WHETHER we live or holiday in Spain we have all heard of the name El Cid. Bars throughout Spain named El Cid seem as ubiquitous as those other original names El Rincon and La Rueda.
How many of us though know anything about the man called El Cid? Perhaps Charlton Heston springs to mind from the 1961 film co-starring Sophia Loren. Filming the movie cost over six million dollars with more than 7,000 extras used and 10,000 costumes.
Filmed almost entirely in Spain the director Martin Scorsese describes it as ‘One of the greatest epic films ever made!’
El Cid was the first true Spanish hero, a brave and intelligent warrior. Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (his actual name) was born into nobility in Burgos around 1042. He was raised in the household of Sancho the eldest son of King Ferdinand I. The king died in 1065 and bequeathed his lands equally between his three sons as he hoped they would be content with that.
The now King Sancho II attacked and defeated the kingdom of Aragon with Rodrigos help. Rodrigo was so successful he was made Commander of the Royal Armies aged just 23. Around 1070 Sancho II felt he should have inherited everything and so waged war on his brothers, Alfonso who had inherited the kingdom of Leon and Garcia who ruled Galicia.
Rodrigo orchestrated the defeats and both brothers were banished to live in Toledo. King Sancho II then set about battling his two sisters which as we know is not a wise thing for a man to do. His sister Elvira was defeated at Toro but when at Zamora battling his other sister Urraca he was killed possibly in an assassination plot between Alfonso and Urraca at the city gates in 1072. Sancho II had left no heir and his brother Alfonso claimed the throne to become King Alfonso VI.
Rodrigo was in a dangerous position as he had helped defeat Alfonso 2 years earlier. King Alfonso VI allowed him to stay at court but took away his position of Commander. In 1074 King Alfonso VI arranged a marriage between Rodrigo and Alfonsos’ niece Ximena so making him family perhaps worried that Rodrigo would try and take his throne. In 1079 Rodrigo was sent to Seville to collect a large debt. Rodrigo was then accused by Alfonso VI of not only stealing some of the money but of also attacking Toledo a Moorish Kingdom under the protection of the king without his approval. For his insolence Rodrigo was banished from the kingdom.
Rodrigo needed new royal protection and went to Zaragoza where the Arabic leader Yusaf al Mu‘Taman knew of his reputation and put Rodrigo in charge of his army. The name El Cid comes from this period as Cid means lord or master in Arabic. El Cid spent10 years in the service of his new ruler with victories against the Moorish King of Lerida in 1082 and King Sancho Ramirez of Aragon in 1084.
In 1086 a large force of Alamoravid soldiers was sent from North Africa to attack King Alfonso VI and protect the Moorish inhabitants of Spain. They were so successful that King Alfonso VI in defeat turned to El Cid for help so ending his exile.
El Cid didn’t fight for his King and instead returned to Zaragoza and started political manoeuvrings to gain control of Valencia. El Cid captured Berenguer Ramón II ruler of Barcelona in battle and when he was released he made Ramóns’ nephew marry El Cids’ youngest daughter called, yep Maria so as to create a political alliance.
In 1092 El Cid laid siege to Valencia and took control in 1094. Both Moors and Christians lived in peace sharing important positions in government and the military. Three years later the Alamoravid force attacked Valencia and El Cid was killed by an arrow to the heart. His wife put his body atop his great war horse Babieca to inspire the soldiers but Valencia was lost to the Moors for another 125 years. Ximena fled taking El Cids body to be buried in Burgos.