ALMANZORA –A REGION OF CHANGE
This is the story of the Almanzora Valley in eastern Almeria, the most easterly province of Andalucia. Its location made it, for hundreds of years, the front line between the Moorish Kingdom of Granada, the final bastion of Muslim Spain, and the expanding Christian lands to the north and east. The story of this region is essentially the story of Spain. The events in this valley shaped present day Spain, and helps to explain the country and its people.
The Almanzora River flows from the sierras below Baza and feeds a vast fertile plain occupied by towns such as Seron, Tijola, Purchena, Armunia, Olula and Fines. The valley forms a meandering trough between the Sierra Filabres on the south and the Sierra de Las Estancias to the north. The river is fed from the mountain streams coming out of the Sierras and the melting winter snows, but for most of the year it has dried to a trickle by the time it reaches Cantoria 2000 feet below its source, and for the remaining 1000 feet drop before it enters the Mediterranean at Villaricos it has become a sandy expanse.
100,000 years ago this valley was home to Neandertal tribes, then during the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago, early humans - the cromagnons, came to occupy the many caves that still litter the valley. They have left behind their story in their cave paintings, showing the animals they hunted and there are remains of the flint tools they used.
Then came tribes from North Africa, mixing with the local population. They have left evidence of their lives, using earthenware to cook, keeping animals in corrals, and their fascination with certain stones which they believed had supernatural powers.
Then came the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans in search of gold, silver, mercury, copper and iron in the mountains. They set up towns along the coast, and then trekked inland over the Sierra Filabres to the ancient settlements of Armunia, Purchena and Sufli.
There is a Roman mine in Arboleas where they obtained crystal for the windows of their palaces.
The original Iberians were dark skinned, probably from North Africa. They lived along the coast, ate fish in preference to meat, used olive oil, and preferred wine mixed with honey.
The Celts came from the north. They were mainly farmers, living in the interior. They drank fermented beer, leaving the Celtic word ‘cerveza’.
Rise and Fall of Rome
By 200BC the Carthaginians dominated the region. Hannibal brought his African elephants to the banks of the Almanzora while he recruited an army of 30,000 for his attack on Rome.
Then came the Romans. They stayed for 600 years. They brought Christianity and the Roman legions brought the cult of Mithraism and the slaying of the divine bull to renew the earth on 25th December, Mithra’s birthday. Hispania was second only to Rome in importance in the Empire, and many emperors were born here, including Trajan and Hadrian.
With fall of the Roman Empire came the Vandals. In conflict with the religion and culture of the local people, they quickly fled to North Africa, but left behind a name that would endure, Vandalucia.
Then came the Visigoths; they ruled for 300 years in conflict with the more cultured local populations.
Moors and Christians
When in 711 Tariq landed with Berber troops at Yabel Tariq (Gibraltar) it marked the beginning of 750 years of Muslim rule in this region.
For most of that time various cultures and religions lived together in harmony in the towns and villages along the Almanzora Valley …
~ the Muslim descendants of the Arabs and Berbers who came with Tariq,
~ the majority of the original population who had converted to Islam,
~ and the original population of Christians and Jews who had retained their faith.
It was in 985 AD that the valley got its present name. Ibn Abu Amir, known as Al Mansur (the victorious one), the ruler of the Caliphate of Al Andalus, journeyed from the capital of Cordoba to inspect the lands of this region. It was then that the river became known as Wadi Al Mansur.
In 1236 Cordoba fell to the Christian army from the north, but a treaty was signed which retained the Kingdom of Granada under Muslim rule, stretching from Vera to Gibraltar. This region was the eastern frontier of the Kingdom of Granada; the watchtowers are still evident on the hilltops along the river valley.
On 5th May 1488 the Christian armies grouped at Lorca.
They took Cuevas on 9th June, Vera and Mojacar on 12th. On 7th July 1488 King Ferdinand left Vera with 4000 cavalry and 12,000 infantry, and quickly took the towns along the Almanzora Valley.
