Siege of the Alcázar
The Siege of the Alcázar was a highly symbolic Nationalist victory in Toledo
Toledo, Spain
Toledo's Alcázar became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces.-Economy:...

 in the opening stages of the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

. The Alcázar of Toledo
Alcázar of Toledo
The Alcázar of Toledo is a stone fortification located in the highest part of Toledo, Spain. Once used as a Roman palace in the 3rd century, it was restored under Charles I and Philip II of Spain in the 1540's...

 was held by a variety of military forces in favor of the Nationalist uprising. Militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

s of the parties in the Popular Front
Popular Front (Spain)
The Popular Front in Spain's Second Republic was an electoral coalition and pact signed in January 1936 by various left-wing political organisations, instigated by Manuel Azaña for the purpose of contesting that year's election....

 began their siege
A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault. The term derives from sedere, Latin for "to sit". Generally speaking, siege warfare is a form of constant, low intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static...

 on July 21 1936. The siege ended on September 27 with the arrival of the Army of Africa
Spanish Army of Africa
The Army of Africa was a Spanish field army that garrisoned Spanish Morocco from the early 20th century until Morocco's independence in 1956....

 under Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...



On July 17, 1936, Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

 began the military rebellion in Spanish Morocco
Spanish Morocco
The Spanish protectorate of Morocco was the area of Morocco under colonial rule by the Spanish Empire, established by the Treaty of Fez in 1912 and ending in 1956, when both France and Spain recognized Moroccan independence.-Territorial borders:...

. On July 18, the military governor of the province of Toledo, Colonel Moscardó
José Moscardó Ituarte
José Moscardó e Ituarte, 1st Count of the Alcázar of Toledo, Grandee of Spain was the military Governor of Toledo Province during the Spanish Civil War...

, ordered the Guardia Civil of the province to Toledo. During the 19th and 20th of July, various attempts were made by the War Ministry of the Republican government to obtain the munitions in the arms factory at Toledo. Each time, Colonel Moscardó refused and was threatened that a force from Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

 would be sent against him.


The Republican forces dispatched to Toledo consisted of approximately 8,000 men of the militias of the FAI
Federación Anarquista Ibérica
The Federación Anarquista Ibérica is a Spanish organization of anarchist militants active within affinity groups inside the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo trade union. It is often abbreviated as CNT-FAI because of the close relationship between the two organizations...

Confederación Nacional del Trabajo
The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo is a Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions affiliated with the International Workers Association . When working with the latter group it is also known as CNT-AIT...

 and the UGT. They had several pieces of artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

, a few armoured cars and about 2 or 3 tanks
A tankette is a tracked combat vehicle resembling a small tank roughly the size of a car, mainly intended for light infantry support or reconnaissance. Colloquially it may also simply mean a "small tank"....

. The Republican Air Force performed reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

, spotted for the artillery and bombed
Tactical bombing
Tactical bombing is the aerial bombing aimed at targets of immediate military value, such as troops, military installations or equipment. This is in contrast to strategic bombing, attacking enemy's cities and factories to debilitate the enemy's capacity to wage war, the enemy's future military...

 the Alcázar on 35 occasions.

Those that participated in the Nationalist uprising were the 800 men of the Guardia Civil, a handful of cadets of the Military Academy (though propaganda gave them a great relevance), one hundred Army officials and 110 civilians from right-wing
Right-wing politics
In politics, Right, right-wing and rightist generally refer to support for a hierarchical society justified on the basis of an appeal to natural law or tradition. To varying degrees, the Right rejects the egalitarian objectives of left-wing politics, claiming that the imposition of equality is...

 political parties. The only weapons that they possessed were rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

s, a few old machine gun
Machine gun
A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm, usually designed to fire rounds in quick succession from an ammunition belt or large-capacity magazine, typically at a rate of several hundred rounds per minute....

s and some grenades
Hand grenade
A hand grenade is any small bomb that can be thrown by hand. Hand grenades are classified into three categories, explosive grenades, chemical and gas grenades. Explosive grenades are the most commonly used in modern warfare, and are designed to detonate after impact or after a set amount of time...

