The Alcazar of Toledo
Repository: Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
Photographer: Andres, Erich
Date Created: 1936-09
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Toledo, Spain
On September 26, 1936, colonial troops under the command of General José Varela reached Toledo and immediately launched a furious repression against Republican civilians and militia fighters that left more than 800 people dead. The victims included the wounded in military hospitals and even some 20 women in the maternity ward. But rebel propaganda at the time and the Francoist dictatorship afterwards would not remember this. Instead, they would remember what came the next day, the so-called liberation of the Alcazar.
Built by king Charles V in the 16th century, in 1936 the Alcazar of Toledo housed the Infantry’s military academy. Situated on the highest point of the city, its foundations were dug out of the rock on which it stands. Col. José Moscardó, a handful of cadets, around 150 soldiers, 800 Civil Guards, and 200 Falangists took refuge there on July 21. They were accompanied by some 500 of their wives and children ,as well as by at least 50 Republican hostages. These last, who were likely murdered, were also forgotten by Francoist propaganda. Republican troops, police and militias immediately encircled the Alcazar and for the next two months they tried to capture it. They failed, even though the building was almost destroyed.
The resistance of the Alcazar became a great symbol in rebel Spain. Franco, who aspired to be named leader of the uprising, decided to come to its relief even though it meant diverting the Army of Africa from its march on Madrid, whose defences were very disorganized and where morale was plummeting because of repeated military defeats.
The colonial troops took Talavera de la Reina on September 3. This was the last major battle before they arrived at Madrid and it followed the same pattern as those in Extremadura. On the 21st they captured Maqueda, where the highway forked, one branch leading to Madrid, the other to Toledo. Franco ordered his depleted forces to take the latter. When their commander, Lt. Col. Yagüe, argued that this meant throwing away the chance to capture the capital, he was replaced by Varela. The Alcazar was liberated, and Franco won a great propaganda victory.
The “liberation of the Alcazar” gave birth to a powerful political myth around which were woven tales of heroism and sacrifice. The best known was that of Moscardó’s son Luis, who was shot by the Republicans, supposedly because his father refused to surrender the fortress. It didn’t happen that way, but that was irrelevant. Franco, who was named Head of the Government on October 1, had seen his prestige soar. But the cost was high, as Yagüe had foreseen. When the rebel troops finally reached Madrid a month later, they were exhausted, and the delay had allowed the Republicans the time to strengthen their defences. It would be another two and a half years before Franco was able to enter the capital.