Sunday, January 06, 2013

Ciudad Rodrigo

As Tuesday (8th January) will be the 201st anniversary of the start of the siege (and eventual storming) of Ciudad Rodrigo, I thought I would dig out my notes and pictures of my visit. Coming from the south, you drive over mountain passes, plateaus and open moorland before descending down towards Ciudad Rodrigo. The land is beautiful, empty, and mostly poor. It reminded me very much of the west of Ireland. 
You can see Ciudad Rodrigo from a fair distance as you approach, clearly dominating the main northern route between Spain and Portugal. Thus the reason for it’s and Badajoz’s importance to the overall strategy of the war. An army would have to hold both of them to have any chance to either successfully defend and/or invade, in either direction. Only when wellington had secured them both was he able to advance into Spain. As it was Wellington chose to invest Ciudad Rodrigo first.
Ciudad Rodrigo itself is in remarkably good shape, and seems little altered from the time of the siege (unlike Badajoz). It is mostly built of sandstone, with many baroque as well as medieval and renaissance structures and churches crowded around the two main squares. It is easy to find the point of the main breach as all the buildings in it vicinity still bear the mark of cannon shot, the main church resembling a pepper pot with all the holes in its façade.
Here you can see where the British siege guns reduced the bastion by half, compared to the surrounding walls. This was the main breach stormed by Picton's division.
Here is the site of the lesser breach, stormed by the Light Division, and the where General Craufurd’s body was interred after the battle.
 And the memorial marking his final resting place.
Here in the distance you can see the Grand Tesson, upon which the British siege guns were sited, and behind which the Picton’s 3rd Division sheltered before storming the town.
The hill overlooks the town, so the French had sited a redoubt here to prevent it being used as a siege point by the British. This had to be stormed first by Crauford’s Light Division on 8th January 1812, after which the siege guns were set up.
I didn’t manage to get up to it as it is across several fields of fenced off farmland (though I am sure there is a track somewhere). I did though drive behind the hill, and it is easy to see how the British divisions could be concealed here, masking the preparation for any attack.
The Grand Tesson looking up from the Lesser Tesson.
 The main breach viewed from the Lesser Tesson. It's easy to see how the church tower became riddled with shell holes.

The lesser Tesson, where the British siege lines were pushed forward for the final bombardment and storming is easy to reach, being just outside the city walls, though half of it is covered in apartment blocks now, and a small railway line cuts it off from the Grand Tesson.
The outcome was never in dispute as the town was essentially indefensible with such a small garrison. Once the French had lost the Grand Tesson, the game was up. What is less easy to understand is why the French garrison did not surrender.

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