, but the officials and Guardia Civil had managed to bring in abundant ammunition.

Approximately 670 civilian
A civilian under international humanitarian law is a person who is not a member of his or her country's armed forces or other militia. Civilians are distinct from combatants. They are afforded a degree of legal protection from the effects of war and military occupation...

s (five hundred women and 50 children) lived in the Alcázar for the duration of the siege. Many of these were the family members of the Guardia Civil while others had fled from the advancing Republican militias. The women were given no role in the defense of the Alcázar; they were not even allowed to cook or nurse the wounded. However, their presence in the Alcázar provided the men with the moral courage
Moral courage
Moral courage is the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences.Courage is required to take action when one has doubts or fears about the consequences. Moral courage therefore involves deliberation or careful thought...

 to continue the defense. The civilians were kept safe from Republican attacks, the five civilians that died were due to natural causes
Death by natural causes
A death by natural causes, as recorded by coroners and on death certificates and associated documents, is one that is primarily attributed to natural agents: usually an illness or an internal malfunction of the body. For example, a person dying from complications from influenza or a heart attack ...

. There were two births during the siege. One of the babies born, who eventually became an Officer in the Spanish Army, was expelled from the Army in the late 70's for joining the Unión Militar Democrática (UME).

Additionally, ten prisoners
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 captured during sorties in Toledo and several hostage
A hostage is a person or entity which is held by a captor. The original definition meant that this was handed over by one of two belligerent parties to the other or seized as security for the carrying out of an agreement, or as a preventive measure against certain acts of war...

s were held by the Nationalists through the duration of the siege. Among the hostages were the Civil Governor of the province and his family.


The Alcázar
Alcázar of Toledo
The Alcázar of Toledo is a stone fortification located in the highest part of Toledo, Spain. Once used as a Roman palace in the 3rd century, it was restored under Charles I and Philip II of Spain in the 1540's...

 became the residence of the Spanish monarchs
Spanish monarchy
The Monarchy of Spain, constitutionally referred to as The Crown and commonly referred to as the Spanish monarchy or Hispanic Monarchy, is a constitutional institution and an historic office of Spain...

 after the reconquest
The Reconquista was a period of almost 800 years in the Middle Ages during which several Christian kingdoms succeeded in retaking the Muslim-controlled areas of the Iberian Peninsula broadly known as Al-Andalus...

 of Toledo from the Moors
The description Moors has referred to several historic and modern populations of the Maghreb region who are predominately of Berber and Arab descent. They came to conquer and rule the Iberian Peninsula for nearly 800 years. At that time they were Muslim, although earlier the people had followed...

, but was abandoned by Philip II
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

 and in the 18th century was converted into a military academy
Military academy
A military academy or service academy is an educational institution which prepares candidates for service in the officer corps of the army, the navy, air force or coast guard, which normally provides education in a service environment, the exact definition depending on the country concerned.Three...

. After a fire in 1886, parts of the Álcazar had been reinforced with steel and concrete beams.

The Nationalists saw the Alcázar as a representation of the strength and dominance of Spain
Spanish Empire
The Spanish Empire comprised territories and colonies administered directly by Spain in Europe, in America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. It originated during the Age of Exploration and was therefore one of the first global empires. At the time of Habsburgs, Spain reached the peak of its world power....

. Losing the Alcázar to the Republicans would have been a serious blow to the Nationalists' vision and morale
Morale, also known as esprit de corps when discussing the morale of a group, is an intangible term used to describe the capacity of people to maintain belief in an institution or a goal, or even in oneself and others...


July 21

A proclamation declaring a "State of War" was read by a Captain of the Military Academy at 7 a.m. in the Zocodover, the main plaza of Toledo
Toledo, Spain
Toledo's Alcázar became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces.-Economy:...

. Euphemistic orders were given for "the arrest of well-known left-wing
Left-wing politics
In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a more egalitarian society...

 activists" in Toledo, but only the leader of the local prison was arrested.

