HISTORY AND URBAN LANDSCAPE
The past of Zamora tells us a lot about its present and future.
The city’s history gives us the keys to understand its current urban blueprint. The Middle
Ages and Romanesque art configured the layout of its streets and plazas, always conditioned
by the river which has been and continues to be an integral part of this history and,
of course, the planning of the town.
Everything seems to indicate that the first settlers of these lands were the Vaccaei. However, it was the imperial Romans who christened our city “Ocellem Durii” (Eyes of the Duero), making it one of many notable townships along the Roman road Via de la Plata, which stretched from Mérida to Astorga and crossed the mighty Duero River in Zamora. From these first contacts with Rome, the chronicles of the legendary Portuguese shepherd Viriato emerge. Towards the middle of the 7th century, the Arabs arrived in our town, calling it “Azemur” (wild olive grove) and “Semurah” (the turquoise city). Alfonso III the Great re-conquered and repopulated the town in 893 A.D. and surrounded it with a wall which converted it into one of the most important city fortresses of the Christian realms due to its location and virtues. In 981 A.D., it was taken by Almanzor “the terrible”, but years later was definitively returned to Christian hands. Fernando I of Castile repopulated the town in 1061 A.D. and not only rebuilt old structures but also began the fortifications which can still be contemplated today, making the town impregnable. He also granted the city its fuero, or legal jurisdiction. After Fernando I’s death, the lands were divided among his children, and Doña Urraca received the kingdom of Zamora. One of the most important events in the history of the city took place during her reign: El Cerco de Zamora (“The Siege of Zamora”). Sancho II, Urraca’s brother, attempted to unify the kingdom. After having deposed his other brothers, he laid siege to Zamora on March 4th, 1072: a battle which was to last over seven months, giving rise to a new saying: no se ganó Zamora en una hora (“Zamora was not overpowered in an hour”). The stalemate came to an end on October 7th of the same year when Bellido Dolfos assassinated the king outside the city walls. Pursued by el Cid the great warrior, he scurried back behind the walls through what is now known as “Loyalty Gate” or “Traitor’s Gate”, depending on who you ask. The golden age of our town was in the 12th century when the urban structure was configured and a significant portion of the most remarkable landmarks of the town were built in Romanesque style, giving the town its deserved epithet: “City of the Romanesque”. Throughout the 13th century, the frontiers of Castile were pushed further south with the Reconquista of territory from the Moors and Zamora ceased to have strategic interest for the kingdom, entering in a more dormant period. Even so, at the end of the Middle Ages, it continued to be one of the main bustling metropolises of Castile.
Subsequently, wars with Portugal would return this strategic value to our city and its territory.
In the 15th century, during the times of the Catholic Monarchs, it became the battleground for Isabelle I’s fight for the throne with her niece Joanna la Beltraneja (a derogatory term referring to her supposed illegitimacy, fruit of her mother’s supposed affair with Beltrán de la Cueva). In the battle for Toro on March 1st, 1476, Joanna’s consort Alfonso V of Portugal was defeated and Isabelle I and Ferdinand II’s reign was consolidated.
The conflict with the French, who occupied the town for over three years from 1809 to 1813, along with la Desamortización (the ecclesiastical confiscations and privatization of monastic properties) from 1835 to 1837 deeply affected the historical-artistic heritage of Zamora. Even so, the past of our city thoroughly authenticates yet another agnomen pronounced by Henry IV of Castile: “the Very Noble and Very Loyal”. The last two hundred years have seen the city develop slowly but surely, leaving some notable constructions, particularly in the east of the old town. Several noble mansions from the 19th century and some magnificent Modernist façades speak to us of a Zamora at the turn of the 20th century which shined in its own right.