The Alcazar of Cordoba and the Not So Bad Spanish Inquisition

The word alcazar means fortress.  The Alcazar of Cordoba, also known as the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs) was constructed in 1328. It is located in the historic center of Cordoba, Spain on the Guadalquivir River.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Two of the towers still seen today are part of the original main façade.  They are the Tower of the Lions and the Tower of Homage.  The inquisition Tower was added in the 15th century by the catholic monarch’s, Isabella and Ferdinand.  The Palomas tower is a 20th century reconstruction.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

It was from the Inquisition Tower that Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarch’s, began the Spanish Inquisition; met with Christopher Columbus to talk about his voyage west, and where they plotted military strategies for wars they would embark on during their reign.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Today the tower houses the hall of mosaics.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The roman baths seen from the Tower were used for centuries but turned into torture chambers during the Inquisition.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

When I went to elementary school I was taught the Inquisition was a horrific time in human history filled with torture and other sordid events that made my skin crawl.  It was while doing my research on the Inquisition for this blog story that I came across documentation and current academic research that says the Inquisition might not be as bad as was first reported.

In this day of enlightenment, and with so much new data and perspective being written I see now that the history I might have been given while in school was based on history written by Protestant historians with an anti-Catholic slant and the numbers of those tortured and burned at the stake were inflated to make their point.  Historians of Jewish descent then took to reviewing the Spanish Inquisition and therefore found events to be more of an anti-Jewish event then first reported, again slanting history to make their point.  Today’s historians seem to be addressing the statistics and the history of the whole Spanish Inquisition from a non-religious viewpoint and in doing so have softened the numbers tortured during the Spanish Inquisition which makes me wonder if they are employed by the tourism boards of Spain.  So I pose the question here; do we ever get history written without some agenda attached?

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The Spanish Inquisition began on November 1, 1478 and ended over 350 years later on July 15, 1834.

The Catholic Monarchs’, Isabella and Ferdinand, used the Inquisition as a way to wrest power from the Papacy.  They wanted a means to make all Protestants, Jews and other non-Catholics convert to Catholicism, or to leave Spain.  What it turned into however was a way to purge Spain of its upper class and to take from them their wealth and their lands.

To carry out their plan Ferdinand II of Aragon pressured Pope Sixtus IV to agree to an Inquisition controlled by the monarchy by threatening to withdraw military support when the Turks were a threat to Rome. On November 1, 1478, Pope Sixtus IV gave the monarchs exclusive authority to name the inquisitors in their kingdoms. On February 6, 1481 the first of the killings done under the auspices of the Inquisition began in Spain and six people were burned alive.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The Inquisition not only hunted for Protestants (of which there were very few in Spain at the time) but also Jews and Moriscos who were converts of Islam.

When the Inquisition arrived in a city the first step taken was called the Edict of Grace. Following Sunday mass, the Inquisitor would read the edict; it explained possible heresies and encouraged the congregation to come to the tribunals of the Inquisition to “relieve their consciences”.  It was during these relief sessions that many people would bear false witness against another person.  These denunciations were made for varying reasons some of which were based on jealousy or hatred; but seldom based on fact.

Once someone was denounced they were imprisoned; a tribunal was set forth to examine evidence for and against the accused and a decision was made.  Many of the imprisonments lasted two years or more.  Many people died while in prison awaiting their trials.  Detention also meant that all property and money was immediately confiscated by the Inquisitor; it was quite the scheme.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Months, or even years could pass without the accused being informed of their crime and no one ever knew who their accuser was.

If you made it to trail you had the chance of two trials; you could find reputable witnesses to defend you and to debunk that which you were accused of, or you could find witnesses to show that those who accused you were in actuality not trustworthy so therefore the case had no merit.

What the Inquisition is most noted for was the torture implemented to get the accused to confess their sins (in this instance not being a true convert to Catholicism).  Torture was always a means to obtain the confession of the accused, not a punishment itself. Torture was also applied without distinction of sex or age, including children and the aged.

I had been terrorized as a child that torture happened to everyone over a long period of time.  Today scholars teach that torture was used in only two percent of the cases, and in less than one percent of the cases was it used a second time, never more than that. The torture also only lasted up to 15 minutes.

The Inquisition was forbidden from permanently harming or drawing blood. The methods most used were garrucha, toca and the potro.The garrucha consisted of suspending the victim from the ceiling by the wrists, which are tied behind the back. The toca, consisted of introducing a cloth into the mouth of the victim, and forcing them to ingest water spilled from a jar so that they had the impression of drowning (think modern day water boarding). The potro, or the rack, was the instrument of torture used most frequently and the torture most used in Hollywood movies.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

It is not hard to fathom therefore that after such tortures people would freely ‘confess’ to the crime brought against them to make the torture stop.  Thus, all confessions acquired by means of torture were considered valid as they were supposedly made of the confessor’s own free will.

Sentencing was then carried out.  The generally accepted number of people burnt at the stake is below 5,000.  The total number of deaths attributed to the Inquisition which ran well over 350 years is believed to be between three and five thousand.  Not every person brought to trail was therefore found guilty and executed.

The last known execution attributed to The Inquisition was held on July 26, 1826.  It was a school teacher named Cayetano Ripoll.  His crime was teaching deist principles.

It was not until December 16, 1968 however that The Alhambra Decree which forced the expulsion of Jews from the region was abolished.  I guess someone forgot it was still on the city charter and it was left in place until 1968.

The gardens of the Alcazar are today marketed as a major tourist attraction.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Walking through the gardens one would never know the dark history surrounding the Alcazar.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The gardens are splendid with water features, sculptures of all the rulers who lived in the fortress over time and a still in tact system of gates that can be open and closed to water the gardens.

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

© Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

It is hard to reconcile the beauty of the Alcazar with its horrific history.  As you walk through the beautiful gardens it is easy to forget what ugliness happened inside these fortress walls.  Perhaps time, a new perspective or a reexamination of events does have a way of softening history.  It does not however excuse it.  My fear would be that in excusing it, or softening its meaning, we get lulled into repeating it.

Florence Lince

http://about.me/florencelince

 

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. “Not so bad” if those held, or condemned, in the Alcazar Inquistion trials were not of your own ancestors.

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    1. My title was tongue in cheek – I find it horrific to rewrite history when those who are doing the rewriting did not live through it. I’m sure for those that did it was as horrible as I was originally taught. It is frightening to think that by changing history we can make it ‘nicer’ and sugar coat it. My research on the Spanish Inquisition and the softening of the history surrounding it reminds me of those who don’t believe that the Holocaust even happened. If we forget our past we will perhaps make the mistake of reliving it.

      Thanks for writing.

      Florence

      Like

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