Saturday, 11 July 2009

Cuidad Rodrigo

In my diary I wrote "Cuidad is exactly like I imagined it would be". That really sums up Cuidad Rodrigo for me, both this first visit and our subsequent, much longer, one. If I had to recommend just one location of the Peninsular War to visit, it would probably be Cuidad.

We arrived in Cuidad about 7pm, feeling quite weary and stiff after our long coach journey. We were delighted to be told that our hotel would be the castle of Cuidad Rodrigo. The very place where the French surrendered. There is some dispute about who actually received the surrender, junior officers of both the 52nd and 88th claimed the honour, but no dispute but that it happened in the castle. When the town was stormed, the governor and his staff sought refuge in the castle. Shortly after the British arrived and he handed over his sword.

The castle is now a state run hotel. In Spain there are a number of these hotels called Paradores. They are often historical buildings, such as castles, which have been renovated to a very high degree and turned into 4 or 5 star hotels. The castle of Cuidad Rodrigo is one.

Walking around the castle/hotel is looked like any other luxury hotel. But in the grounds outside it was very easy to imagine the events of January 1812 unfolding.

Whilst everyone else was making their way to their rooms, Jan and I went for a walk around the town. First we walked around the town walls. They are very much as they were in 1812, and you can still walk around the whole circumference. On this evening we seemed to be the only ones doing so. It was quite dark as we started our walk, and one could easily imagine a French sentry doing his rounds and listening for the first sounds of the British approach.

The next morning we had an even greater treat. Our guide spoke to the receptionist and obtained the key to the castle tower. We climbed to the top and had the most magnificent views of both the town and the surrounding area. The town also looks much as it must have done in 1812, particularly the cobble streets in the tiny market just below the castle.

From the castle tower we could also see the Great Teson where the first siege works were built and the guns began to fire on the town. And just below it the Little Teson where the parallel was dug and the guns moved closer to the town. Unfortunately both are now covered by a housing estate.

Gathered on the castle tower we had a briefing on the siege and the subsequent storming. It was easy to follow the sequence of the siege, and why the Tesons has been chosen to commence the bombardment. It was also easy to under the layout of Cuidad Rodrigo. We were told, and I find it easy to believe, that the narrow streets of the old town can be negotiated using early nineteenth century military maps.

It was not time to have a guided tour of the town walls. We followed the route Jan and I had found the previous night. It was easier to find the landmarks outside the town in daylight, and we stopped to pay respects at the point where Black Bob Crauford was buried. He was killed leading the Light Division and buried in the Lesser Breach. It was impressive doing this tour, but did not have the same impact as walking the walls with Jan the previous evening, when we seemed to be accompanied by the ghosts of those brave men.

An artists impression of the storming of the Lesser Breach by the Light Division. It was during this critical moment of the battle that the commander Bob Crauford was mortally wounded.

A striking photographs of the Roman bridge over the river Augeda, and the towering castle beyond. During the battle the Portuguese stormed over this bridge to join the storm of Cuidad Rodrigo.

This drawing was made immediately after the battle by an officer who had taken part in the storm. You can clearly see the two breaches in the wall and how they would have filled the ditch with rubble to allow the stormers to climb into the town.

Our group inspect the defences from outside the town. This would be the approximate site of the Great, or Main, Breach. If you inspect the stone work closely you can easily see the new stones which repaired the damage done by Wellingtons artillery.

Another view of the Greater Breach. From this angle you can see just how high it was once you were in the ditch. There would have been a rough rampart of rubble to climb up, but it would have been difficult to climb, and strongly defended by the French.

Another artists impression of the storm. This gives a very good idea of what it must have looked like as the stormers climbed the rubble and fought their way into the town.

This view is from the approach to the fortifications. you are looking at the sloping bank of earth which deflected the artillery fire and protected the wall behind. Between here and the wall would be the ditch shown above. There is much damage to the church tower from cannon balls fired during the siege. The British gunners used the church tower as an aiming point.

It is a great, and humbling, experience to walk around the fortifications, climb down into the ditch and consider the courage needed on that night in January 1812. On this visit we did not have photo copies of descriptions of the storm, as we would on a later visit. But we knew the story only too well, and we had been well briefed before being left to explore on our own. No one objected to us climbing down into the ditch, to sit and picture in our minds eye what had happened in this very spot all those years ago.

At this period the defence of castles and fortifications was scientific. Most were designed by Vauban and named after him. An old fashioned castle could not withstand the firepower available to the attacker. So a series of defences were built of thick earth, which would make the cannon balls bounce over the wall. They were designed so that the attacker would have to climb up and then down and the up again. There were well sited angles which would allow the defenders to fire into the flank of any such attack. This photo well illustrates this defence system.

Jan sitting on the edge of the ditch. We were allowed about half an hour to walk about on our own and study the ground and the defences at our leisure.

Having studied the walls and defences it was back on the coach for the short drive to the Great Teson. It was just as well we were taken there, for I suspect it would have been difficult to find on your own amongst the many houses that now cover the area. I don't really know if this was the actual sight of the first battery, but it looked like it could well be.
You can see that at this angle it was possible to fire over the defences and hit the wall near the church. This weakness was known to the garrison, and they had built a redoubt which had to be taken before the guns could be sited.

This view is from the Little Teson, which is even nearer to the town and has an even better view of the walls in front of the church. You can see quite clearly that there is a direct line of fire to quite a large section of the wall.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Cuidad Rodrigo I would strongly recommend that you take it up. If you are ever visiting the Peninsular battle sites and are not sure which ones to put on the "must list" - make sure this one is at the top.

We left feeling that we would have loved to spend more time there. When we planned a visit on our own some years later we did just that. And the second visit was just as rewarding as the first.


  1. Hi Steve

    Thanks, glad you like it.

    You were quick off the mark, I only posted it last night!

    I am pleased to see that you have joined my forum Campaigns of Napoleon. I have sent you a message which I hope you receive. I am new to running a forum and it is all very much a steep learning curve.




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