A brief history of Bedar from the Romans to the British

The collapse of the Roman empire, never very well established in what would become the Levante Almeriense (basically, the area was used as a fish processing plant and shoe factory using the Esparto grass that grows here, the only known Roman remains here are in Cadima, Los Gallardos), left what were small villages and fortified farms along the coastline vaguely united under the Count of Teodorimo. This continued for several centuries (III-IIX centures c.e.), as the villages basically got on with life leaving few historical records, although we know that this area boasted a small army of Goths paid for out of local taxes and used for local protection. The “Moors”, knowing a good thing when they saw it, and having spent a couple of centuries ransacking the southern coasts in the boats, conquered Spain from 711c.e. onwards, when old Tariq took his men across the strait of Gibraltar and conquered a peninsula that was racked by internal conflict, divided by mistrust and suffering under feudal lords. Concentrating mainly on the centre of the peninsula, this area was bypassed by the Moors, as the Count Teodorimo of the time wisely refused battle and signed a peace treaty with the Arab commander Abd Al-Aziz. According to the chronicles of Arabian geographer Al-Urdi, the “Cora Tudmir” (County of Teodorimo) as a political entity encompassed an area from Los Velez in the north to Vera in the south, with Cantoría being its central axis. While the Moorish commander Ibn I-Jatter decided to break the peace treaty in 745 in order to secure his flank, this geopolitical entity survived until the middle ages.

The Moorish invaders were not a single political unit, rather they were from disperse political groups united under one religious leader. As they took control of the Iberian peninsula (and remember that they reached half way through France until a concentrated effort by the Christian countries repelled them) they did not attempt to impose their religion on the indigenous population. Instead, by offering the peasants who suffered under Christian feudal regimes freedom, local Christian lords often found themselves beset by mass mutiny and desertion. The only real difference between Islamic and others in those times was that non believers had a somewhat higher tax rate – this alone often sufficed to convert much of the population of their own free will.

Since Moorish Spain was beset by internal conflict between regional political leaders, there were quite a few internal conflicts that racked Moorish Spain, and indeed facilitated the reconquista of Spain by the Christian Kings in the 14th and 15th century. Indeed, at certain points the Tarifa of Almeria was separate from the Tarifa of Granada and were at war. To recount all of these happy little incidents would be too time consuming for me to type out at this moment. Constant internal strife left the moors, who had vastly superior numbers, technology and organization, at the mercy of the kingdoms of Castile, Leon and Aragon – what would later unify to become Castile, and then Spain, under Fernando and Isabel (the Catholic Kings).

In 1243, under constant attack from the Christian realms, a number of these divided Islamic realms united under the Tarifa of Granada; this included Almeria and it’s regions, which became an important seaport for the Tarifa. This lead to a period of peace and prosperity for the region of Vera, as Granada sent miners and technicians to exploit the mineral and agricultural riches of the area. It is at this point that villages such as Bédar and Serena were first recorded, although not as mining villages but agricultural – there was a strong silkworm industry in the area! However, it appears that both villages had been going strong for quite some time, as their distance from the sea, natural springs, defensive positions and farmland made them ideal locations for market villages.

However, this region was dangerously close to the frontier of the Tarifa of Granada and the Christians in Lorca, and suffered several times by incursions by enemy troops. In 1304 Vera was sacked and burnt by Christians; this lead to a peace treaty that lasted until 1319. After war recommenced, an eastern frontier was drawn up that named fortified key villages in the defensive line as Alicún de Ortega, Benzalema, Benamaurel, Cúllar, Castilléjar, Galera, Orce, Huéscar, Los Vélez, Xiquena, Overa, Arboleas, Zurgena, Albox, Partaola, Cantoria, Albanchez, Bédar, Cuevas & Vera. It is believed that the original Bédar castle (since destroyed) was built in this time, which would have meant that Bédar was a strong village defending the supply lines through the mountains. However, no census survives from that era. The castle was situated 900m south west of the current village on top of a hill, where there are still a few big stones visable.

In 1407 a series of concerted attacks against the Moors were organised from Lorca. This eventually lead to the entire collapse of the eastern front, the capture of Vera, Mojacar, Serena, Bédar, Los Velez, and the push towards Granada through the valley passes. The Moors developed a scorched earth retreat policy which destroyed many artifacts from the area. Between 1410 and 1447 several peace treaties were made and broken, and these villages were on the frontline, being taken and retaken many times.

