The resurrection of the military order of Calatrava through the construction of a new capital

Triplett, Edward, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Brothers, Cammy, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Ramirez-Weaver, Eric, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Reilly, Lisa, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

After Las Navas de Tolosa, the Order of Calatrava - whose resolve and courage had gained tremendous political currency in Iberia - was able to reconstruct itself in whatever manner it chose. In addition to regaining all of the castles they had lost after Alarcos, they suddenly had the means to build a new capital to represent their order. This new capital provided the Order with an opportunity to express its historical identity as well as its future goals in the region. Among the options for their headquarters was the original namesake of their order, the marshland fortress on the Guadiana River known now as Calatrava la Vieja, and the castle of Salvatierra, which had held the order together throughout their times of greatest crisis. With new wealth at their disposal, any of their previously held possessions could have been reoccupied, expanded, or even replaced. Instead, the order decided to create a new capital on a much larger hill directly across from Salvatierra.

The Order named this enormous complex of monastic buildings and frontier fortifications Calatrava la Nueva; a clear invocation of their roots as an order, as well as a distinct reference to their resurrection from near total oblivion. It is my contention that the years of displacement and crisis between the Battles of Alarcos (1195) and Las Navas de Tolosa (1112) were the key to the order's architectural decisions at their new capital. In this paper, I explain how the idea for Calatrava la Nueva germinated during this period, and how the choices of site, plan and style at Calatrava la Nueva each reflect the rebirth of Calatrava as a military order. Most importantly, I explain how Calatrava la Nueva offers a unique opportunity to determine how members of a military order responded to the challenge of creating a singular and symbolic identity through architecture.

I contend that the construction of the largest monastic-military complex in Iberia was not a foregone conclusion in 1213, and that the Order's decision to recall their past by retaking their original name of Calatrava is both significant, and deeply imbedded in the architecture of their new capital. The lack of attention paid to Calatrava La Nueva as a historical source is related to the fundamental difference between historians and art historians concerning the approach to material culture. While an immense new fortification such as Calatrava la Nueva would certainly have had primarily geopolitical consequences on the region, I believe it was more than a dot marking the southernmost Christian possession on a historical map of the Reconquista. This shallow reading of medieval fortifications lumps a unique castle/monastery into a category of purely military structures and ignores its ability to speak directly for its equally unique inhabitants. Calatrava la Nueva was an active agent in the Reconquista; one that can help both art and cultural historians to better understand how the most polemical and combative actors on the Christian/Muslim frontier manifested their ideology. Given the dearth of information available concerning the way military Orders perceived themselves, a reconstruction of Calatrava's headquarters should offer a welcome insight into the identity that the Calatravan monks wished to project.

MA (Master of Arts)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:34:29.

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