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The great fire of medieval Valencia (1447)



In March 1447, a great fire broke out in Valencia, caused by a former member of the municipal government. This fire destroyed many houses and craft workshops around the Market Square, the economic centre of the city. The municipal government had to compensate the citizens, who had lost everything, and restore everyday life in the area. A versatile Italian watchmaker living in Valencia was chosen to supervise the rehabilitation of the area. Under his direction, the debris was removed. Then after a conscious campaign of urban planning aimed at eliminating any traces of the old Islamic city, the streets were reconstructed according to the norms of the western city.

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1 In the medieval kingdom of Valencia, an alqueria was – and still is – a farmhouse with some fields around that was usually in the possession of an urban owner, and cultivated and managed by tenant farmers.

2 In the fifteenth century, the six jurats represented the collegiate body that held executive power in the municipal government.

3 For some authors, such as P. Iradiel or E. Cruselles, the population of Valencia was around 75,000–100,000 inhabitants at the end of the fifteenth century; for other more pessimistic ones, such as A. Rubio Vela, it would be about 40,000. Iradiel, P., ‘L’evolució econòmica’, in Belenguer, E. (ed.), Història del País Valencià, vol. II (Barcelona, 1989), 267–75; Cruselles, E., ‘La población de la ciudad de Valencia en los siglos XIV y XV’, Revista d’Història Medieval, 10 (1999), 4584 ; and Vela, A. Rubio, ‘La población de Valencia en la baja Edad Media’, Hispania, 190 (1995), 495525 .

4 In Florence, for example, 271 fires have been recorded between 1344 and 1380, that is, 7–8 fires a year, occurring all over the city. See Contessa, M.P., L’ufficio del fuoco nella Firenze del Trecento (Florence, 2000), 18 .

5 Crouzet-Pavan, E., ‘La guerre au feu dans une cité médiévale: un péril et ses limites’, in Scaramella, P. (ed.), Alberto Tenenti: scritti in memoria (Naples, 2005), 6590 (67–70).

6 Tolosa, Ll., Company, X. and Aliaga, J. (eds.), Documents de la pintura valenciana medieval i moderna, vol. III: (1401–1425) (Valencia, 2011), 115–16. The demolition of houses was still being carried out in the seventeenth century. It is recorded in the great fires of Warwick (1694) and London (1666). Farr, M. (ed.), The Great Fire of Warwick. 1694. The Records of the Commissioners Appointed under an Act of Parliament for Rebuilding the Town of Warwick (Hertford, 1992), XI .

7 Vela, A. Rubio (ed.), Epistolari de la València medieval (II) (Valencia, 1998), 142–3.

8 Ibid ., 177–9.

9 Miralles, M., Crònica i dietari del capellà d’Alfons el Magnànim, ed. Lizondo, M. Rodrigo (Valencia, 2011), 334 .

10 Ibid ., 164.

11 Ibid ., 227 and 428.

12 Ibid ., 220.

13 Furió, A. and Garcia-Oliver, F. (eds.), Llibre d’establiments i ordenacions de la ciutat de València, vol. I: (1296–1345) (Valencia, 2007), 463. It has also been possible to document fires caused in workshops of spice merchants in French and Italian cities. Crouzet-Pavan, ‘La guerre’, 67; D. Balestracci, ‘La lotta contra il fuocco (XIII–XVI sec)’, in Città e servizi sociali nell’Italia dei secoli XII–XV (Pistoia, 1990), 417–38 (423); Rivaud, D., ‘Le feu et la lutte contre les incendies à Bourges (1487–1559)’, Cahiers d’archéologie et d’histoire du Berry, 132 (1997), 310 .

14 ‘com fer trementina en la ciutat ne encara verniç sie gran peril de metre foch’. Furió and Garcia-Oliver (eds.), Llibre d’establiments, 463.

15 Balestracci, ‘La lotta’, 424.

16 Colón, G. and Garcia, A. (eds.), Furs de València (Barcelona 1999), 145 (Book IX – Rub VIII–XLIX).

17 Archive of the Kingdom of Valencia, Justicia civil 3925, quire 5, fol. 11v.

18 On 30 Jul. 1336, now referring to ‘flying’ rockets’, which the people used irresponsibly, with the consequent danger, in Furió and Garcia-Oliver (eds.), Llibre d’establiments, 177 and 305. The order of 1469 in Municipal Archive of Valencia (AMV), Manuals de Consells (MC) A-38, fol. 87r (7 Oct. 1469). That of 1481 in A-42, fol. 156r (27 Sep. 1481).

