A brief overview of the history of the Levante Almeriense (part 2)

A brief overview of the history of the Levante Almeriense (part 2)
[Read part one of the Brief history of the Levante Almeriense]

On the 2nd of January 1492 Caliph Boabdil of the Caliphate of Granada surrendered to the Catholic Kings, Isabel & Ferdinand. As he rode with his royal procession towards the coast to embark back to Africa, he reined in at the famous mountain pass above Granada called the suspiro del moro (sigh of the moor) for a final look at his vanquished city. His unsympathetic mother, according to legend, said that he did well to sigh like a woman for what he could not defend like a man.

The final expulsion of the Moors from Spain caused a golden age in Spanish politics and established the basis of the new Spanish Empire. The launch of Columbus on his voyage to America and the subsequent colonies, and in 1519, the establishment of King Carlos V as Holy Roman Emperor brought Spain to the forefront of the international stage. However, across the Mediterranean sea, ruling most of north Africa, Turkey and lands all the way to Belgrade, was the counterweight to the Spanish empire – the Ottoman Empire, ruled at that time by Suleiman “the magnificent”.

The two mighty empires never came into direct conflict, with the exception of a few strategic battles aimed towards obtaining certain objectives. Instead, they fought by proxy, via the island nations of the Mediterranean, and the small city states that surrounded it. Both influenced by religion, one Catholic from Rome and the other Islamic, they vied for power and and the main method chosen was naval.

The XVI century was a century of piracy and enslavement in the Med, a century of building up massive fleets based directly on Roman technologies that would then batter each other into withdrawal. These fleets, comprised mainly of galleys or tirimies, were powered mainly by manpower. In essence, slaves from the other side who would be used until dead, then thrown overboard. In 1566, in a single summer, 4000 Christians were seized from the coasts of Granada by the feared Muslim pirate Barbarossa. Some estimates put the total number of slaves captured over the XVI and XVII centuries, on both sides, as almost 2 million. The Christians were never to hold the upper hand in these naval battles – by early XVI Suleimans naval control of the Mediterranean was almost absolute, allowing his pirates to roam freely along the Med coasts.

It is from this era that the early watchtowers were established along the Almerian coast. Designed to always be visible to each other, upon sight of a marauding fleet signals would be passed along the line until they reached the fortified Christan towns of Vera or Mojacar, from whence, in theory, troops could be deployed to withdraw peasants into the towns and mount a defense against the pirates.

This task was hampered by the fact that most of the peasant population in the area were still of the Islamic faith and felt loyalty towards the Ottomans. It was not unknown for such hamlets to offer water and food to the pirates, safe in the knowledge that the few Christian troops in the area would be unable to interfere. And for a number of years the offshore island of El Alboran was a main base for Islamic pirates, to where they would resupply and bring in the booty they had garnished. The piracy would continue until the late 18th century, when the collapse of the central Ottoman empire, the establishment of modern states in western Europe and the consolidation of British naval bases in Gibraltar and Minorca finished the industry off.

After the collapse of Boabdil, local Moorish populations either knuckled under Christian rule, or tried last ditch attempts to throw them out. In this area, there were a number of local revolutions, among which are 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 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, Ferdinand, to travel to the area on the 27th of February to personally oversee the control of the mutiny. This continued for such a time, that in the end the King ordered the forced conversion of all Mudejares to Christianity. 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 Antas, and his coat of arms still dominated the building.

In 1522, just to add to the general problems suffered by the Christians in the area, a huge earthquake levelled the villages of Mojacar and Vera. Both villages were at the time on the hills in front of their present locations. These fortified villages were considered so important by the King that, fearful that the large beaches and easy access to the interior would be used by an Ottoman invasion fleet, he personally ordered a division of troops and workers in the area to rebuild the villages. There is a wonderful story that the Captain of the royal troops stood atop Old Vera (where the statue of the Virgin is now, atop the hill), and, using an arrow blessed by the bishop, declared that wherever landed his arrow, so would the new church and centre of the new village of Vera be. He fired the arrow into the air, and it landed where the alter of Vera Cathedral is now. Vera became a fortified market town controlling the main roads and trade of the area — Mojacar, being costal, was moved to the larger hill in front of its old position, where there was a spring and more room.

On Christmas Day 1568 the Mudejares organised 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. The Mudejares marched on Almeria and Adra, and after a bloody battle were repulsed from both cities. Apparently in an attempt to secure a beachhead for an invasion fleet that never came, Aben Humeya 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 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 nighttime raid by the Vera infantry. He was unable to storm the walls, and was shortly after caught between professional troops from Cuevas and later Lorca. The destruction of his army, comprised mainly of peasants and unable to fight efficiently against mounted soldiers, 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, Protestants and assorted heretics.

[to be continued]

8 Replies to “A brief overview of the history of the Levante Almeriense (part 2)”

  1. Both this and part 1 earlier absolutely fascinating. PS You might want to correct the 1942 typo in line 1!

  2. I don’t know, you wear your fingers to the bone working up lovely articles like this then some clever bugger comes along and points out the, as our friends in the Euro Weekly would say, “deliberate mistake”.

    Any how, ’tis fixed.

  3. And, thanks for taking the time to point it out. Always love the feedback! Any ideas on what I should write on next?

  4. Lol – As a History, about to retire, teacher myself I am familiar with the ‘well spotted deliberate mistake boys’ technique! As to more History – bring it on – I will be at my house in Alfaix next week [hopefully permanently from next January [if my house in london ever sells!] but would be fascinated to know more local stuff about it and the surrounding area. I’m even mildly curious about all this naturism business up Vera way – where/when/why did that all spring from? And shouldn’t they be putting a stop to it now all the Brits have arriverd:). More seriously I’d be interested to know more about Almeria city. This was where we first stayed 3 years ago as the base for our property searches. I think the old town is glorious, especially round by the cathedral.

  5. Sorry Sir, won’t happen again Sir! “Tugs forelock”, flashback to Glos Kings Junior Schools. 🙂

    Almeria, is, sadly, not the most beautiful of Andalucian cities… in fact I would say that it is, without doubt, one of the ugliest of the capital cities of Spain. Not because it lacks history – Almeria was a major city and port when Britain was still a ragtag collection of ex-Roman tribes – but because it was one of the last cities to fall to Franco, and he took his revenge. In the take of the second worse shelling of a city during the war (the first was Guernica) and the following isolation of the city and its political class.

    Drop me line sometime when you get out here, you can buy me a beer 🙂

  6. I still hold to the view that the old town is a lovely little gem – to be fair this was where we limited our travels to in the heat of August but we loved the restaurants and found the whole place quite charming – the better for being small and not too crowded.
    On the other point it intrigues me in the light of the resistance to Franco that the province is relatively conservative in its politics compared to the rest of Andalucia.

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