During the Spanish War of Independence in the early 1800s, Napoleon’s army occupied the centuries-old Islamic fortress and palace in Granada: the Alhambra. When the French decided to withdraw, their commander ordered the destruction of the Alhambra with explosives. But one Spanish soldier, José García, raced through the 26 acre complex disarming bombs and saving this amazing place and piece of history.
So who was José García and how did he end up in this situation?
To date, I’ve discovered very little about the man. This story seems to have been passed down as an oral tradition. But inside the Alhambra, high on a wall by the Alcazaba, there is a plaque commemorating his actions.
“To the memory of the Corporal of Invalids, José García,” it reads. “Who, at the risk of losing his life, saved the fortress and towers of the Alhambra from ruin in 1812. The Corps of Invalids.”
This is how I discovered José’s story, during my first visit to the Alhambra. But as I’ve continued to dig, I’ve found very few sources that expand on what the plaque tells us. These sources were written recently and don’t provide very good references (if any) for where their information comes from. The sources do, however, mostly agree with each other – even if the story is more legend than fact.
José García was a member of the Corps of Invalids, a unit of Spanish soldiers who all had wounds or injuries from previous battles. José joined the corps after the Battle of Bailén in 1808. He had lost a hand and his leg had been wounded, resulting in a significant limp.
Because of their various injuries, the primary task of the Corps of Invalids was to carry out surveillance of the French forces in Granada. Those forces had occupied the Alhambra, setting up their artillery in the fortress and building out the defenses.
In September 1812, the French were forced to withdraw from Granada to avoid being cut off by the advancing Spanish and allied armies. As was standard procedure, the French commander ordered all defensive structures dismantled and destroyed. Demolitions were placed in numerous towers along the wall of the Alhambra and in the Nasrid palaces.
The first explosions almost completely destroyed the Torre del Cabo de la Carrera. The Torre del Agua and Torre de los Siete Suelos also suffered significant damage along with ten other towers in the upper area.
At some point, however, José made his way into the Alhambra and was able to stop the rest of the demolitions from exploding. He either extinguished individual fuses or was able to cut the fuses linking explosives. With a missing a hand and a severe limp, this must have been a heroic effort on his part.
José García survived this ordeal. He is reported to have died in 1834, as a result of cholera.
And that’s it. That’s pretty much all I’ve discovered about José García so far. My research continues.
Game Design Notes
In creating this game from the story, I needed to make some creative decisions that are worth mentioning. These decisions were made because of the limited information but also because of the need to build a game that is fun, fast and visually engaging in a small postcard format.
Bomb Locations: I can’t say that the bomb locations in the game are 100% accurate. There is general agreement in the sources that Torre del Cabo de la Carrera and Torre del Agua were damaged by the French demolitions. One source says Torre de los Siete Suelos was also damaged, along with the ten other towers. Another source says that explosives were placed in “all” the Nasrid palaces. I used these locations when designing the game map. But in order to make the game challenging, I needed to spread out “bombs” all across the map. So, for example, I put a “bomb” in Torre de la Vela even though I don’t have any evidence that the French did that.
The Image of José García: To give the game an era-appropriate vibe, I decided to borrow elements from artwork done in the 1800s that is now in the public domain. The figure I used for José García on the counter and in the background of the instructions is actually from a sketch called “Dilke’s Brigade at Barrosa”. Brigadier General William Thomas Dilke was an English officer leading English troops in support of the Spanish against Napoleon. The sketch shows Dilke’s brigade during a specific battle during the Peninsular War (which overlapped with the Spanish War of Independence). So the figure I used in the game is an era-appropriate soldier but it’s not José himself.
You’ll also notice that the figure has both his hands – even though the sources say he lost one in a previous battle. I made this choice for the simple reason that I didn’t want to mess with the original image too much. Once you start changing things, there are knock-on effects. For example, how would a guy with one hand aim and fire the rifle he’s carrying? Would he even carry a rifle? Also, visually representing this particular part of the story doesn’t impact the playability of the game or getting people interested in the story itself.
Overall, I hope you enjoy the game. And I hope you dig deeper into this part of history on your own.
Nuevatribuna.es (July 28, 2018). El hombre que salvó la Alhambra de su destrucción. https://www.nuevatribuna.es/articulo/historia/hombre-alhambra-historia-granada/20180727115930154276.amp.html
Anabad (February 12, 2015). El soldado “inválido” que salvó la Alhambra de Granada de los explosivos franceses. https://www.anabad.org/el-soldado-invalido-que-salvo-la-alhambra-de-granada-de-los-explosivos-franceses/
alhambradegranada.org. Water Tower. https://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/info/towersandhigheralhambra/watertower.asp