Stories that fly under a dark banner.

El Plaza del Guadiaro

For six months people and materials flocked to Benaojan. At first they were welcomed by the villagers who saw an opportunity to make money from selling food and shelter. Within a few weeks it was evident that they could not cope with the ever growing population. The Major met with the Officials from Madrid and temporary shelters were erected on the outskirts of the town. They were hastily constructed and not at all popular with the new labour force. Fath the Moor was among those who were housed in the new quarters by the gates of the convent. By the time the orange blossom had fallen he was set to work with hundreds of others constructing the timber framework that would become the Arenas Seating. He wrote of his accommodation:

“My Choza would be the finest in the world, if it wasn’t covered in the fouling of god’s women every evening, invaded by drunken infidels every morning, and croak like a bullfrog in the wind.”
Scrolls of Fath, est. 1767

There are many entries that refer to the difficulties between the nuns and the workers housed in the new quarters. The nights were noisy and the nuns would ring bells, sing songs and empty sewage over the high walls onto the men on the camp below. Many of the men were rural workers, excited by the new money that appeared in their pockets, the excitement of the crowds, they were prone to drinking, and sleeping where they fell and the huts or “Chozas” as the residents called them were so hastily constructed that many of them fell down in a strong wind.

By the beginning of June, over three hundred men were excavating the surrounding valley, shaping the giant bowl that would hold the arena. Massive caravans of pine arrived from Galitia. Marble came from Carrara, granite from Castilla-Leon, and the structure of the plaza started to take shape. The Architect Joselito Espeliu had chosen a Gothic style mixed with themes of Seville in the Mudejar style, a break from tradition but one definitely favoured by the king. Espeliu had already proven himself when it came to satisfying the whim of rulers in Italy and Germany. As September drew to a close the white walls of El Plaza del Guadiaro were nearing completion while the Plaza at Rhonda started 13 years earlier would not be completed for another 15 years.

Rocks were crushed, spread and levelled to create the Albero of the circular arena floor. The cave entrance now relieved of its temporary ironwork for much stronger oak and steel gates becoming the “Puerto de los plata.” The “Puerto de Cuadrilla,” stood at the opposite end of the valley, leading from Benaojan. This gloriously decorative entrance and exit for the competitors became a market for most of the new resident traders of the town. Side shows and street theatres, games of chance, tavernas, even illegal Mancebias quietly and discreetly offering the richer pilgrims to the site both male and female companionship.

Outside the plaza life was busy, crowded and colourful whilst inside order and calm prevailed. Local militia were tasked with keeping the carnival associated with the event outside by court officials who checked that everything was to the King’s requirements. Crimson standards of the king hung alongside the colours of Andalucía. From the balcony of the royal box, black and gold lions and red eagles looked down watchfully over the arena. The seating boasted not two but three levels, enough room for over 700 spectators to be able see the event. It was noted by Espeliu in a letter to the King in August that many, many people would be able to watch the event from outside of the arena by sitting on the hillsides surrounding the plaza. The King’s answer was simple, “Let those that can find joy in the demise of demons.”

With the completion of the Plaza, the stage was now set for the players. Here we rejoin the Scrolls of Fath for the stories of the 126 Matadors.

The Journal of Francisco Elcano

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