By 1488 the Catholic Kings had occupied all coastal terrains up till Malaga, leaving the Moors isolated in the mountains and surrounded by Cristian troops. With the Moorish supply lines cut, the Marquess of Cadiz negotiated a surrender treaty in which Mojacar and Vera surrendered to the Catholics – this lead to the surrender of all other small villages in the area, and the final collapse of the Moorish lines up to Granada. All non catholics in Mojacar were expelled and formed a new village in Turre – those of Vera, also expelled, formed a village in Antas. It is not known if these villages existed before, although almost certainly they were small hamlets. The intention of the Catholic commanders was to fortify both Mojacar and Vera with Catholics and use them to as fortified bases to control the surrounding areas – it was with this intention that the first Christian mayor of Vera, Garci Lasso de la Vega, was inaugurated.

In 1490 Boabdil surrendered Granada and returned to Africa, leaving Castile the master of the Iberian Peninsula. (In celebration, and in an attempt to get moving as a serious world power, the Catholic Kings agreed to finance the trip of a plausible Italian called Colon – Columbus). The collapse of Boabdil caused ripples throughout the region, as local Moorish populations either knuckled under Cristian rule, or tried last ditch attempts to throw them out. In this area, there were a number of local revolutions, among which were mentioned Vera and Bédar, to which reinforcements were summoned. While no records exist of the punishment meted out, if it was anything like that given to Abrucena or Finana it would have been harsh. After this, in an attempt to control the mountains, Bédar was given its own political control, under a series of commanders, taking it and surrounding villages away from Vera. Apart from this, the constant cession of rich farmland to various nobles eventually caused Vera to wither away and be fused for a while with Baza; command of the local area swung between Bédar and Vera depending on the location of the local commander. In around 1495 Commander don Diego López de Burgos, from his court in Vera, ordered all Mudejares (Muslims who accepted Christian political control but continued to practice their faith – lit. from the Arab word “domesticated” ) to be enslaved and sold at market. This caused such a commotion that in 1499 the Crown was forced to overrule this order and free the Mudejares.

Despite this, in 1500 a series of local revolts by the Mudejares caused the King of Spain, Fernando, to travel to the area on the 27th of February to personally oversee the control of the mutiny. This continued for such a time, being influenced from Baghdad, that in the end the King ordered the forced conversion of all Mudejares to Christianity, and the expulsion or execution of any non believer. This had the effect of causing the Moors, who still felt that the Spanish were the invaders, to practice their faith in secret and furthered resentment in the area. This also lead to the construction in 1505 of the Parish of Bédar, which was situated in the old Mosque of Serena (the ruins are still visible, it was later turned into an olive press) until the construction of the fortified church in 1560 that still commands the village. The church was constructed on the orders of Bishop Antonio Carrionero of the Bishopric of Antas, and his coat of arms still dominated the building.

From 1550 onwards, on the orders, and under permission from Sultan Selim, leader of the Islamic countries and as part of his strategy to deal with Carlos V, holy Roman emperor and king of Spain, the southern coast of Spain started to suffer from a vast number of pirate attacks which lead to the retreat from the coast into fortified villages. This area, surrounded as it was by traditionally Moorish villages such as Cabrera, Teresa, Turre, Bédar, Serena, Antas, Zurgena, Arboleas, Overa, Huércal, Las Cuevas or Portilla, was considered to be a local haven for Barber pirates, Mojacar and Vera being unable to prevent their landing and taking on of provisions in peace. This lead to an eventual uprising in the area, apparently lead locally from Bédar or Serena, on Christmas Day 1568 by the Mudejares, in conjunction with the great Moorish Revolution in the Alpujarras. This revolution was organised by self proclaimed King Aben Humeya, and supported in principal by Baghdad, although Selim had no real interest in full scale terrestrial war with Carlos on the Peninsula, using this as a decoy to take pressure off the war in the Balkans and islands in the Med.

