Coca – Without the Leaves

The morning arrived bright and calm and soon warmed up to a comfortable shirt-sleeves temperature – just as December should be!

Today, Coca’s most striking edifice is the C15th. Mudéjar Castle. The castle and town stand on a historically important and strategic promontory between the deeply cut valleys of the Eresma and Voltoya rivers at their confluence.

During the later Iron Age (Duero Culture) from the C5th. BC however, Cauca, as it was then known, was one of the most prosperous towns of the Vaccaei, of the Duero Valley, with a population estimated at 6-8,000 people. At it’s height, in the C4th. and C5th. AD, it was a politically significant Roman Municipium and the birth place of the emperor, Theodosius I ‘The Great’ (379-395 AD), who was to be the last emperor to rule both the Eastern and Western halves of the Empire.


Cauca was first taken by the Romans in 151 BC. by the Consul Lucius Luculus and again in 74 BC by Proconsul Pompey, who ‘stormed the city’, during the Sertorian Wars. By the C2nd. AD Cauca, held the status of ‘Municipium’ and was once again an important regional centre.

Theodosius was born in Cauca on the 11th January, 347 AD. In 367-368 AD, at the age of about 20, he accompanied his father, Flavius Theodosius, who had been sent to the Province of Britannia to put down the revolt that had started at Hadrian’s Wall and had subsequently spread rapidly, leaving much of northern and western Britain sacked.

While Theodosius had some notable military successes, it was for his religiosity that he gained the sobriquet ‘The Great’ – despite being excommunicated from the church at one point!

The typical Roman grid-plan layout of the streets can be clearly seen in the area of the town adjacent to the castle. While the 200m, or so, of remaining walls that once surrounded the town are of medieaval date, they are built on the remains of earlier walls of Roman and earlier Vaccaei date.

In 1785 significant sections of the walls were demolished to allow air into the then plague-ridden town. Then an account states that in 1800, ‘a thousand cartloads of wall stone’ was sold.

The church of Santa Maria le Mayor is the only surviving church of the eight known to have existed in the town. It dates from at least the C15th. as a chapel inside it was commissioned by Alonso de Fonseca in 1460. In 1790 mention was made of a secret archive hidden in the walls of one of Coca’s churches – a mystery to this day.

The Rights to the town were acquired in 1451 by Alonso de Fonseca and Ulloa, Bishop of Avila and Archbishop of Seville and in 1453 was granted permission from the King to build a castle. In 1460 he ceded the Rights to his brother, who subsequently died in 1463, whereupon the Rights passed to Alonso’s nephew, Alonso de Fonseca and Avellaneda, who built the greater part of the castle. It was essentially complete by 1493 and was more palatial residence than castle and was the scene of many lavish parties attended by international dignitaries.

In 1808 the town was occupied by the French and troops were billeted in the castle. When they left in 1812 the castle had been ransacked and was essentially a structural ruin.

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Poplar trees growing in the moist, alluvial soils of the valley floor define the meandering course of the river through the pine-clad Tierra de Pinares.



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