The Republican troops sent from Madrid first arrived at the Hospital of Tavera on the outskirts of Toledo, but redirected their attack towards the Arms Factory upon receiving heavy fire from the hospital. A detachment of 200 Guardia Civil was stationed at the Arms Factory and negotiation
Negotiation is a dialogue between two or more people or parties, intended to reach an understanding, resolve point of difference, or gain advantage in outcome of dialogue, to produce an agreement upon courses of action, to bargain for individual or collective advantage, to craft outcomes to satisfy...

s with the Republicans ensued. During these talks, the Guardia Civil loaded trucks with ammunition
Ammunition is a generic term derived from the French language la munition which embraced all material used for war , but which in time came to refer specifically to gunpowder and artillery. The collective term for all types of ammunition is munitions...

 from the factory and sent it to the Alcázar before evacuating and destroying the factory.

July 22–August 13

By July 22, the Republicans controlled most of Toledo and sought the surrender of the Alcázar by artillery bombardment
A bombardment is an attack by artillery fire directed against fortifications, troops or towns and buildings.Prior to World War I the term term was only applied to the bombardment of defenceless or undefended objects, houses, public buildings, it was only loosely employed to describe artillery...

. For the duration of the siege, the Nationalists engaged in a passive defense, only returning fire when an attack was imminent.

Colonel Moscardó was called on the telephone by the chief of the Worker's Militia on the morning of July 23 in Toledo and told that if the Alcázar were not surrendered
Surrender (military)
Surrender is when soldiers, nations or other combatants stop fighting and eventually become prisoners of war, either as individuals or when ordered to by their officers. A white flag is a common symbol of surrender, as is the gesture of raising one's hands empty and open above one's head.When the...

 within ten minutes, his son Luis would be shot. Colonel Moscardó asked to speak to his son and his son asked what he should do. His father replied, "then commend your soul to God, shout 'Viva España' and die like a hero." To which the son said, "That is quite simple. Both I will do." Colonel Moscardó then told the chief of the Worker's Militia that he would not surrender the Alcázar and a few minutes later he received a call stating that his son had been shot. A similar story is found in the Reconquista
The Reconquista was a period of almost 800 years in the Middle Ages during which several Christian kingdoms succeeded in retaking the Muslim-controlled areas of the Iberian Peninsula broadly known as Al-Andalus...

 when Guzmán el Bueno refused to surrender Tarifa
Tarifa is a small town in the province of Cádiz, Andalusia, on the southernmost coast of Spain. The town is located on the Costa de la Luz and across the Straits of Gibraltar facing Morocco. The municipality includes Punta de Tarifa, the southernmost point in continental Europe. There are five...

 to the Moors.
In fact, it was not until a month later—August 23—that his son was shot, in reprisal for an air raid. Historians Herbert Southworth
Herbert Southworth
Herbert Rutledge Southworth was a writer, journalist and historian specializing in the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent Franco dictatorship in Spain and whose work led the Francoist ministry of information to set up an entire department just to counter his demolition of the regime's...

 and Isabelo Herreros doubt the official version about the conversation and the shooting: Luis Moscardó had liberal tendencies, and his entry in the log of the Toledo cemetery was done retroactively.

August 14–September 17

On August 14, the Republicans changed tactics after they felt the defences on the northern side of the Alcázar had been sufficiently reduced. Over the next five weeks, the Republicans attacked
Frontal assault
The military tactic of frontal assault is a direct, hostile movement of forces toward the front of an enemy force . By targeting the enemy's front, the attackers are subjecting themselves to the maximum defensive power of the enemy...

 the House of the Military Government on eleven occasions, but were turned back each time by the Nationalists. Had the Republicans captured the House of the Military Government, it would have enabled them to mass a large number of troops only 40 yards (36.6 m) away from the Alcázar.

