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 exploiting the Esparto grass that grows here; the only known Roman remains here locally are in Cadima, Los Gallardos, where the Romans had a small settlement next to the Rio Aguas), left what were small villages and fortified farms along the coastline vaguely united under the Count of Teodorimo. This continued for several centuries, 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.
The “Moors”, knowing a good thing when they saw it, and having spent a couple of centuries ransacking the southern coasts in their boats, got together under a Berber lord called Tariq ben Ziyad, the governor of Ifriquiyya (North Africa) and started to conquer 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. The two largest political blocks were the Goths, under King Witiza, and the Iberians, under Don Rodrigo – crucially, neither of the two sides would agree to a truce, allowing the Moors to divide and conquer with relative ease. 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 an advantageous 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 754 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 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. Landowners were allowed to keep their possesions upon the payment of a once off wealth tax to the new lords.
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, times Almeria was separate from Granada and were at war! Constant internal strife left the moors, who had vastly superior numbers, technology and organization, at the mercy of the kingdoms of Castile, Asturias and Aragon – what would later unify to become Castile, and then Spain, under Fernando and Isabel (the Catholic Kings).
Initially, the whole of Moorish Spain was administered by a series of local governors, called Wa lis, appointed by the Governor of Ifriquiyya who retained overall control of the Iberian Peninsula. However, later on the province of Al-Andalus gained independence from Ifriquiyya and became its own self governing province within the Caliphate of Damascus; walis were appointed by the Shah or elected locally. While always paying lip service to the Caliphate, there were always strong internal divisions between the Walis.
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. 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!
The Moors never managed to conquer the whole of the Peninsula – crucially, they were defeated in a number of small battles in the north of the country. They proceeded to ignore these areas, and in the process permitted the formation of the first Christian kingdoms of Spain. The first of these, the Kingdom of Asturias, established itself in the northwest of the Peninsula; after the Moors were defeated in France, the Kingdom of Navarre established itself, followed by Aragon. For the next several centuries they based themselves in the fortified northern mountain regions and attacked the Moors, attempting to expel them from the Peninsula. This was a long and arduous process, and the Christian Kings did not succeed in reaching the southern Med coast until the late 13th century, when the Moorish lines collapsed and they reformed their border in Murcia.
This region was dangerously close to the frontier between 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.
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. 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 – this did not go quite according to plan, as we shall see next month!