Town of Caracena

©Fernando Caracena 2013

 February 1998
I gave two invited talks at the Asamblea Hispano-Portuguese de Geodesia y Geofisica the week of 9-13 February 1998 at Aguadulce, Almeria. Afterward, I wsa invited t speak at the University of Madrid Complutense. While in Madrid, I had the good fortune to visit the town of Caracena in

Mayor of Caracena on a donkeyThe mayor of the town of Caracena (Ildefonso Valverde Lozano) chats with the author about the history of the town.

the province of Soria, Spain, from where my surname derives. Angel Rivera Perez, a friend from the  the Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia (INM) drove me to the town which is the probable source of my surname. The river that runs by the  village is called Caracena also. Formerly it was known as the rio Adante.

We could not approach the town of Caracena directly from Madrid because of the rough mountainous terrain. Angel took a highway directly north that leads to the city of Burgos from Madrid. At the Duero valley he branched to a road that went upstream along the river past the town of San Esteban de Gormaz and continued to El Burgo de Osma, where we had lunch. From there he took the road south past the castle of Gormaz, which we explored. It is an enormous fortification sitting on top of a mesa, now in ruins. From there we headed in south southwesterly direction that brought us to the Caracena valley near the town of Fresno de Caracena.

Geography and history of the town of Caracena

 The town of Caracena is situated in the province of Soria near the town of El Burgo de Osma, a variation of the name Uxama given to an old Roman camp nearby. The area resembling southern Colorado, or northern New Mexico, is replete with castles on the tops of mesas. The rocky landscape is somewhat denuded of vegetation. Here and there are patched of vestigial forests that either escaped destruction or grew back after their initial cutting. In some protected cliff sides there are also isolated trees and groves of trees, mostly coniferous. 
El rio Duero, one of the major rivers of Spain, drains this part of the country passes through El Burgo de Osma and flows westward through the town of Zamora, forming part of the border of Spain and Portugal it continues to the coast, where at the town of Porto, Portugal it flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Caracena river is a tributary of the Duero, into which it flows from the south. It gathers water from a number of tributaries, most of which are arroyos. The rio Manzanares is one of its main tributaries. The water of the Caracena river is cool enough to support trout, as are a number of streams in the province of Soria, which is mostly mountainous. Although the whole area was once forested, the landscape is barren, having only isolated bunches of dry grass overgrazed by sheep. In some places, anemic looking grape vines grow out of small craters scooped out of the land here and there to collect extra rainwater.

Parts of the history of the town of Caracena are not written down in books, but the mayor of the town, Ildefonso Valverde Lozano, told them to me very rapidly in Spanish. The following is the Mayor's version of the history of the town of Caracena.

Spaniards retook the town and castle of Carcena from the Muslims somewhere around 1000 AD. In 1001 AD, the castle was renovated by "El Duque de Alba." Construction of the church of San Pedro was begun in 1001 and completed in 1056 AD. Material for the castle included columns salvaged from Roman ruins in the area. The mayor did not give me any facts about the church of Santa Maria on the lower end of town. The mayor continued. In 1334 the town was torched and burned because, "se habia llenado de judios," (it had become a Jewish town). The town was also torched in 1636 in a war between local territories. Caracena had not been the original name of the town. He could not remember the original name, but the site is old, and has a history that goes back to Roman times. One of the old Roman roads (via) goes through this area. The river's name has been changed from the rio Adante to the rio Caracena.

Other history of the town of Caracena

The earliest appearance of the name Caracena is in southern Spain as the original name of a town that now has the name of Cazorla in the Jaen province.

An article that briefly flashed on the Web, but which has since disappeared,identifies the name of Caracena as of ancient Roman origin:

* The town of Cazorla was founded in Roman times, called Caracena. At that time, it was quite wealthy, for the Romans mined silver and lead in the surrounding mountains. That wealth must have continued for quite some time, since it has two major fortified Arab castles guarding it (Castillo de la Yedra, and La Iruela) as well as a Moorish-style palace, currently in use as its Ayuntamiento (city hall). The area around Cazorla contains the headwater of the mighty Guadalquivir, one of Spain's major rivers.

—from the notes and journals of Rabbi Elias Cassorla...

This establishes the name Caracena to be of ancient Roman origin, and the name Caracena does appear as the name of a tribe in Italy that the Romans fought and eventually conquered. Indeed, the surname Caraceni in Italy probably owes its origin that tribe.