On 26th July he wrote to the Pope that he had taken Zurgena, Arboleas, Albox, Cantoria, Oria, Partaloa and Fines, but had been stopped at the fortress of Purchena.
It would be another year before Baza and Almeria surrendered.
With the fall of Granada in 1492 thousands of Muslims left Europe for North Africa, where they built an imitation of Granada at Fez.
Many remained and converted to Christianity although retaining their culture and traditions. They became known as moorish christians, Moriscos. They would say “Spain is worth a Mass”.
However life became difficult as they were under pressure to change their traditions and customs. Many fled into the hills where they mixed with the gypsies. They were known as the fellah-mencum, and they clung to their heritage with Arabic laments combined with flamboyant gypsy dance, the flamenco.
In 1568 the Morisco uprising started in the Alpujarras and quickly spread along the Almanzora Valley. By 1569 the whole of the Valley was under the control of the Morisco leader, Aben Humeja.
This was a bitter civil war with atrocities on both sides. Thousands of men, women and children from both sides were slaughtered, and many on both sides were sold into slavery.
It was during this war that a war correspondent, visiting the Almanzora Valley for the first time with the Christian army wrote -
“The Almanzora Valley flows with water, and the whole area is renowned for its trees and its vegetable gardens and its livestock, the fields irrigated from the many mountain streams”.
By April 1570 the Morisco uprising had been crushed, and the countryside was practically deserted, with houses and farms derelict and abandoned. Many Moriscos were expelled from their native land in Andalucía, to become nomads. However despite this expulsion, documents record that many Moriscos later returned, having changed their names.
Their influence continued.
The renowned Christian San Juan de la Cruz, born in 1582, was the son of a Morisco from Cordoba and he studied Islam from a Sufi mystic near his home
In 1778 Domingo Badia arrived in Vera where his father was working. There he studied Arabic, and later wrote his famous work ‘The Travels of Ali Bey’.
Early 20th century photographs and reports of Mojacar show the local people in Arabic dress.
Andalucía retains the green and white flag of Al Andalus.
THE CIVIL WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH
Civil Wars are always bitter conflicts. The Spanish Civil War was more bitter than most, mainly because of the persecution which followed the war.
This region was amongst the last to fall to Franco’s forces, and thousands fled by ship for permanent exile. Many of Franco’s opponents went into hiding, in caves, attics and cellars.
Records show that thousands committed suicide.
After 3 years of military conflict, Franco declared victory on 1st April 1939. But the purge which followed would last longer and be more bitter than the military conflict. Official statistics admit to 15,000 shot between 1939 and 1940. The unofficial estimates are double this.
The military uprising started in July 1936, and action against those who opposed it ran from April 1939 to October 1945.
Military courts were set up, using the Code of Military Justice, which was intended to deal with the crime of military rebellion, but was used against the civilian population who had opposed the military coup. The accused were charged with the crime of rebellion. Defendants were granted a defence counsel, whose only function was to ask for a reduced sentence. Guilt was presumed.
Local anger during the military coup was often directed against the Church, which supported Franco.
On 3rd April 1939, the Alcalde of Zurgena, Juan Rodriguez, was sentenced to life imprisonment following the assassination of 5 priests and the destruction of the church.
It was later reduced to 12 years because he did not take an active part.
In Arboleas the church was destroyed, and was not rebuilt until the 1950’s.
Local people taken before the Military Courts came from all the local towns and villages.
Albox 137, Arboleas 15, Cantoria 59, Zurgena 54, Huercal Overa 124.
Nationally the prisons swelled to 2 million.
In the province of Almeria over 6000 were charged by the Miltary Tribunals.
317 were sentenced to death.
167 sentenced to death but commuted to life imprisonment.
814 to life imprisonment.
44 to 20 years or more.
2670 to 12 to 20 years.
Of those sent to prison from Almeria Province, 227 died in prison, which were in effect concentration camps. Common reasons recorded for death in prison were TB, pneumonia, typhus, dysentery, and gastroenteritis.
When, in 1945, many were released from prison, they were sent home to die of the diseases they had contracted in prison.