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The mystery of the ‘marker stones’ of the Puerta de Alcalá

By | 15 April, 2020 | 0 comments

Hitos Cañada Real

You might have seen them before on your travels to Madrid. They’re basically two small monoliths found on opposite sides of the Plaza de la Independencia, home to the world-famous Puerta de Alcalá.

These two granite marker stones bear a curious inscription: “DROVEWAY OF 75.23 m”. In fact, they’re the last two boundary marks in existence corresponding to the former royal droveways. This was the name given to the roads throughout Spain along which herds of livestock would be driven every year from north to south in search of better pastures in the winter months.

The royal droveways were created in the times of Alfonso X and there are records from 1273 of shepherds crossing Madrid with their herds. The paths were marked out with these small stone markers and they had to meet the required minimum width of 75.23m, hence the curious inscription that we can see on these boulders.

Did you know that in memory of this ancient tradition, the last Sunday of October has seen thousands of sheep being herded across the heart of Madrid every year since 1994? This event is known as the Fiesta de la Trashumancia (Transhumance Festival), and on this day traffic is cut off and the herds take over the streets, much to the bewilderment of young and old alike.

What’s more, an event is held in which the head shepherd of the transhumant Merino sheep herd pays the mayor “fifty maravedís [coins] per thousand”, stipulated as the fee to let the herds pass through Madrid in a law from 1418 signed by the representatives of the Council of the Mesta and the public councillors of the Town of Madrid.

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