Monday, August 17, 2009


The battle of Talavera was fought on 27 and 28 July 1809. It should be an easy battlefield to find and explore, because as you can see from the map above it runs between the town of Talavera and the mountains to the north. Also there appears to be a road running directly to the mountains.

However there is now a large motorway through the centre of the battlefield and much of what is left is now private land.

I will describe the battlefield in the order in which we visited the various locations.

We were fortunate to have as our special guide the military attache at the British Embassy in Madrid. He was a colonel in the British Army, but I cannot remember his name. The battlefield is close to Madrid, and he had visited it many times and made a special study of the battle. We met him at the side of the river Alberche just outside Talavera

The bridge over the river Albereche was not used during the battle, but the river was crossed by the French infantry on the first day when they caught the British by surprise and almost captured Wellington, or Wellesley as he was then, at the casa de salinas.

We then drove to the new monument. The original is on top of the Medelin, which is now private land. When the road was built through the battlefield this new monument was built. Holts is a very military influenced tour company, and our guide laid flowers at the monument.

We found the monument to be a pretty soulless sort of place. Modern and impressive but it did not seem to capture the essence of a napoleonic battlefield - at least for Jan and I. However nearby there was a lovely picnic spot. Meals are something Holts Tours do really well with, and this was no exception. On the coach were a picnic lunch for each of us in a hamper with a small bottle of wine each. Pretty impressive. From the picnic site we could see this large building which was used as a hospital during and after the battle. I believe there were many such, including a large church in Talavera itself.

After lunch the coach took us to the Medelin. This is the hill at the left of the allied position which was held by the British throughout the battle. It is now private land, and a wealthy Spanish gentleman has built this impressive villa right on top! Obviously no problem with building permission here apparently.

Again Holts Tours came into their own. They had obviously arranged permission for us to visit, and the large gate was opened by the owner himself, who exchanged greetings and a large bottle of something nice changed hands. He then took us on a tour of the Medelin.

First stop was the original monument. To my mind this is much more in character than the ugly new one a few miles away. Behind Jan is the new villa. We were quite surprised to find that the building did not affect the hill too much, and the views not at all. Nothing like The Lion at Waterloo.

The owner, accompanied by his dog, showing some of our group around the top of the Medelin. There appeared to be work in progress, but I have no idea what. And I now know that unfinished projects is nothing new in Spain.

Walking to the the north side of the Medelin we had a great view of the valley between the hill and the mountains. This is the area of the British cavalry charge which ended in disaster when they encountered a dip which caused many casualties to both horses and men. One French attack on the hill was down this valley, but like the others it was beaten back.

The Portina stream marked the line between the French and British positions. The French were to the left, the British to the right. On the day we were there it was completely dry and looked could only be distinguished by the line of trees. This is the area where the French advanced to engage the British infantry and were beaten back. The British followed them over the screen and were in turn routed by the French reserves. This incident almost cost Wellesley the battle.

This is a view of the Medelin from the centre of the British line. The photographs is looking along the line of the Portina brook, so the British would be on the left and the French on the right.

The building is the casa de salinas, taken from the British side. This is the building where Wellington was almost captured by the French on the first day of the battle. There are two stories to explain why he was there. The first, and least likely, is that he was friendly with the wife of the owner.

The second, and much more likely, reason is that he was in the tower looking for the French through his telescope. There is a line of trees between the villa and the river Alberche, and it is said that this is the reason he did not see the approaching enemy. The story goes that as they entered the front door, he ran down the stairs and rode his horse out of the back gate.

The river Tagus just outside the town of Talavera. It played no part in the battle as the French had crossed it well to the west and approached the allied position beyond the river.

From just north of Talavera we could see the Cascajal, this is on the French side of the battlefield and is a slightly smaller hill immediately opposite the Medelin. In the foreground is the area where the French deployed and launched their attacks on the allied line.

This is the Medelin from just below the Cascajal. This is the view the French infantry would have had of the Medelin as they advanced in mass columns.

Looking towards Talavera from the Cascajal. The whole French army would have been deployed on the left of the photograph, and the British and Spanish on the right. The British would be nearer and the Spanish just to the north of the town.

Another view of the Medelin from just south of the Cascajal. The French columns would have moved from the right of the photograph. You can see that the hill would not have been very difficult to climb.

From the Cascajal we drove to the mountains to the north of the city, just the other side of the valley where the British cavalry charged. These hills were held by the Spanish, and did not feature in the battle. But they provide an excellent view of the whole area towards Talavera. It was from here that the local civilian population watched the battle. The hill in the foreground is Medelin.

Another view from slightly higher up the mountain, looking towards Talavera. The road in the middle ground is the new motorway, cutting through the battlefield. The French were on the left, the British on the left.


  1. Paul,

    Yet another battlefield I would love to tour around. I had heard about the motorway. It's almost as bad as some of the battlefields in the UK where unsympathtic developments are nodded through by the planning boys. How different from the US. One of the books I'm reading at the moment is the Gettysburg Handbook by Mark Adkin and he stresses time and again how good the Americans are at preserving their battlefields.

    Well my father's latest Holts trip has been changed somewhat. He was shortly due to go to Libya and Egypt to do the WWII North African campaign. Apparently the Libyians changed the visa rules and made it far more onerous. So Libya has been scrubbed and they are spending a few more days in Eygpt. Personnally I think it is a shame as it would be great to see the sites before they are ruined by mass tourism. I think he was more concerned by the ban on alchol there.


  2. Hi Guy

    I remember at the time that there was a lot of bad publicity about the road, but that was more about uncovering lots of skeletons rather than destroying the battlefield itself. I believe that many of those uncovered during the work were reburied at the new memorial.

    I have never been to the ACW battlefields, but I understand that they are a mixture of national park and national momument.

    I have been to Verdun, the WWI battlefield in France, and you are not allowed to play music or picnic there, its like a large cemetery. To my mind that is what all of these battlefields should be.

    Mind the Spanish are well known for their lax approach to planning permission, partcularly if you "look after" the right people. Here in the south of Spain there are many local town mayors under investigation for corruption, and some already in prison.

    We did not go back to Talavera, so I would be interested to hear how easy it is to explore the battlefield on your own. I suspect that it is still very difficult, because it is one of the least written about in the Peninsular. And most of the battlefield tour companies seem to give it a miss, even though it is very close to Madrid and an obvious one to visit.

    Your dad is probably better off keeping well clear of Libya anyway. The middle east is not a place that I would want to spend a holiday in these days.