Albacete is a city in south eastern Spain, 258 km south east of Madrid. It is the capital of the province of Albacete in the autonomous community of Castile La Mancha. The settlement was named “Al-Basīṭ” (“The Plain”) by the Arabs. It has been well known as a centre for the manufacture of fine daggers, scissors, and knives and although it has never been considered a city with an industrial tradition, the industrial area of the city (“Polígono de Campollano”) has recently been expanded making it one of the biggest industrial parks in Spain. Albacete has great services and industry activity, due to the excellent train and highway communications on the way from Madrid to the coast.
Albacete, together with Ciudad Real, has one of the main campuses of the University of Castile La Mancha. It is estimated that between 9,000 and 10,000 students study at any of the schools that the regional university currently has in the city. These students make for a lively atmosphere in the city at night and there are numerous good clubs, bars and tapas restaurants to entertain them. In September, the main annual festival, “Feria de Albacete”, transforms the city for ten days as visitors come from far and wide to fill the city streets. The city population can grow as much as fivefold.
Albacete is not known as a tourist destination, but its sights include the cathedral and the museum, “Museo de Albacete”. The Albacete Provincial Museum, “Museo Provincial de Albacete”, is a museum of archaeology, ethnology and fine art and has existed in various incarnations since 1927. It settled in its present building in Abelardo Sánchez Park in 1978 and its exhibits emphasize the development of regional civilization and art. The Joaquín Sánchez Jiménez Archaeology Museum houses a notable collection of Roman and pre-Roman artifacts. Local Paleolithic and Neolithic items are shown, as well as Roman art and tools. Iberian sculpture is featured as well. The Benjamín Palencia fine arts section emphasizes 20th century works and includes many pieces by local contemporary artists.
Before the Christian troops arrived in 1241, Albacete was only a small Moorish village, dependent on the borough of Chinchilla. In the early 14th century the village began to develop and its population increased. In 1375 it was considered a borough and became independent of Chinchilla and a century later, in 1476, the Catholic Monarchs thanked Albacete for supporting the Crown and granted it a licence to hold a market once a week. During “La Guerra de las Comunidades de Castilla” (1520-22) Albacete supported the new emperor Charles V who, in 1526, granted the feudal estate of the town to his wife, the Empress Isabel of Portugal. During this period, building started on the church of San Juan Bautista (St John the Baptist), which was later to become a cathedral.
Albacete was located in a strategic position between Madrid and the east coast of Spain and its agricultural wealth leaded to the growth of the borough during the next few centuries until Philip V granted permission for an annual fair in 1710. This fair was later held in an enclosure built by Charles III in 1783. The railway reached Albacete in 1855 and the Madrid to Alicante route passed through the town. Later Albacete was also connected by rail to Cartagena. In 1862, Isabel II granted Albacete the title of town. Street electric lighting was inaugurated in 1888 and Albacete became the first capital of a province in Spain with electric lightning in its streets.
Throughout the 19th century the population of the town doubled from the 10,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the century to around 21,000 by the start of the 20th century. During this period, Albacete defended Queen Isabel II against the Carlists, the supporters of Charles who was pretender to the Spanish throne. Carlism is a traditionalist and legitimist political movement in Spain seeking the establishment of a separate line of the Bourbon family on the Spanish throne. This line descended from Carlos V (1788-1855) and was founded due to widespread dissatisfaction with the Alfonsine line of the House of Bourbon. In the time of the transition to democracy the two most significant events were the establishment in Albacete in 1982 of the High Court of Justice of Castile-La Mancha and the consolidation of the University, which brought new life to the town in 1985.
Albacete is part of Castile-La Mancha, an autonomous community of Spain bordered by Castile and León, Madrid, Aragon, Valencia, Murcia, Andalusia, and Extremadura. Castile-La Mancha is one of the most sparsely populated of Spain’s autonomous communities. Its capital city is Toledo and Albacete is its most populous city. Castile-La Mancha was formerly grouped with the province of Madrid into Castile-La Nueva (New Castile), but with the advent of the modern Spanish system of semi-autonomous regions it was separated due to great demographic disparity between the capital and the remaining New-Castilian provinces.