However, Aben Humeya, after being repulsed from his attempts to take Almeria and Adra, retreated towards Vera with some 12000 men. He was supported in the areas by the main villages of Sorbas, Serena and Bédar. He camped out in the ruins of Old Vera (on the hill where the statue is now, destroyed shortly before by an earthquake) and besieged Vera. Don Medez Pardo, mayor of Vera, sent every panic signal he could to Mojacar, Lorca and Murcia, having as he had only 60 cavalry and 300 infantry. Amazingly, Aben forgot to bring any ladders or battering rams (it is believed that they were left behind after the siege in Adra), and was unable to storm the walls of Vera. He had two cannons, but one exploded and the other was captured in a daring raid by the Vera infantry. He was unable to storm the walls, and was shortly after caught by professional troops from Cuevas and later Lorca. The destruction of his army here caused his downfall and eventual assassination. Bédar was recaptured by Don Juan of Austria in 1596 who came with a large army via Antas and destroyed the village, then Surena. In the subsequent census, only 22 families, all Christian, were recorded to live here in this previously important village, which shows the level of destruction by his troops. At the time of the revolution, Bédar had two olive presses and several mines and quarries with the associated workshops; it was recorded in the late 17th century that the inhabitants of Bédar had to travel to Antas to press their olives, and that mines were still deserted for “lack of manpower and market”. It was also recorded in the same document that the Moorish waterworks and fountains had been left intact and still worked; that said waterworks could and should be used as a template for new installations in the area.

After this revolution Carlos V decreed, in a act that still shames Spain, that all Islamics would be deported or killed. At least 50,000 Muslims were deported from the south of Spain, of which at least 20% died of starvation before reaching Africa. This also lead to the darkest hours of the Spanish Inquisition, which was charged with rooting out all “non Christians” from the Holy Roman Empire, a charge which was later taken to mean also Jews and Protestants.

After this momentous event, not much happened, although Bédar was mentioned in a treatise ordering the repopulation of the lands by Christians in 1575. Serena, previously a busy village, was not repopulated and was merged with Bédar. Several other villages in the area quietly foundered. Land was given to all settlers who came, as long as they came from outside the previous Moorish kingdom of Granada (with exception of loyal local Christians, who were rewarded with extra land to add to that previously owned). There is a fascinating copy of this document owned by the town hall of Bédar (not available to the public, but there are copies and analysis available). However, many of the settlers who came from the North were unable to adapt to the harsh life of the area, and the constant pirate attacks along the coast – this lead to the abandonment of many new settlements and the growth of the larger fortified towns.

In 1682, the church in Bédar regained its independence from Antas, being restored in the process. From 1568 until then the low population of the area meant that it had been served once a week by a priest who traveled from Antas to give mass and hear confession; this is an indication of how the area had grown in the last century. In 1736 Pope Clement XII gave Bédar its own saint “St. Gregory Naciancieno“.

During the 17th century the average population of the area was less then 10 ppl per square km. The repopulation of the area was a slow process, with people refusing to come to the area. The constant pirate attacks, which continued until the 18th century, also made repopulation outside of the fortified cities almost impossible. However, by 1752 the census showed Bédar with a population of 599 inhabitants in 134 houses. In 1776 the “Society of the Friends of the Nation” established a chapter in Vera which attempted to establish local industries, including a number of failed attempts in Bédar, until they finally gave up in 1808.

In 1805 there was a drought of such magnitude that the area was desolated. Information in this period is scare, to such an extent that we do not know what happened during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in this area. Revolutionary troops (known as “guerrilleros” or “guerrilas”) operated in this area against the French, and the local population never surrendered to the invaders – the whole region was administered from Almeria, and the closest known garrison of French troops were in Rodalquilvir.

And it was not until the late 19th century, when the first British entrepreneurs arrived to mine the area, that Bédar reappeared on the map. But that’s another story.

Some further reading on the subject:
José Acosta Montero El valle del Almanzora durante el Islam y Suflí al fondo.
Juan Grima Cervantes Turre. Historia, cultura, tradición y fotografía
Juan Grima Cervantes Almería y el reino de Granada en los inicios de la modernidad s. XV-XVI

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6 Replies to “A brief history of Bedar from the Romans to the British”

  1. I’m interested to go other places, I’ve been the boy in the bubble since we’ve been shooting, I need to go travel a little bit, see where the action is, other than going to see family, of course.

  2. Great article! I love how much time and effort you’ve put into this. We are currently traveling through Spain and somehow I end up quite often on your website as it contains a ton of interesting news posts and articles.

    Thanks a lot

    Arend,

    The Netherlands

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