An envoy from the Republicans, Major Rojo
Vicente Rojo Lluch
Vicente Rojo Lluch was Chief of the General Staff of the Spanish Armed Forces during the Spanish Civil War.-Early life:...

, was sent to Colonel Moscardó on September 9 to ask for the surrender of the Alcázar. This was refused, but Colonel Moscardó requested for a priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

 to be sent to baptize
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 the two children born during the siege and to also say Mass
Mass (liturgy)
"Mass" is one of the names by which the sacrament of the Eucharist is called in the Roman Catholic Church: others are "Eucharist", the "Lord's Supper", the "Breaking of Bread", the "Eucharistic assembly ", the "memorial of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection", the "Holy Sacrifice", the "Holy and...


Vázquez Camarassa, a Madrid preacher with left-wing views, was sent to the Alcázar during the morning of September 11, performed the necessary functions and issued a General Absolution
Absolution is a traditional theological term for the forgiveness experienced in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This concept is found in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Anglican churches, and most Lutheran churches....

 to the defenders of the Alcázar. That evening, Major Rojo met with Colonel Moscardó for the release of the women and children. The women unanimously replied that they would never surrender and if need be would take up arms for the defense of the Alcázar.

The Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

an Ambassador
An ambassador is the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization....

 to Spain, José Ramon Gutierrez, having heard that the previous attempts for surrender failed, went on September 12 to secure the surrender of the Alcázar. He was unable to contact Colonel Moscardó because the telephone wires had been damaged the previous night from grenades thrown by the Republican militias and was also unwilling to use other methods of communication.

September 18

From August 16 the Republicans had been digging two mines towards the southwest tower of the Alcázar. On the morning of September 18, explosives
Explosive material
An explosive material, also called an explosive, is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure...

 in the mines were detonated by Francisco Largo Caballero
Francisco Largo Caballero
Francisco Largo Caballero was a Spanish politician and trade unionist. He was one of the historic leaders of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party and of the Workers' General Union...

, completely destroying the southwest tower and the two defenders in it. Approximately 10 minutes after the explosion, the Republicans launched four attacks on the Alcázar with the aid of armored cars and tanks. The attacks failed after a determined defense by the Nationalists, but the Republicans responded with a continuous bombardment of the Alcázar by its artillery throughout the night and into the next day.

September 19–26

The bombardment of the outlying buildings had been so great that communication with them and the Alcázar had become impossible. A withdrawal
Withdrawal (military)
A withdrawal is a type of military operation, generally meaning retreating forces back while maintaining contact with the enemy. A withdrawal may be undertaken as part of a general retreat, to consolidate forces, to occupy ground that is more easily defended, or to lead the enemy into an ambush...

 of the buildings was ordered and by the night of September 21, the garrison was left to defend what remained of the Alcázar. The Republicans attacked the outlying buildings on the morning of September 22, but progress was slow because they did not realize that the buildings had been abandoned.

At 5 a.m. on September 23, the Republicans assaulted the northern breaches of the Alcázar and surprised the defenders by lobbing grenades and dynamite. The Nationalists were driven into the courtyard of the Alcázar, but reserves arrived to drive back the attack.

A fresh assault was mounted later in the morning on the Alcázar, this time a tank led the charge. Wave after wave of Republican soldiers attacked the breaches, but after 45 minutes the attack had ground to a halt and collapsed.


The first sign of an advancing Nationalist column was on August 22 when a plane sent by Franco dropped
Airlift (military)
An airlift is the organized delivery of supplies or personnel primarily via aircraft.Airlifting consists of two distinct types, strategic and tactical airlifting...

 a trunk of food into the Alcázar along with a message to the defenders that the Army of Africa was on its way to relieve the garrison. By September 26, the Nationalist columns had reached the village of Bargas, four miles (6 km) north of Toledo. The position of the Republicans in Toledo grew desperate and on the morning of September 27 they made a final assault on the Alcázar. The attack was repulsed and shortly after the Nationalists swarmed down from Bargas to end the siege.

