The reconquista of Granada begins: Don Roderigo Ponce de Leon chooses Alhama as his target

August 8, 2011

Don Roderigo Ponce de Leon, Marques of Cadiz. Statue is at the Palacio de San Telmo, Sevilla. Photo by gonzalez-alba

The Marques of Cadiz had vast possessions in the most fertile parts of Andalusia, including many towns and castles, and could lead forth an army into the field from his own vassals and dependents. On receiving the orders of the King, he burned to signalize himself by some sudden incursion into the kingdom of Granada, that should give a brilliant commencement to the war, and should console the sovereigns for the insult they had received in the capture of Zahara. As his estates lay near to the Moorish frontiers, and were subject to sudden inroads, he had always in his pay numbers of adalides, or scouts and guides, many of them converted Moors. These he sent out in all directions, to watch the movements of the enemy, and to procure all kinds of information important to the security of the frontier. One of these spies came to him one day in his town of Marchena, and informed him that the Moorish town of Alhama was slightly garrisoned and negligently guarded, and might be taken by surprise. This was a large, wealthy, and populous place, within a few leagues of Granada. It was situated on a rocky height, nearly surrounded by a river, and defended by a fortress to which there was no access but by a steep and cragged ascent. The strength of its situation, and its being embosomed in the center of the kingdom, had produced the careless security which now invited attack.
Zahara de la Sierra, Andaloucía. Photo by Grez

To ascertain fully the state of the fortress, the Marques dispatched secretly a veteran soldier, who was highly in his confidence. His name was Ortega de Prado, a man of great activity, shrewdness, and valor, and captain of escaladors (soldiers employed to scale the walls of fortresses in time of attack). Ortega approached Alhama one moonless night, and paced along its walls with noiseless step, laying his ear occasionally to the ground or to the wall. Every time, he distinguished the measured tread of a sentinel, and now and then the challenge of the night-watch going its rounds. Finding the town thus guarded he clambered to the castle. There all was silent. As he ranged its lofty battlements, between him and the sky he saw no sentinel on duty. He noticed certain places where the wall might be ascended by scaling-ladders; and having marked the hour of relieving guard, and made all necessary observations, he retired without being discovered.
Ortega returned to Marchena, and assured the Marques of Cadiz of the practicability of scaling the castle of Alhama, and taking it by surprise.

Washington Irving, The Conquest of Granada (Agapida edition), (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893), pp. 33-35.

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