19 AMV, Sotsobreria de murs i valls (SMV), d3–49 (1447–8), fol. 148.

20 Narbona, R., ‘El Nueve de Octubre. Reseña histórica de una fiesta valenciana. Siglos XIV–XX’, in Memorias de la ciudad. Ceremonias, creencias y costumbres en la historia de Valencia (Valencia, 2003), 173230 (184).

21 Furió and Garcia-Oliver (eds.), Llibre d’establiments, 394.

22 Gómez Rojo, M.E., ‘Historia jurídica del incendio en la Edad Antigua y en el ordenamiento medieval castellano: implicaciones urbanísticas y medioambientales’, Revista de estudios histórico-jurídicos, 33 (2011), 321–73.

23 Crouzet-Pavan, ‘La guerre’, 74. The one instance in the Middle Ages of a productive activity being banned is the case of a German mestre de bombardes and also a bell-founder, who was prohibited from opening a large kiln in Boatella Street in 1394, for safety reasons (AMV, MC A-20, fol. 191r (8 Aug. 1394)).

24 Colón and Garcia (eds.), Furs de València (Book IX, Heading VIII, law VII), 114.

25 Ibid . (Book IX, Heading IX, law I), 149.

26 Miralles, Crònica, 220.

27 In the middle of the fourteenth century, Florence organized a sophisticated system for putting out fires. Contessa, L’ufficio del fuoco, 31ff.

28 Melió, V., La Junta de Murs i Valls. Historia de las obras públicas en la Valencia del Antiguo Régimen, siglos XIV–XVIII (Valencia, 1991), 66 and 68.

29 Ibid ., 68; Balestracci, ‘La lotta’, 432. On Toledo, where from 1490 there was a fire extinguishment service staffed by 12 carpenters; see Izquierdo Benito, R., ‘Materiales constructivos en las viviendas toledanas. La vivienda en Toledo a fines de la Edad Media’, in Passini, J. (ed.), La ciudad medieval: de la casa al tejido urbano (Cuenca, 2001), 281382 (288).

30 On the different ways of organizing the extinguishment of fires in Italian cities, see Balestracci, ‘La lotta’, 431–4.

31 Martí, J., ‘La ciudad y el agua’, in Furió, A. (ed.), Historia de Valencia (Valencia, 1999), 177–82.

32 1. Crònica i dietari del capellà d’Alfons el Magnànim, by Melcior Miralles: Miralles, Crònica, 226–7. 2. Memoria Valentina, by the sixteenth-century writer Juan de Timoneda: de Timoneda, J., Memoria Valentina. . . (Valencia, 1569), sig. Giiii. 3. Libre de memòries de diversos sucesos e fets memorables e de coses senyalades de la ciutat e regne de València (1308–1644), intro. and notes S. Carreres Zacarés (Valencia, 1930), vol. II, 583–4; this is a compilation of medieval documents from the city of Valencia collected by the municipality. 4. Anales Valencianos, ed. M.L. Cabanes (Zaragoza, 1983), 36; this is an anonymous text based on a fifteenth-century manuscript, copied in 1745.

33 Roig, J., Espill, ed. Carré, A. (Barcelona, 2014), 226–7.

34 AMV, MC A-34, fol. 88r (8 May 1448).

35 Rodrigo Pertegás, J., ‘Efemérides notariales’, Anales del Centro de Cultura Valenciana, 8 (1930), 191201 (196).

36 Archive of the Royal College of the Patriarch, document of Jaume Vinader 9538 (16 Mar. 1447).

37 Carré, A., ‘Jaume Roig, autor de l’Espill (segle XV): dels protocols notarials a la literatura’, Estudis Històrics i Documents dels Arxius de Protocols, 30 (2012), 87105 .

38 ‘qui en l’any prop passat desastradament fon feyt jurat de València’.

39 On 25 May 1447, the payment was noted of 750 sous for all the journeys that had been necessary for this case, and for the costs of the custody and execution of the condemned people (AMV, MC A-33, fol. 293v). The day before, an extra payment had been made of a further 500 sous to the city's racional, a sort of accounts auditor, related to Genís Ferrer (ibid., fol. 291v).