After the arrival of the main Nationalist force, most of the Republican troops fell back in disorder on Aranjuez
Aranjuez is a town lying 48 km south of Madrid, in the southern part of the Community of Madrid. It is located at the confluence of the Tagus and Jarama rivers, 48 km from Toledo. As of 2009, it has a population of 54,055.-History:...



Apart from a small arms factory, Toledo was a city of no military value to either side; the Nationalist forces there were isolated, badly equipped and in no condition to conduct offensive operations. Yet the Republicans —due to the increasingly symbolic value of the Alcázar as weeks went by— threw badly needed men, artillery and weapons (which could have been used to confront Franco's northern advance through western Spain) into the fortress capture. The Republican government believed that since the garrison was only 40 miles (64.4 km) southwest of Madrid and would not be receiving any immediate help from the other Nationalist forces that it would be an easy propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

 victory. The press
Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion. Though there are many variations of journalism, the ideal is to inform the intended audience. Along with covering organizations and institutions such as government and...

 was invited by the Republican government to witness the explosion of the mines and storming of the Alcázar on September 18, but it wasn't until September 29 that the press entered the Alcázar, this time by the invitation of the Nationalists, turning the whole thing into a huge propaganda victory for these, mining in turn the Republican morale.

Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

 decision to relieve the defenders of the Alcázar was a controversial one at the time. Many of his advisers thought that he should have kept up the advance towards Madrid because the besiegers of the Alcázar would have been recalled to Madrid for its defense. However, Franco believed that the propaganda value of the Alcázar was more important and ordered the Army of Africa
Spanish Army of Africa
The Army of Africa was a Spanish field army that garrisoned Spanish Morocco from the early 20th century until Morocco's independence in 1956....

 to relieve it. Two days after the relief of the Alcázar, Franco was proclaimed Generalissimo
Generalissimo and Generalissimus are military ranks of the highest degree, superior to Field Marshal and other five-star ranks.-Usage:...

and in October was declared the head of state
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...


The story of the siege was very interesting for foreign supporters of Franco, who would read the several books published in foreign languages, and would strive for meeting Moscardó when visiting wartime Spain.

In popular culture

The siege was the basis for the prize-winning 1940 Italian Fascist propaganda film, L'assedio dell'Alcazar, directed by Augusto Genina
Augusto Genina
Augusto Genina was an Italian film pioneer. He was a movie producer and director.Born in Rome, Genina was a drama critic and wrote comedies for the Il Mondo Magazine, under advise of Aldo de Benedetti switches to movies for the "Film d'Arte Italiana", that produces his first film "La moglie di sua...

. In Spanish, the film is known as Sin novedad en el Alcázar.

See also

  • El Alcázar
    El Alcázar
    El Alcázar was a Spanish far-right newspaper founded in 1936 . The paper was founded as the principal nationalist mouthpiece during the Siege of the Alcázar in homage to the defenders of the Alcázar of Toledo ....

    was a Spanish newspaper targeting the búnker
    The term búnker refers to a far-right faction during the Spanish transition to democracy. The group of hardline francoists opposed political and social reform; the group's steadfast refusal to compromise led to the name of "bunker." Under the presidency of Carlos Arias Navarro, búnker and its...

    , the hardline supporters of Francoism even after Franco's death.

See also the closing section of "The Dangerous Years" by Gilbert Frankau, in which one of the characters and his wife are caught up in the siege.
Whilst the book is "fiction" the scenes in the Alcazar follow closely descriptions in the above article.


  • Eby, Cecil D. The Siege of the Alcazar. New York: Random House, 1965.
  • Moss, Geoffrey MacNeill. The Siege of the Alcázar: A History of the Siege of the Toledo Alcázar, 1936. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937. ISBN 1164507125. Moss arrived to Toledo three weeks after the end of the siege and stayed for three months, interviewing survivors and checking reports by Moscardó and the internal newspaper. It was re-published and translated several times. While Moss admires the defenders, he is careful in distinguishing his conjectures from oral reports.
    • Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961. ISBN 0375755152

External links

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