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Hispania in 586 AD

Coordinates: 40°19′19″N 2°53′33″W / 40.32194°N 2.89250°W / 40.32194; -2.89250 Reccopolis (Spanish: Recópolis; Latin: Reccopolis), found near the tiny modern village of Zorita de los Canes in the province of Guadalajara, Castile-La Mancha, Spain, is one of at least four cities founded in Hispania by the Visigoths[1]. It is one of the only cities in Western Europe known to be founded between the fifth and eighth centuries.


Reccopolis was founded in the year 578[2] by the Visigothic king Leovigild. It was named to honor his son Reccared I and to serve as the seat of Reccared as co-king in the Visigothic province of Celtiberia, lying to the west of Carpetania, where the main Visigothic capital, Toledo lay. In the eighth century the Visigoths at Reccopolis welcomed Muslim over-lordship in return for Muslim protection. The Moors conserved the city as Madinät Raqquba, though they reused building materials to construct a fortification on a hill facing the city; the city declined and the site was burned, looted, razed, and incrementally abandoned in the tenth century. Its "vast field of ruins"[3] in the Cerro de la Olíva lay forgotten until the twentieth century,[4] but as a post-Roman royal foundation its only European rival in the sixth century was Ravenna. Its urbanistic core is centered on a palace with administrative as well as royal functions, connected with a palatine chapel, an arrangement that has Byzantine parallels.

An arch in the basilica


Archeological excavations at Reccopolis have revealed traces of city walls built with towers every thirty metres, an aqueduct, commercial and residential quarters covering 30 hectares, markets and a mint. On the western wall, a single entrance gate provided access. Within, a second gate formed an entrance to an "upper city" of the palace compound and its attached chapel, while the "lower city" contained lodgings for the ordinary citizens, commercial districts and barracks.

The palace was two stories. The lower story, a single space (perhaps a granary) with the bases of columns that supported the upper one, which, to judge from remnants of its flooring, was the piano nobile. Roofs were tiled, as they had been in Roman times. The palace chapel, which was overlaid by the Romanesque hermitage of Nuestra Señora de Recatel constructed on the ruined site is perhaps the last of the Visigothic Arian churches. It was of basilica construction with a central nave separated by solid walls from the flanking naves, which exited into the transept, but did not communicate directly with the nave; its hemispherical apse was rectangular in its outer appearance. A deep narthex was entered by a single central door. In the basilica a cache of coins was discovered, which fixed the date of construction as before 580–83 and indicated the reach of cultural connections, with gold coins of the Merovingian series, Suevic coins from Galicia and some of Justinian II, as well as coins from Visigothic Hispania itself.[5] There was also an active mint at Reccopolis, coins from which have been found dating to the reign of Wittiza in the early eighth century.[6]

The city's site, only part of which has been excavated, is to be protected as the projected Parque Arqueológico Recópolis.[7] In 2007, an exhibition called "Recópolis: un paseo por la ciudad Visigoda" was mounted by the Museo Arqueológico Regional, Alcalá de Henares; an accompanying catalogue was published.


  1. ^ According to E. A Thompson, "The Barbarian Kingdoms in Gaul and Spain", Nottingham Mediaeval Studies, 7 (1963:4n11), the others were (i) Victoriacum, founded by Leovigild and may survive as the city of Vitoria, but a twelfth-century foundation for this city is given in contemporary sources, (ii) Lugo id est Luceo in the Asturias, referred to by Isidore of Seville, and (iii) Ologicus (perhaps Ologitis), founded using Basque labour in 621 by Suinthila as a fortification against the Basques, is modern Olite. All of these cities were founded for military purposes and at least Reccopolis, Victoriacum, and Ologicus in celebration of victory. A possible fifth Visigothic foundation is Baiyara (perhaps modern Montoro), mentioned as founded by Reccared in the fifteenth-century geographical account, Kitab al-Rawd al-Mitar, cf. José María Lacarra, "Panorama de la historia urbana en la Península Ibérica desde el siglo V al X," La città nell'alto medioevo, 6 (1958:319–358). Reprinted in Estudios de alta edad media española (Valencia: 1975), pp25–90.
  2. ^ The date is given in John of Biclaro's chronicle, under the Visigothic date 213: Luivigildus rex extinctis undique tyrannis, et pervasoribus Hispaniae superatis sortitus requiem propiam cum plebe resedit civitatem in Celtiberia ex nomine filii condidit, quae Recopolis nuncupatur: quam miro opere et in moenibus et suburbanis adornans privilegia populo novae Urbis instituit.
  3. ^ C. Bradford Welles, "Archaeological News" American Journal of Archaeology 52.2 (April 1948:199-270) p. 266.
  4. ^ The first professional exploration of the site was undertaken under the supervision of J. Cabré in 1944-45. (Fernando Miranda, in Patrimonio) Archived April 30, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Welles 1948:266.
  6. ^ E. A. Thompson, The Goths in Spain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969:64).
  7. ^ Unicef:Parque Arqueológico Recópolis Archived October 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.

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