40 Sivera, J. Sanchis, Vida íntima de los valencianos en la época foral (Altea, 1993), 8990 .

41 According to Miralles’ Crònica, the woman's body was left on the scaffold for four hours and it was then taken to the Magdalenes’ Dominican nunnery for burial (226).

42 ‘En lo tercer alberch de la Fusteria, a les espatles de Sancta Maria de la Mercè, començant a comptar al cantó de la Mercé.’

43 AMV, Claveria Comuna O-23, fol. 225r–v.

44 This attitude was very common in the face of catastrophes of all kinds in the medieval city. A. Riera i Melis, ‘Catàstrofe, pànic i ritualitat a la baixa Edat Mitjana. La resposta de la societat catalana als terratrèmols de 1427–1428’, Afers, 69 (2011), 375–408. For France, Berlioz, J., ‘Le lendemain des catastrophes naturelles au Moyen Âge’, in Jouanna, J., Leclant, J. and Zink, M. (eds.), L’homme face aux calamités naturelles dans l’Antiquité et au Moyen Âge (Paris, 2006), 165–82 (172–4).

45 ‘los postics e porxes de fusta parades fora los dits albercs, és estada causa d’occasió del dit foc’. Guarner, M. Sanchis, La ciutat de València. Síntesi d’Història i de Geografia Urbana, 7th edn (Valencia, 1997), 137 .

46 Berlioz, ‘Le lendemain’, 174–8.

47 According to Jaume Roig, the market was a place where numerous frauds and deceptions took place, carried out especially by the female sellers. For this reason, God had ordered a punishment of biblical dimensions. See verses 7482 to 7593 of the Espill.

48 AMV, MC A-33, fols. 278v–279r (30 Mar. 1447).

49 AMV, MC A-34, fol. 89r (11 May 1448).

50 On the carpenters in medieval Valencia, see Aranda, T. Izquierdo, La fusteria a la València medieval (1238–1520) (Castellón, 2014).

51 AMV, MC A-34, fols. 84r–85r (9 and 10 May 1448).

52 Some requests for compensation, however, were also rejected, such as the one made by the weavers and wool carders of the district (AMV, MC A-34, fol. 86v (11 May 1448)).

53 On the process of transformation of the old Islamic wall and the appearance of this sewer or vall vell, see Lerma, V., ‘La ampliación de la muralla y el nuevo recinto urbano’, in Furió, A., García Marsilla, J.V. and Martí, J. (eds.), Historia de Valencia (Valencia, 1999–2001), 141–5; and Desfilis, A. Serra, ‘Ingeniería y construcción en las murallas de Valencia en el siglo XIV’, Actas del Quinto Congreso Nacional de Historia de la Construcción (Burgos, 2007), vol. II, 883–94.

54 On the system of channels inside the city and their functions, see Martí, J., ‘Las venas de la metrópoli. Séquies, rolls i cadiretes en la ciudad de Valencia’, in Contexto geográfico e histórico de los regadíos de la huerta de Valencia (Valencia, 2000), 102–27.

55 AMV, SMV d3−49, fol. 12r–v.

56 Both references respectively in Sivera, J. Sanchis, ‘Relojes públicos en Valencia en los siglos XIV y XV’, Almanaque Las Provincias (1914), 223–31 (230–1); and in Sainz, J. Castillo and Sanmartín, L. P. Martínez, ‘Economies d’escala i corporacions preindustrials: conflictes gremials per la captació d’oficis’, in Pujolà, Ll. Virós i (ed.), Organització del treball preindustrial: confraries i oficis (Barcelona, 2000), 6380 (64).

57 Glick, T., Regadío y sociedad en la Valencia medieval (Valencia, 1988), 142 , 144 and 367.

58 Franquet, J. Vidal, Les obres de la ciutat. La activitat constructiva i urbanística de la Universitat de Tortosa a la baixa edat mitjana (Barcelona, 2008), 441 .

59 AMV, MC A-33, fol. 292r (24 May 1447), and A-34, fol. 218v (4 Jul. 1449). These figures were not infrequent in the fifteenth century. We also have the nearby case of Huguet Barxa, of French or possibly Sardinian origin, a strict contemporary of Vetxo, who worked in Majorca and made clocks, mounted stained-glass, constructed buildings and, above all, was a sculptor. A. Juan Vicens, ‘La actividad escultórica de Huguet Barxa. Nuevas perspectivas’, Archivo Español de Arte, 87, 347 (Jul.–Sep. 2014), 209–26.

