From unemployed youth to 'archaeologists' to save this abandoned tower in Toledo

Thousands of merchants passed through that gate during the centuries that it fulfilled its mission. First as a defense and later as a barrier to collection, merchants had to pay four maravedís for any load of vegetables, later 25 peseta cents for each millstone, or five eggs for each load of this same product. This is how the payments were marked for anyone who wanted to enter Toledo to trade through the Puente de Alcántara. Next to it, an imposing tower that now it reopens after almost a century abandoned and dating from 1214, one of the oldest in Europe. In that same place where the Duchy of Alba benefited from said taxes, nine unemployed youth They have taken part in the restoration of what will be one of the greatest attractions of the Castilian city.

María Ropero never imagined that a harness would be put on to rehabilitate battlements dating back to the 13th century. “With half the body on the outside you said, damn, I love this, although the 40 degrees in the sun that they have done did not help. In the end, everything has been very gratifying”, she says, recalling the moments in which she has been at the top of the gate-tower, some 30 meters above the level of the Tagus riverbank. She is 27 years old and lives in a neighborhood “a little conflictive”, so the working conditions in her career have not been what she expected.”This has been different thanks to the Municipal Training and Employment School of the city, from where we received a classical masonry training“, complete.

Current view of the tower over the Alcántara bridge. (assigned)

One of the things that most impressed him was the portcullis on the second door, already inside the walls, once they managed to get it out of where it was confined. That thing that we have all imagined when listening to tales of castles, which plummets down and blocks the way of invaders or thieves, was what she and her companions had to dislodge. “The moment you pull it out and see what it’s like, and what year it’s from… My goodness, this has hundreds of years of history. It scared us a lotbecause we didn’t want to do anything wrong”, argues the woman from Toledo.

The oldest rake in Europe

Gabriel Morate, head of Heritage of the Montemadrid Foundation, entity responsible for the project together with the city council, did not believe what he saw either: “It was stuffed inside, that is why it has been preserved so well, safe from inclement weather. Its condition is unusual, there are very few rakes left in the world like this one. We thought that due to its shape it would be from the 18th century, but the carbon-14 test we did disproved it”. And surprise: the rake is contemporary to the construction of the towerdated in this case between 1156 and 1266.

They thought the rake was from the s. XVIII, but carbon-14 ended up revealing its age

This tower is located on the Puente de Alcántara, built in the 3rd century, the Roman era of Toledo. It was one of the most important strategic places on the Peninsula, so its defense had to be guaranteed. “This enclave was in use until practically the twenties of the last century, when the tariffs were still chargedbut the Ministry of Public Works built a new bridge”, points out the archaeologist.

Historic image of the complex, abandoned for decades. (assigned)

As if it were a scene from a movie, the 13th-century tower had two large wooden gates, one that led to the bridge and the other to access to the city. Although only the first of them is preserved, above it and the arch that shelters it there is a thief, a defense element that Toledan guard used to throw all kinds of projectiles, from crossbows to stones, but also boiling water and excrement. If they managed to pass this first gate, they still had to avoid the imposing portcullis, which in a very short time closed the entrance to the city.

Inspect merchandise

“If the intruders made it through the gate, they would still have to deal with the guard and whatever was thrown at them from the pedlar calls. We have found a hidden, circularabout 50 centimeters in diameter, through which they also threw any type of material that could repel the attack”, adds Morate. The echoes of the past in this historic location still resonated when they have restored it. The same echo that would cause the stones that have found, used as projectiles. There is one so large that it would be impossible to launch it from the peddler’s, so it is most likely that it was destined to fall from the roof topbattlemented also for the defense of the guard.

The restored medieval portcullis, one of the oldest in the world. (assigned)

This main military use declined from the 16th century, once the War of the Communities, which affected Toledo so much, had been overcome. From then on, the border served to control merchandise, and it did so until the 1920s, when the Duke of Alba continued benefiting from portazgo and pontazgo, the taxes to pay for crossing the gate and the bridge. “The residents of the city were exempt from payment, and it was only enough to tell the bailiff that you were from Toledo for him to let you pass. Very good faith was presumed in the people”, points out the person in charge of Patrimony.

Its use completely declined with the construction of a new bridge, much more comfortable for motor vehicles, exempt from paying this type of tax, given the great fondness of Alfonso XIII, who presided over the Royal Automobile Club from its constitution, to cars. “The Ministry of Public Works asked Alba’s house to take charge of the maintenance of the bridge, since it charged pontazgo rights, but they refused, so the bridge and the tower became the property of the State”, indicates Morate. This is how its abandonment came about, until now, that the Montemadrid Foundation and the Toledo City Council have undertaken its refurbishment.

Job for unemployed people

Virginia Maroto is another young woman from Toledo who, at the age of 24, never imagined that she would end up restoring an architectural element of these characteristics. “The practices we did were not the same as the work later in the Alcántara tower,” she recalls. When they offered her the opportunity, she did not think twice: “We arrived in June of last year and we had a schedule from 8:00 to 15:00. I feel very proud to have helped restore such an important part of my city. . I didn’t think I could do something like this“, finishes.

She studied a higher degree of social integration, which helped her to enter as an integrator in the city council thanks to a youth employment guarantee program. “Little by little I became more interested in the administrative part, and that is what I want to dedicate myself to. What I have done in the tower has been very good to test it, but it’s not my thing either. Perhaps in the future she will think that she has served me, “says the young woman.

The battlements, on the roof of the tower. (assigned)

Be that as it may, from the Montemadrid Foundation they have also taken care of carrying out a future management plan. “We guarantee accessibility to provide it with a tourist attractionespecially with the raising system of the rake, and, on the other hand, we are in continuous contact with the city council to check that the drainage pipes are not damaged or the protections are not broken so that the birds do not enter, for example”, determines Morate himself. an important part of the history of Spain returns to Toledospecifically medieval military architecture, a place that never left, but was abandoned for decades.

Thousands of merchants passed through that gate during the centuries that it fulfilled its mission. First as a defense and later as a barrier to collection, merchants had to pay four maravedís for any load of vegetables, later 25 peseta cents for each millstone, or five eggs for each load of this same product. This is how the payments marked for anyone who wanted to enter Toledo to trade through the Puente de Alcántara were. Next to it, an imposing tower that now it reopens after almost a century abandoned and dating from 1214, one of the oldest in Europe. In that same place where the Duchy of Alba benefited from said taxes, nine unemployed youth They have taken part in the restoration of what will be one of the greatest attractions of the Castilian city.

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