I was built on water, my walls are made of fire, this is my flag and my coat of arms.
Fui sobre agua edificada, mis muros de fuego son, esta es mi insignia y blasón.
The motto of Madrid is pretty damn impressive sounding, but do you have any idea what it means?
The water part is a reference to the many underground streams that once flowed under Madrid. When the Arabs arrived around 860, they named the settlement Mayrit, an Arabic word which means “place of many springs”. Taking advantage of this abundant supply and the vantage point Madrid gave them over enemy territory to the north, they quickly got cracking on building a fortress here. To construct it they quarried huge amounts of flint, a material that could be found in great abundance nearby. After a Christian army invaded in 1083, this wall was further extended in the 12th century, again using the same material. Any arrows striking the wall would catch and spark, creating the impression at night that Madrid’s walls were, indeed, made of fire.
The motto itself dates from the 12th century and part of it can be found written large on a wall at Puerta de Cerrada, the former site of one of the medieval city’s most important gates. While the Christian wall has long been demolished, some buildings fashioned from flint remain. These include Convento de la Encarnación, la Casa de los Lujanes, and la Casa de Cisneros. Presumably if you strike a sharp object against the walls of these ancient buildings, sparks will fly, though needless to say I don’t recommend it!
Keen to find out more about the history of Madrid? See another side of the city with one of my unique walking tours.