was established that the oldest occupation of the current urban space would be from the Roman period, a villa of the imperial period.
This pre-Roman villa would consist of a large agricultural and livestock farm with a commercial purpose, where the owner, or his delegate, would live in a mansion or palace called domus. Also in the surroundings of the domus, which formed the urban pars, there would be the workers’ houses, differentiated from the rustic pars where the crops were, as well as a space for workshops, warehouses and stables, forming a self-sufficient and integral set of economic exploitation of the territory.
In these excavations, Aparisi brought to light the fabulous mosaics that decorated the noble rooms of the complex, as well as a large number of objects of daily life that are partially exhibited together with the mosaics in the municipal museum. Excavations in the 1990s located workers’ quarters in the Plaza de Santa Maria, and these latest excavations in the area of workshops and warehouses on Calle Gracia, are evidence that make us think that the village was developing and possibly in the late Roman or Visigothic period became a village or small town.
Even so, this Roman villa would not be the oldest occupied site in the municipality of Alcázar de San Juan, since prehistoric sites have been found outside the purely urban area, such as La Motilla de los Romeros and the Cabaña de las Saladillas Funds in the surroundings of the lagoons (93/94), both from the Bronze Age, or the remains of Chalcolithic and Iberian settlements found in the area of Piédrola. In 2014 a Muslim necropolis was discovered here, and in 2015 what appears to be a Roman villa was found.
El Cubillo two hypotheses speak to us of this wall when we try to find out the origin of this singular building. On the one hand, possible remains of the old wall that surrounded Alcázar before the arrival of the Order of St. John, and on the other hand, remains of the old palace of the Grand Prior of the Hospitallers of the Order of St. John. According to this tradition, it may have served as the bell tower of the Church of Santa María.
It shows the remains of a semi-elliptical tower covered by a ribbed vault. With its restoration, the cubillo now houses a baptismal font, as well as several explanatory panels describing the history of Alcázar de San Juan and its Cervantes tradition as a result of its claim as the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes.
It could have been the residence of the governor of the Priory of the Order of St. John when Alcazar assumed the capital of the priory in the 18th century. Later it was used as a Military Regiment, being also known as Casa Palma and currently houses a Sheltered Housing for the Elderly.
It is a construction of three bodies, the lower one of red sandstone ashlars, the second of masonry and the third, separated by a projecting stone cornice and a row of stone ashlars, completely rebuilt.
Its windows are large and rectangular, highlighted by stone ashlars. The original construction of the rectangular courtyard delimited by stone columns, on which are raised balusters, beams and wooden footings, has been preserved.
There is also an interior cave, which was once the stables, separated into three parts by semicircular arches built in stone ashlars. It is covered with a half-barrel vault made of masonry.
Note: It is only possible to visit the exterior of the Regimental House. Its cave houses a leisure establishment.
The BIG PRIOR’S TOWER
One of the most imposing and significant vestiges of Alcázar de San Juan’s medieval past is the Torreón del Gran Prior. It is a free-standing tower that served as a keep or residence of the Grand Prior and over time has become one of the most representative icons of the town. It is a unique military construction in the region, dating back to 1284 as stated in the inscription above the entrance and, to understand it, we must think that it belonged to a larger complex that was configured in its beginnings with a military character -originally Islamic- and that over time, when La Mancha ceased to be a combat territory, it ended up being a magnificent residence for the Prior of the Order of St. John.
At first glance it can be seen that it is a tower that would stand out above the whole, with its twenty-four meters high. The play of volumes is almost perfect, as it is twice as tall as it is wide. The work is made of reddish stone typical of the area, which can be seen in the form of ashlars on the edges of the building, and in the masonry of its walls.
The sobriety and verticality of the wall is broken by the appearance of later openings such as the Gothic tradition openings with pointed archivolts and mullioned windows, the balconies with a fine decoration on the lower part as a cordon and supported by roll modillions or, on the north façade, where a lattice window stands out located at the level of the access door of a later date to the construction of the complex and, above it, a commemorative plaque of the century. XVII.
The internal structure consists of four rooms located one on top of the other due to the vertical nature of the complex and the basement with a cistern accessed by means of a well curbstone. The basement currently has an entrance located on the wall opposite the main door, but at the time of the construction of the tower, when its function was mainly defensive, it was accessed only through a trap door of three stone slabs located on the first floor, which is where the only door of the complex was located.
A spiral staircase that starts from the southern wall of the entrance room to the complex, and ascends in a second section along the western wall, connects each of the interior levels of the building. Each room has a different covering system, the lower room being a ribbed vault with brick plements between stone ribs, resting on corbels and topped with a keystone with vegetal decoration. The ceiling of the upper room is a coffered ceiling with wooden beams, although in reality it seems to be a false ceiling covering a stone vault, since the floor of the top floor is also made of stone. And the last room is closed with a plaster groin vault reconstructed together with the rest of the room.
Today it is a museum space dedicated to the Knights Hospitaller, and tells the story of those knights who once inhabited and dominated this land.