Relaxing in the Rio Tajo is a Cool Slice of the Spain Project
By Sean Confoy
After a long day of excavation at the site Zorita de los Canes, our team enjoys nothing more than a relaxing visit to the Rio Tajo. At the river, our crew can be found swimming in its cool depths or swinging off of a rope swing that is located near its edge. Our group loves the river so much because the water is a lot colder than other rivers that we have grown accustomed to. This means that the hot and sweaty feeling we have from digging can disappear in an instant after entering the water. This refresher is a big part of our motivation through the rest of the day and it relaxes us so that we can be prepared for the next day on the site. It has become a tradition to visit the river everyday after excavation for this very reason.
The Rio Tajo is the longest river in Spain and it was regularly crossed while traders exported goods throughout the middle ages. It runs mainly West to East, and the area of the river that we swim in also runs in the same direction, although it winds frequently in other directions. The river once had a bridge that traders walked across, but it was destroyed in the sixteenth century. The rope swing that we swing from actually marks the start of that bridge. The river was a very strategic place for the castle to be built by because it allowed the castle to have access to water in the event of an attack.
In the castle, our group has excavated around the well, deciding that its purpose was to supply the castle population with sufficient drinking water in these sieges. The Rio Tajo likely additionally forced invading armies from the west to cross the bridge over the river to reach the castle, giving the soldiers time to attack the army when they were gathered in one area. Calatrava knights used to collect heavy taxes on those crossing their bridge, supplying the knights with farm animals and crops to keep them fed. The bridge at Zorita de los Canes was one of the only three bridges that was built over the Rio Tajo. This was intended to simplify taxation of goods that were being carried across the bridges. Being one of the king’s main sources of taxation, the Zorita bridge was very important to the King. In Zorita there were Muslims, Jews, and Christians who all received varying levels of taxation. The Muslim population was forced to pay extra taxes, whereas the Christian population lived inside the modern day town of Zorita where we currently stay. This meant that the Christians were not taxed nearly as much as the Muslims because they did not have to cross the bridge to reach the castle. The Jewish population lived inside of the original fortress walls due to their loyalty to the King and therefore were likely taxed less than the other groups.
It is crazy to me to think that a place we venture to everyday on the project has such a rich and fascinating history that is rarely thought about. I would recommend taking a trip to the river if you are ever in the area (Zorita) because even if you are not on an archaeological expedition, it can still cool you down on a hot day in Spain.