  The question that is brought up by the above facts is how the name Caracena became established in northern Spain in the province of Soria. The town that now bears that name there carried a different name before it was reconquered by Christians, according to  the mayor of the town. There are actually three towns containing Caracena in a small area near the Caracena river: Sotillos de Caracena, Caracena and Fresno de Caracena. Further, there is the mystery of how the name Caracena became transmitted from the province of Soria southwestward to the province of Cuenca where there are two other towns bearing the name: Caracenilla and Caracena del Valle. The origin of the latter two towns in Cuenca is probably best explained as as a repopulation of the area after its reconquest by former inhabitants of the town of Caracena in Soria, which is proposed as one possibility by a website on Caracenilla. Supposedly, the new colonists took the name of their former town in Soria to the new site in Cuenca. The time of the repopulation effort there is estimated at the Caracenilla website to be ca. 1200 AD.

The Roman town of Caracena in the province of Jaen was taken over by the Muslims when they invaded Spain, and reconquered in 1232 AD, after which its name was changed to Cazorla, a city in the privince of Jaen, which still exists. Don Rodrigo Jimenez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo, reconquered the nearby village of La Iruela, a ruined Moorish fortress perched on a daunting rocky peak in 1231 and made it the seat of his archbishopric.

How a name from the south like Caracena could be transferred north still remains a mystery. It could have been spread to Soria by the Romans themselves, so that the area bore that name when the town itself bore a different name. After the town was retaken from the Muslims, the town, now depopulated and resettled could have taken a new name borrowed from the name for the area. Or the name could have been brought north as a result of the reconquest around the present town of Cazorla, which originally carried the name Caracena.

During the Reconquista in southern Spain, Muslims tended to remove themselves from newly acquired Christian territory to Muslim lands, leaving behind the Christian population that had remained under Muslim rule (Mozarabes) and had taken on the language and customs of Arabs. To make sure that the frontier remained secure, the Mosarabes were relocated to the north deep in Christian territory, and the vacated land was resettled with people from northern Spain, whose loyalties could be trusted.

After is repopulation by northerners, the town of Caracena in Jaen was renamed Cazorla. At the time of its reconquest, 1232 AD, it could be that the people of Caracena were resettled in Soria at the present site of the town. Cazorla was a a big town or small city, so that its population could have spread over the area forming three the towns in Soria that bear the name Caracena. However, the timing for this renaming does not fit the facts. The timing for naming Caracenilla and Caracena del Valle, ca. 1200 AD, does roughly fit in time. At this time, it was more likely, that the town in Soria already had acquired the name Caracena, so that when the Jaen population was relocated, Cuenca received some of the Jaen population, perhaps the Soria town as well, which did not require a name change.

There are indications that the town of Caracena in Soria had acquired that name some time just after it was reconquered from the Moors, just before 1,000 A D. At that time, the Moors withdrew the entire population under their control, to leave an empty land to slow down the Spaniards by require them to repopulate this abandoned territory. Around this time, the Pope had declared a crusade against the Moors in Spain, asking other European countries to come to the assistance of their fellow Spaniards. Farmers had poured into the area from Asturias, the Basque Country and France, having been enticed by offers of free farm land, which would be theirs for the taking. In response to the Pope's call, knights poured into the recently reconquered land in Northern Spain. The abandoned Moorish castles along the new frontier became staging areas and training sites for the growing army that would continue to push the frontier further south. Some of these knights appended the name of their castle to their surnames as a title. Some of them arriving at Caracena Castle, acquired the title "de Caracena." Their ethnic origins are historically obscure, but family oral tradition, suggests that our ancestors were originally from Austria.

Jews also arrived at Caracena, drawn by the new opportunities and perhaps seeking refuge from persecutions elsewhere. Ben Zion Netanyahu, in his massive tome, "History of the Inquisition", stated that Jews came in at all levels of society, from farmers to knights. Jews mixed into Spanish society at all levels. Ruy Capon, a wealthy Jewish trader, fathered a line of descendants that entered in to the highest levels of Spanish nobility, including royalty.  In the late 1300s pogroms developed across Spain, which also affected the town of Caracena in Soria, having a sizable Jewish population. In order to escape persecution and personal harm, a sizeable portion of the Jews there formally converted to Christianity, at which time they acquired Christian names to which some added “de Caracena”.

I found on the webpage, which no longer functions the following information :

In a later note, Jose Cassorla provided this information about the town, from recollections of his father, Rabbi Moise Cassorla.

"My father, who went to visit the town in the fifties came back with another explanation on the origin of the name: The Arabs called the town Casr Allah translated as God's Estate or castle. It may be that the Moors transformed the original Roman Carcacena * into a more familiar Arab name."

My father looked to consult any historic archives left in the town but the Town Mayor told him that the city archives were burnt or destroyed by French troops during Napoleon's failed attempt to conquer Spain.

Provided by Jose Cassorla

*Note  that Carcacena is a Portuguese spelling of the Marques de Caracena and that the surname Caracacena also appears in Brazil. Perhaps descendants of those who left the town of Caracena in Jaen changed the spelling of the surname as then went to Portugal and beyond into Brazil.


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