Polvoranca: the cursed ghost town outside Madrid

Situated just south of Madrid, between Alcorcón and Leganés, is a small park called Polvoranca that used to be a town. I learned about it when I was looking for a place to take Mitzy to run around. The park has trails, a lake, and open grassy areas. It also has the ruins of the church of San Pedro and the four pillars of an old house, the only remaining structures of the old town.

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The church on the left and remains of a noble house on the right

The park is just a 5 minute drive from our house, so we headed over to explore. It looks like a normal park, with picnic tables, basketball courts, a lake, dirt trails, and lots of trees. The ruins of the church intriguied me, so we walked to the other side of the park to check them out. I found a shady area to sit down while Mitzy explored the area, and I read a bit about the history of Polvoranca.

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Mitzy discovering Polvoranca

Little did I know that the stories I found would be so interesting. I looked up what life was like when the church was built (in 1655)…how people dressed, how their economy worked, and the problems they faced. Sitting by the church and contemplating all of its history and how the town disappeared made me think I should research more and write about it.

So let’s situate ourselves in 1655. The Spanish Kingdom occupied Spain, Mexico, Florida, Central America, much of South America, and the Caribbean. The Spanish Inquisition was in full effect (be Catholic or die!). Felipe IV was the king of Spain.

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This is what they called an “auto de fe”, which was where heretics were brought in to be punished (which could include whipping, tortue, or burning at the stake. This painting depicts one in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid (1683).

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People dressed like this (depending on social and financial status)

Siglo XVII

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Although the area where Polvoranca was had been occupied long before 1655, the written history of the town of Polvoranca started in 1575 when the Earl of Orgaz sold his posessions to the “licensed” De León and his wife Ana de Ossorio.

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Coat of arms of the family that owned Polvoranca

…Or should I say, Polboranca? The name “Polvoranca” has a long history and has changed little by little over time. It started with the name Laurianus, a Roman man from a village that existed in the same place. During the muslim occupation of the land, they added the suffix “-que”, changing the name to “Loranque”. Centuries later, during the middle ages, the prefix “pol-” meaning “to populate” was added and the name became “Polboranque”. Generations of language fluidity changed the name to “Polboranca”. Finally, in 1794, the then owner of the land, Don Pedro Ignacio de Belluti Vélez, decided to change the B to a V, making it “Polvoranca”.

The land was owned by the nobility and the residents of the town were part of the feudal system. This means that the poorest people in the society were given land by nobility in exchange for work. The town’s economy was based on agriculture and farming, and the population at its highest point was 300 people. The community farmed wheat, oatmeal, barley, olives, other vegetables, and had sheep.

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Basically, if you weren’t nobility, you had no choice but to work the land and animals
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Polvoranca in 1655: “Cold and flat, lacking in wood and bread, okay wine, and not bad in regards to farm animals”

Imagine living in this place, at this time. Things like this intrigue me so much, although I also appreciate that my life is much better now than it would be if I lived during that time. Then, your life was dedicated to surviving and praying for help.

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The little town suffered a population decline from malaria, famine, and the plague, which was so severe that houses were burned down to prevent its spread.

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What remains of some of the houses

Stories passed down from former residents speculate that the plagues were further spread by the stagnant waters of local ponds and creeks. They say that one night, the “noche de difuntos” or night of the dead, various people died at once. Residents said that on that night of the dead, you can still hear inside the church the sounds of sheep and the cries of dead people. This may seem ridiculous (especially to those who don’t believe in these types of stories), but imagine the memories one must have had of such a horrible period of time. The rapid decline of population (also due to many residents moving to nearby cities) lead to the start of Polvoranca’s nickname of “pueblo maldito” or cursed town.

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The church was built in the Baroque style in 1655, over the ruins of a previous chapel with possible mozarabic origin. Under the church there is a sepulchral crypt. In its earlier history, the church also served as a cementary for its members. People were buried inside the church until the health of churchgoers was brought into question in 1830 and the cementery was moved outside.

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What the church looked like in good condition
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Modern day: the top of the crypt poking through the ground
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Top of the crypt
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A bit of the underground crypt

In the early 1950s, human remains were found buried with gold and other valuables, showing that they were the tombs of royalty.

In 1999, human remains were found that were aged to be over 1,500 years old. They also found coins, ceramics, and farming tools. In 2005, the city government of Leganés initiated the process of restoring the old church, that was in very bad condition. During the evaluation of a possible restoration, more human remains were found in the center of the temple.

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Opening in the crypt where remains were removed
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Another site where human remains were found

The church holds a special history from the time of the Spanish Civil War, too (1936-1939). One neighboring town called Fuenlabrada was partially destroyed during the war from an explosion of an ammunition dump. After the destruction, various families in that town (and this was a tradition in many areas in Spain) decided to bury their silver coins in pots to avoid them being robbed. Some of these pots were buried near the church in Polvoranca, at the end of an underground tunnel.

 

Unfortunately, due to being left so many years without any type of restoration work (partly because the church was privately owned for many years without being touched), the church has now been deemed impossible to restore in its current state.

The local government has placed a metal fence surrounding the church with signs saying to keep out due to danger of the walls falling. The town of Leganés now owns the church, but has no immediate plans of trying to save the ruins from falling. They say they are focusing their energy and money on other priorities, such as restoring old schools and gymnasiums, and opening school cafeterias in summer. It seems that eventually, the church will be nothing but a pile of rubble and memories.

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Current state of the church

Polvoranca was officially absorbed by the neighboring town Leganés in 1849, although a small number of people remained living in the town until the early 1900s. At the end of its existence, the town had just 8 houses, only 6 of which were occupied by 25 people. The last resident of Polvoranca is said to be a woman named Cecilia, who converted the baptismal basin into a place to wash her clothes.

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Baptismal basin turned into washer

It’s weird to think that the same water that originally attracted people to live in the town, ended up being the cause of their death.

Today, the “Parque de Polvoranca” has a natural beauty and a bit of mystery that draws many in.

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I hope you enjoyed the story of Polvoranca as much as I enjoyed researching the information.

Please note, this post may contain some incorrect information as my sources are other blogs, opinions, stories told through generations, and the ever changing wikipedia.

All of my information and photos (except the photos I took) are from the following sources:

http://polvoranca.blogspot.com.es/

http://madrilanea.com/2013/02/08/una-aldea-maldita-a-las-puertas-de-madrid/

http://senderosmisteriosos.blogspot.com.es/2016/03/polvoranca.html

http://leganesactivo.com/2017/01/27/historia-leganes-antiguo-poblado-polvoranca/

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polvoranca

https://elpais.com/ccaa/2016/06/21/madrid/1466529055_142068.html

http://www.ceida.org/PolvorancaHistoria.pdf

http://magfilgueira.blogspot.com.es/2015/02/pueblo-maldito-polvoranca.html

http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2005/11/29/madrid/1133280352.html

http://www.abuelohara.com/2012/02/leganes-bn-xii.html

http://chirigol.blogspot.com.es/2013/10/la-miseria-del-mundo-rural-en-el-siglo.html

https://vestuarioescenico.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/la-vestimenta-de-las-clases-populares-un-olvido-de-la-historia/

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa Wieman says:

    Fascinating! Thanks for the explanation.

    Like

  2. Laura Ambrose says:

    You should become a geographer historian, Heidi. I love your travelogues and all of the history that you add to it. It’s what really makes it “come to life” for your readers. You are a gifted storyteller and traveler. Maybe you need to team up with Rick Steves!

    Like

  3. Dee says:

    What a beautiful spot.. And so much history!

    Like

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