60 On 4 Apr. 1447, Vetxo proposed this change with the aim of reducing costs (AMV, SMV d3−49, fol. 25r–v). Vetxo was paid 4 sous a day, like any master builder, and he was aided by two ‘mozos’ or apprentices, called Bernat Pastor and Miquelet, who were each paid daily wages of 2.5 sous (ibid., fol. 33v).

61 AMV, SMV d3−49, fol. 25r–v.

62 Ibid ., fol. 32v.

63 Ibid ., fol. 35v (14 Apr. 1447). On the creation of this district, see J. Torró and E. Guinot, ‘De la Madina a la ciutat: les pobles del sud i la urbanització dels extramurs de València (1270–1370)’, Saitabi, 51–2 (2001–02), 51–103.

64 AMV, SMV d3−49, fol. 60r–v.

65 Ibid ., fol. 69v (23 May 1447).

66 AMV, MC A-33, fol. 291v (24 May 1447).

67 In the first case, it was the second-hand clothes sellers Francesc Cardells who received 200 sous, Gabriel Esteve 100 sous, and Joan Guillem and Joan de Bonaventura, each with 50 sous (AMV, MC A-34, fol. 39r); the second was dealt with in the municipal council session of 20 Aug. 1448 (ibid., fol. 122r).

68 Furió, A. and Marsilla, J.V. García, ‘La ville entre deux cultures. Valence et son urbanisme entre Islam et Féodalité’, in Bourdin, S., Paoli, M. and Reltgen-Tallon, A. (eds.), La forme de la ville de l’Antiquité à la Renaissance (Rennes, 2015), 3755 .

69 See Molina, J., ‘Francesc Eiximenis et les images de la ville idéale dans la Couronne d’Aragon’, in Gilli, P. (ed.), Les élites lettrées et mécénat dans les pays de la Méditerranée occidentale au Moyen Âge (Montpellier, 2007), 7498 .

70 They are included in almost all the folios of MC A-33 and A-34. See on this Marsilla, J.V. García, ‘Valorar el precio de las viviendas. Poder municipal y mercado inmobiliario en la Valencia medieval’, in Denjean, C. and Feller, L. (eds.), Expertise et valeur des choses au Moyen Âge, I: Le besoin d’expertise (Madrid, 2013), 139–52.

71 AMV, MC A-34, fol. 89r (11 May 1448). On this subject, see Desfilis, A. Serra, ‘El Consell de Valencia y el embelliment de la ciudad (1412–1460)’, in Primer Congreso de Historia del Arte Valenciano (Valencia, 1993), 75–9.

72 AMV, MC A-17, fol. 290r (7 Jun. 1382).

73 Estudio, R. and Hermida, J. Sanz, Historia y literatura del incendio de Valladolid de 1561 (Valladolid, 1998); Campos, P. Montoliú, Madrid, villa y corte: historia de una ciudad (Madrid, 1996), 108–11; Arias Fernández, A.I., ‘Los incendios de la plaza mayor de León’, Argutorio, 30 (2013), 80–2. For a smaller city, see Álvarez, M. Carballo, ‘Trifulcas, agresiones y otras rivalidades. Incendio y reconstrucción de la villa de Llanes’, Roda da Fortuna [Poder y violencia durante la Edad Media peninsular (siglos XIV y XV)], 2 (1/1) (2013), 455–69 (460–8); Bastide, M., ‘Toulouse après l’incendie de 1463’, Annales du midi, 80 (1968), 726 .

74 See Marsilla, J.V. García, ‘El poder visible. Demanda y funciones del arte en la corte de Alfonso el Magnánimo’, Ars Longa, 7–8 (1996–97), 3347 .

75 Porter, S., The Great Fire of London (Stroud, 1996); and Bennie, P., The Great Fire of Chicago of 1871 (New York, 2008).

* The present article forms part of different research programmes given financial suport by Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad of the Spanish government: García Marsilla HAR2011-281718; Ferragud FFI2011-29117-C02 (2012-15) and FFI2014-53050-C5-3-P (2015-18), co-financed with FEDER funds of the European Union.


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