Ciudad Real’s origins are closely linked to historical events that took place at the former settlement of Alarcos. Attempts by Christian monarchs to repopulate the area during the 12th and 13th centuries were unsuccessful. Because of this, Alfonso X decided to found a new city near the site, 8 km from Alarcos, in the village known as Pozuelo Seco de Don Gil. This happened in 1255. By means of a town charter, the king granted settlement privileges, defined the borders of the city and ordered a wall to be built surrounding it, with 130 towers and seven gates although it eventually had eight (Toledo, Calatrava, La Mata, Granada, Ciruela, Alarcos, Santa María and del Carmen). It was called Villa Real.
The region in which the city was founded was within the stronghold of the Order of Calatrava. Alfonso X wanted to combat the enormous influence of this military order, which was the instigator of the wars of the Spanish Reconquista, by creating an area under the control of his royal authority.
The population was settled as a combination of Christian, Muslim and Jewish residents. Villa Real had one of the largest Jewish quarters in Castile.
A particularly important event in the struggle with the Order of Calatrava, which was incessant since the city’s foundation, was in 1420 when John II of Castile granted Villa Real the title of city to acknowledge its support for the king against the military orders. From this point on, it became known as Ciudad Real.
From the time it was founded up until the 15th century, Ciudad Real experienced a period of growth. The increase in its population and production activities, such as wool, leather and wine, led the Catholic Monarchs to look favourably on the city, choosing it as the home for extremely important government institutions. In 1483, the Tribunal del Santo Oficio or Spanish Inquisition was founded here, followed by the Real Chancillería, the kingdom’s main justice body, in 1494. The headquarters of these institutions were located in the city for a time, marking the moment of its peak. This was followed by a progressive decline aggravated by the expulsion or conversion of Jewish and Muslim religious groups.
In 1691, Ciudad Real was named the capital of the region of La Mancha. Nonetheless, in 1750, it lost this title to Almagro, which had been the administrative headquarters of the Order of Calatrava for centuries, resulting in a significant level of development of the latest. In 1833, the province of Ciudad Real was finally created, with the city of Ciudad Real as its capital.
The Spanish War of Independence reached Ciudad Real with the defeat of Spanish troops by Napoleon’s forces at the Guadiana Bridges, with these forces occupying the city up until 1813.
During the first half of the 19th century, Ciudad Real and its eponymous province went through a period of stagnation marked by a decrease in population, poor interconnection, low levels of investment and an excessive dependency on agriculture. The situation started to change during the second half of the 19th century thanks to significant investment in transportation infrastructure in the region. In 1861, the first Ciudad Real-Almagro railway line was inaugurated, and to export the province’s agricultural and mining wealth, railway lines connecting to Alcázar de San Juan, Madrid (in 1879) and Badajoz were also added. Ciudad Real underwent such development that it even came to have two train stations. This moment of splendour can be observed in the architecture of some of the city’s most beautiful buildings, such as its Casino or the Palacio de la Diputación, the regional government headquarters.
During the Spanish Civil War, Ciudad Real remained on the rear-guard, under the Republican sphere of influence. During these years, the city was renamed “Ciudad Libre de la Mancha” [free city of la Mancha]
During the 20th century, Ciudad Real experienced the beginnings of industrialisation that was particularly focused around the food sector, which, like in the remainder of important urban centres, progressively came to dominate traditional ways of life tied to the land. However, the predominant event was the consolidation of the capital as the location of the government seat and services as its main economic activity. The large-scale urbanisation process that took place during this period – namely the second half of the last century – progressively gave the city its current shape. The Ayuntamiento, its characteristic town hall building, was built in 1976.
The founding of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in 1985 and the opening of the Ciudad Real Campus have provided a great deal of dynamism to the capital. It is not in vain that the rector’s office of the regional university is located in Ciudad Real. Over the past decades, the city has benefited from significant demographic and economic growth, not only due to the growth of the regional university but also due to the inauguration of a high-speed rail line with a station in Ciudad Real, which has provided direct and seamless transportation, in particular to the national capital.
Currently, Ciudad Real continues on the path of growth, both in terms of population and services. The capital has overcome its traditional isolation, solidly positioning itself through its privileged location and excellent transportation infrastructure. It is a modern and liveable city that strives to achieve well-being for its inhabitants every day.