It is in Castile-La Mancha where the story of the famous Spanish novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is situated. Although La Mancha is a windswept, battered plateau, it remains a symbol of the Spanish culture with its sunflowers, mushrooms, olive yards, windmills, Manchego cheese, and Don Quixote. Because of its widespread influence, Don Quixote helped cement the modern Spanish language. The opening sentence of the book created a classic Spanish cliché with the phrase “In a certain corner of La Mancha, the name of which I do not choose to remember, there lately lived one of those country gentlemen, who adorn their halls with a rusty lance and worm-eaten target and ride forth on the skeleton of a horse.”
Castile-La Mancha was the region of many historical battles between Christian crusaders and Muslim forces during the period from 1000 to the 14th century. It was also the region where the unification of Castile and Aragon in 1492 under Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand was created. Castile-La Mancha is now divided into 5 provinces named after their capital cities. These are Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Guadalajara and Toledo. Other important large towns in Castile-La Mancha are Talavera de la Reina, Puertollano, Tomelloso, Hellín, Alcázar de San Juan, Valdepeñas, Almansa and Azuqueca de Henares.
During the Spanish Civil War Albacete was the headquarters and training camp of the International Brigades. The International Brigades were Republican military units made up of many non-state-sponsored, anti-fascist, mostly socialist and communist, volunteers from different countries that travelled to Spain to fight for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939. An estimated 32,000 people from about 53 nations volunteered. They fought against rebel Spanish Nationalist forces led by General Francisco Franco and assisted by German and Italian forces.
The main recruitment centre was in Paris, under the supervision of Polish communist colonel Karol Świerczewski. On 17 October 1936, an open letter by Joseph Stalin to José Díaz was published in Mundo Obrero, arguing that liberation for Spain was a matter not only for Spaniards, but also for the whole of “progressive humanity”. In a matter of days, support organisations for the Spanish Republic were founded in most countries. Entry to Spain was arranged for volunteers who were sent by train or ship from France to Spain and sent to the base at Albacete. However, many of them also went by themselves. The volunteers were under no contract, nor defined engagement period, which would later prove a problem.
Also many Italians, Germans and people from other countries with repressive governments joined the movement, with the idea that combat in Spain was a first step to restore democracy or advance a revolutionary cause in their own country. Finally, communists who had been exiled to Russia were sent to Spain, among them, experienced military leaders from the First World War. A group of 500 volunteers, mainly French, with a few exiled Poles and Germans, arrived in Albacete on 14th October 1936. They were met by international volunteers who had already been fighting in Spain and sorted according to their experience and origin, and dispatched to units. The French Communist Party provided uniforms for the Brigades. Discipline was extreme. For several weeks, the Brigades were locked in their base while their strict military training was under way.
During the Spanish Civil War which lasted from 1935-39, after a brief lapse in the power of the troops who had rebelled against the Republican government, Albacete fell back into the hands of Madrid. For most of the war the air base at Los Llanos was the main headquarters of the Republican air force. It was also the headquarters of the International Brigades (supporters of the Republican cause from other countries who fought in the Spanish Civil War). Like most civil wars, it became notable for the passion and political division it inspired, and for atrocities committed on both sides of the conflict. The Spanish Civil War often pitted family members, neighbours, and friends against each other. Apart from the combatants, many civilians were killed for their political or religious views by both sides and after the war ended in 1939 Republicans were persecuted by the victorious Nationalists.
The Spanish Civil War began after an attempted coup d’état by a group of Spanish Army generals against the government of the Second Spanish Republic that was then under the leadership of President Manuel Azaña. The nationalist insurgency was supported by the conservative Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right, monarchists and the Fascist Falange. The war ended with the victory of the rebel forces, the overthrow of the Republican government, and the founding of a dictatorship led by General Francisco Franco. In the aftermath of the civil war, all right-wing parties were fused into the state party of the Franco regime.
Republicans were supported by the Soviet Union and Mexico, while the followers of the rebellion, Nationalists, received the support of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, as well as neighbouring Portugal. Although the United States was officially neutral during the conflict, major American corporations such as Texaco, General Motors, Ford Motors and The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company greatly assisted the Nationalist rebels with their constant supply of trucks, tires, machine tools and fuel. The war increased international tensions in Europe in the lead-up to World War II and was largely seen as a proxy war between the Communist Soviet Union and Fascist states Italy and Germany. In particular, new tank warfare tactics and the terror bombing of cities from the air were features of the Spanish Civil War which played a significant part in the later general European war.